Martin Simons; 10/15/2012
ebook, 185 pages
A thousand years hence, all the major cities of the world are at sea, floating on huge rafts, using ocean currents to navigate. Sal, a young girl on the Sydney raft, training as a navigator, visits Shanghai which is the largest raft city of all, on holiday. She hopes to find the famous genetic scientist, Jezzy, who will modify her body to give her gills. She wants to be like a mermaid, free to live in the sea with the fish. She does meet the old woman but when she leaves her laboratory is arrested as a deserter and mutineer. She is flown back to her home raft for trial. After a tribunal she is released after all to join Jezzy and like many others, is modifed as she desired. There is a strong public reaction against Jezzy’s operations. In fear of being marooned to die on land, Jezzy and her young changelings break away their section of the Shanghai raft away drift off independently.
Cities at Sea by Martin Simons is set in a future where the water levels have risen, one presumes this is due to global warming, and major cities of the world have literally go to sea. Cities are now huge floating self-sustaining concerns where millions of people live. We meet Sal, a seventeen year old middie from the Sidney raft who wants to go to the Shanghai raft to meet with Jezzy, a woman whose experiments in genetics have enabled her to give young people with a suitable background, gills. Sal always dreamed of swimming with the fish as long as she wanted, so after an odd public trial, she gets her wish. The gills are essentially pointless to the story as other things happen.
Cities at Sea is sort of a take-off on the movie Waterworld or Stephen Baxter's novels Flood and Ark. I was interested in reading it because I thought the premise sounded engaging and there certainly could be interesting stories set in a world of water where the city rafts are the advanced culture. Conceivably, someone might think to develop a new race of genetically modified humans with gills that would have an advantage over backward native "Lubbers" populating the few remaining islands. Alas, this is not the novel I was expecting. While the ideas are intriguing, the execution of those ideas fails time and time again.
The plot is of the laundry-list-of-what-happened ilk: "She did this. This happened. Then this." But I can overlook writing flaws if the plot is moving along briskly and and characters are well developed. That's not the case here. Yes, the idea is promising and there were a few interesting moments, but the writing got in the way of my enjoyment and the characters fell flat. I really didn't care what happened to them. They were boring. There was little reason for Sal to go through the trial so she could get gills, as it ultimately meant little to the plot.
What we have here, in my opinion, is a great idea for a novel and a simplistic rough sketch of what direction the novel is going to take but absolutely no further development than that, which is a shame. With better writing and some insight into the characters this had the potential to be a fascinating novel. A so-so novel for me.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the author via Netgalley for review purposes.