Stations of the Tide is set in the distant future on a planet named Miranda, specifically in an area called the Tidewater. Miranda’s three moons exert a tidal force that causes the oceans move with infrequent but catastrophic consequences. Once in several centuries, the jubilee tide threatens to submerge all land except the Piedmont. In the midst of this disorderly time, an official from the Bureau of Proscribed Technologies is sent to the planet to investigate whether a former off-planet worker brought back some contraband technology. It’s difficult to understand the crime when we are introduced to it. Only later when the history of Miranda’s and its struggles against its off-planet rulers become clearer do we understand that the planet has been technologically regressed to keep it weak and poor.
The man who the bureaucrat is searching for, Gregorian, is a self-proclaimed wizard. He features on recurring television commercials where (for a price) he claims to morph people into a form that will let them live under the sea, thus beating the tides. The idea of transformation is a recurrent theme in Stations of the Tide and for the residents of Miranda, reflects continuity from the haunts, the indigenous sentient beings who they displaced. The haunts had the ability to change form, to live on land and in water. They were driven to extinction by human colonisation but people continue to believe that they exist in small numbers, clandestinely living in the lands marked by the tide. The bureaucrat’s challenging quest to find Gregorian isn’t made any easier by the Mirandans who seem to mechanically conspire against outsiders. And there is a deeper question of what Gregorian intends to do and the scope of the assignment progresses beyond merely the retrieval of technology.
Stations of the Tide was published in 1991, the year that it also won the Nebula Award. In 1992, the book was nominated for the Hugo Award. The novel represents a fascinating, esoteric approach to science fiction. However, it’s challenging to keep up with the plot. I didn’t understand much of the technology. At times, I had no idea what was going on like the bureaucrat’s encounter with Earth’s agent, a giant naked robotic (I think) woman (pretty sure) and then the bureaucrat walks into her mouth and somewhere inside her, they have an odd, hallucinogenic conversation. I liked the concept of the haunts, the extinct native species of the planet but that theme is not followed through perhaps because they were meant to be a red herring. I also found the Tantric sex encounters between the aging bureaucrat and a local ‘witch’ somewhat incongruous. Was it really necessary in the overall scheme of things? In fact, many allusions and outright references to Hindu themes find their way into Stations of the Tide. Jehovah has no place in a world where ‘Krishna!’ is the script of exclamations. Moreover, the ideas of transformation, destruction and creating anew sound like they’ve come straight out of dharmic doctrine.
Aside from the obfuscation that we could have done without, Stations of the Tide is an oddly involving work.