Review: Lethe by Tricia Sullivan

I really shouldn’t wait months to review something. I started reviewing books so that I could REMEMBER what I liked about books. When I read Maul by Tricia Sullivan, I decided I wanted to read everything she had written and then I proceeded to forget that decision. Last year, if I recall correctly (sensing a pattern yet), a mention in Locus of her Lightborn sale reminded me of that decision and tracked down copies of Lethe, Someone to Watch Over Me and Dreaming in Smoke to complete my collection. (I already had Sound Mind, Double Vision and of course Maul.)

But this is a review of Lethe, Trica Sullivan’s first novel, which I read in late November 2009. Lethe alternates between 2 connected but very different story lines. On earth we follow a young woman that’s been genetically enhanced to be able to communicate with dolphins and at the far edge of our solar system a young man has stepped through a gateway to a distant world. The back story that unfolds through both plots involves a genetic war that left much of our planet uninhabitable by unmodified humans.

While reading this I was struck by how much the plot felt like cyberpunk even though most of the trappings were alien to that genre. But if you accept either the distributed network of telepathic dolphins or dreamlike alien ecosystem as replacements for “cyberspace” you’ll get the picture of what I’m trying to describe. Questions about what it means to be human and the associated warping of morality drive the story. Both storylines have a mystery that needs solving and the book builds well toward a satisfying climax.

I sometimes like to describe a movie as “very movie.” That use of cinematography to achieve something that could only be achieved in a movie. Lethe is “very science fiction.” It’s chocked full of imaginative ideas explored with intricate extrapolations. Where it falls a bit short is it’s connection to our present. As written the story could have been 1000 years in the future instead of just 200 and earth really could have been any planet. Probably this is a reaction to my expectations after having read Maul which is 1/2 “very science fiction” and 1/2 surreal nightmare version of 20th century Americana.

Maul is still the top Tricia Sullivan book I’d recommend if you’ve not read anything by her, but Lethe is totally on my list of out of print books I’ll grab whenever I can find them so I have them to gift.

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~ by mentatjack on April 25, 2010.

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