The inimical race is a concept often found in speculative fiction: Orcs, Dragons, Bugs, whatever. They're the bad guys. They invade, serve dark gods, and generally set about the destruction of all that is good in the world. They provide stories with dramatic tension, and normally act as a stark contrast to the hero who must go to great lengths to defeat them. Along the way, the reader gets to enjoy some guilt-free thrills while watching the inimicals get defeated. Scott Mackay's ninth book, Tides, introduces us to another inimical race: Hoppers, the amphibious inhabitants of the continent Ortok.
The novel tells the story of Hab Miquay, a sailor who sets out from the opulent land of Parras, where honesty rules supreme. He searches for the new continent his friend, the court scientist Esten, has told him must exist on the other side of the world. But before Hab and his crew can reach this new land they will have to face social opposition at home and conquer the tides that affect the planet. Eventually, Hab discovers Ortok and comes into contact with its inhabitants, the Hoppers. Unlike the Parrasians, the Hoppers live under harsh conditions and value deceit above all else. Needless to say, conflict ensues.
Overall, Tides most resembles a first contact novel set in the Age of Sail, which is an interesting premise in and of itself. However, Mackay drops the ball in a number of places. The Hoppers are almost too repulsive a species, with few redeeming qualities, and there's no sympathy lost in watching their defeat. In addition, the social structure of Parras, with its Twenty Eight Formulas of Right Conduct, seems particularly designed to make the main character's life difficult. Never did I feel like the Formulary was more than a plot device, and Parras seems to be a fairly typical quasi-Renaissance country. As a result, by the end of the story I found myself caring little about the fate of Hab and his companions, and more than a bit bored.
It's hard to write about this book and not think of the works of Jack Vance, such as The Dragon Masters, The Gray Prince, and Blue World. Mackay has definitely crafted a story in the Vancian mode and explores similar themes. There's the conflict between the man of action and the effete urbanite, as well as one's need to overcome the elements in order to reach a fuller understanding of the world. But unlike Mackay, Vance was not afraid to stretch a point to absurdity (and in half the number of pages, too). I can't help wondering what Vance might have done with the Twenty Eight Formulas. More problematically, I felt like I was on overly familiar ground in Tides. Familiar is not always bad, but Mackay does not add much to this particular subgenre or update its tropes. In the end, despite all the excitement and adventure, Tides proves to be overly simplistic and unsatisfying.
Justin Howe was born and raised in the wilds of suburban Massachusetts. For reasons beyond his control, he must live in the vicinity of New York City. He attended the Odyssey Writers Workshop in 2005 and is on a first-name basis with his local librarians.
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