Elisabeth Vonarburg,
Dreams of the Sea
(Tesseract, 2004)

Dreams of the Sea is a novel from French-Canadian science fiction writer Elisabeth Vonarburg. Vonarburg has a fine reputation among SF fans, so I was interested in checking out the book because it is outside my usual literary diet. My knowledge of science fiction tends to be a rudimentary grasp of Heinlein, Sturgeon, Wells and Verne. This was an opportunity to read something a little more advanced.

I have to admit to having some difficulties in reading the book. I think being a novice to SF literature put me at a disadvantage, and I sometimes found myself getting lost while reading the novel. Some of the jargon was a little too alien to me. (The book is a translation from the French so maybe some things didn't translate well -- but Vonarburg was co-translator so I can assume the translation is close to what she wanted to express.)

The book deals with humans having to settle on the planet Tyranael. The early colonists must seek out a new world as the Earth has been ravaged by man-made disasters. The planet has already established cities from its original inhabitants. There are cycles where the sea rises and destroys much of the world. There are key players among the humans such as old archeologist Shandaar, explorer TiJean Carigan and the young boy Timmi.

It also deals a lot with dreams. My problem is that I wasn't always able to draw a distinction between real action and dreams. I think this is part of the author's intent, although it caused confusion from my viewpoint as reader. Vonarburg creates her own universe including names of planets and different peoples: the almadzi are the native dreamers, while hekels would seem to be something along the line of shaman. A glossary of terms would have been beneficial for a reader like me. I'm an outsider to this world and never really felt like I was invited in.

I suppose a lot of science fiction has this quality. It becomes a world unto itself. Star Trek is much like this. You have to be a fan to understand a lot of the references made. Trying to distinguish between dream and reality was a challenge, but not understanding all the terminology made it tedious. Another flaw I found was that I never really got the notion of humanity that I get from writers like Heinlein and Sturgeon. They used science as a means to advance humanity; there was always a strong humanist undertow to their work.

It should also be noted that this is the first book in a five-volume saga, written over a 30-year period. The rest of the saga has not yet been translated into English. It would seem that more might become clear after reading deeper into the series. I may try to reread this book at a later date just to see if more is revealed. I may very well have to adjust this review if greater revelations come, but for now I found this a bit too esoteric for my tastes.

- Rambles
written by George Schaefer
published 21 May 2005

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