A novel of art, time, love and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.
... luminous ... In Sea of Tranquility, Mandel offers one of her finest novels and one of her most satisfying forays into the arena of speculative fiction yet, but it is her ability to convincingly inhabit the ordinary, and her ability to project a sustaining acknowledgment of beauty, that sets the novel apart. As in Ishiguro, this is not born of some cheap, made-for-television, faux-emotional gimmick or mechanism, but of empathy and hard-won understanding, beautifully built into language ... It is that aspect of Sea of Tranquility, Mandel’s finely rendered, characteristically understated descriptions of the old-growth forests her characters walk through, the domed moon colonies some of them call home, the robot-tended fields they gaze over or the whooshing airship liftoff sound they hear even in their dreams, that will, for this reader at least, linger longest.
It’s a curious thought experiment ... an elegant demonstration of Mandel’s facility with a range of tones and historical periods ... Mandel delivers [a] futuristic section with an impish blend of wit and dread ... All these various stories are finely constructed, but they gather force only during the novel’s time-traveling second half set in the year 2401. Mandel moves lightly across this distant era. A world utterly transformed is merely implied by allusions to China’s primacy and various independent regions of the United States. Rather than clutter the pages with technological advances and gee-whiz gadgets, Sea of Tranquility concentrates on the psychological implications of living in domed colonies on the surface of the moon. This is science fiction that keeps its science largely in abeyance, as dark matter for a story about loneliness, grief and finding purpose ... it’s a chance to re-experience the thrill of Sophie’s World, to wrestle with the mind-blowing possibility that what is may be entirely different from what we see.
... a tale of retrospects, of foresights, of the same moment layered on top of itself like repeated musical notes and of quotes that echo across time. Unlike Station Eleven, this book could not have been written before our particular pandemic. But while Sea of Tranquility both reflects our current crisis and revisits moments and characters from Mandel's preceding two books, it also demonstrates a creative leap for the author: It's the most explicitly science-fictional of her works, exploring time travel by way of a lunar colony in 2401. Despite this conceit wearing thin in parts, the prose never stutters ... Clearly drawn from real life, Sea of Tranquility never feels too self-indulgent. Mandel demonstrates yet again her talent for balancing an ensemble cast, with even the briefest of interludes making each character sympathetic and memorable, like strangers encountered at a party even if never seen again. This is especially impressive considering the main players exist in separate centuries, yet their respective troubles are relatable despite the differences in circumstance ... The lunar colonies do suffer slightly from some spotty worldbuilding; Mandel establishes fascinating details about the socioeconomic divide concerning who grows up on literally the dark side of the moon, yet the colonies arrive so fully formed that their background feels incomplete ... Where Mandel succeeds is in reminding us that even the most life-changing, seemingly unique moments will eventually repeat themselves ... Readers may be split on whether Station Eleven was too much to read during this point in history, but Sea of Tranquility provides a strange comfort ... what a treat to witness the inner workings of a celebrated author and especially this ambitious experimentation during a period in which we were all bouncing off the walls — in this case, seeing what sticks.