The Waters Rising by Sheri S. Tepper
It pains me to DNF this book. Sheri Tepper is one of my favorite authors. Her novel The Family Tree is one of my all time favorite books. But I can’t make myself continue reading The Waters Rising. I have tried for over a month to read this book, and the same thing happens every time — I find my attention wandering after about five minutes. I think this can be attributed to three different things.
First, if you’re going to set a story on future Earth, you’re bounded by Earth’s physics and geography. The world in The Waters Rising is being submerged. Most of the world was left devastated during an incident called The Big Kill, a technologically-environmentally driven collapse of most of the world. Genetically engineered creatures now roam the wilderness with no natural predators to stop them, and technology has basically disappeared from among the survivors. What differentiates this from other dystopian futures is that there is a new disaster arising — the water at the center of the earth is starting to emerge, causing continued flooding and the loss of more land. As the water leaks out, land is falling into the cavities left behind, causing more land loss. One character, talking about the extent of the new flooding refers to Misspi as having been submerged. Now, I have no problem if you want to create a world where you actually have water emerging from the core of the earth, but according to my high school earth sciences class, this world isn’t built like that. The basic scientific discrepancy left me cold, and made it impossible for me to submerge (haha) myself in the story.
Second, and more importantly, I don’t care about any of the characters. The villainess, as far as I can tell, is EEEEEEVILLLLLLLL. That’s about her only distinguishing characteristic. We know she is evil because she is sexually active, aggressive, manipulative in seeking her own advantage, and driven to acquire wealth and standing. I don’t think this story would work if she was a man. There is no nuance to her or to any of the characters. The protagonist is boring and perfect, when she isn’t being a ninny; the supporting characters are uni-dimensional and, I’m afraid, stereotypical. As far as I can tell, the heroine and her people are the remnants of the Chinese or a conglomeration of the remaining Asian peoples. Of course, they are also mystical, possessors of ancient knowledge, and technologically advanced. I found the stereotypical nature of this insulting. It just felt tone-deaf from an author who is typically very politically astute in her writing.
Third, it bugs me when authors attempt to create tension by withholding information, because then it is confusing. You should be able to build tension with the story, not by obfuscation. I don’t know what mysterious organization the male lead is a member of, or the purpose of that organization, or who he is taking orders from and why. If he’s there on a mission, it would be nice if we at least understood why he is there. (The Waters Rising is marketed as a stand-alone novel set in the world of A Plague of Angels, not as a sequel.) The way it read made it feel like the beginning to a badly written D&D campaign, where the dungeon master hasn’t worked out a back story, so all the adventurers meet in an inn.
I think the most damning element is that I haven’t mentioned a single character by name. Wanna know why? Because I can’t remember a single character’s name. I’ve been reading this book for a month and I don’t know the characters’ names. That’s not a good sign. The female lead’s name starts with an X, but without going and looking at the book, I can’t remember them. So, as much as it hurts me, this Tepper novel is not going to get finished. I think I’ll go reread The Family Tree to get the bad taste out of my mouth.
Like Ruth, I spent about a month trying to read The Waters Rising; and, like Ruth, I found it hard to concentrate on it for more than a few pages. I gave up when I realized I was now a month behind on everything else I wanted to read, and that the bookmark I’d placed in The Waters Rising never seemed to move, no matter how much time I spent with the book. Unlike Ruth, I’d never read a Sheri S. Tepper novel before, though I’ve read the first few pages of Beauty and am intrigued. I think I’ll try to forget about The Waters Rising and give Beauty a try, and let that be my introduction to Tepper.
The concept is an interesting one. The novel is set in the Earth of the future. We’ve made a mess of the planet by means of technology, and now there is a further calamity that is flooding areas that escaped the earlier disasters. The male lead, Abasio, comes upon a castle in what we know as the Pacific Northwest and meets the female lead, Xulai, a child who has been selected for a dangerous task.
Unfortunately, the book plods. Part of the problem is that much of the dialogue is stilted and infodump-heavy; it’s not uncommon in The Waters Rising to find characters expounding to each other about the geography of the setting. Some of the problem may relate to my own literary preferences. It’s rare that I can become engrossed in a book that relies so heavily on traveling-across-the-landscape-with-enemies-in-pursuit as a structure. I think I’m supposed to be gleaning an ecological message from the book; instead I feel like I’m reading an account of a D&D campaign (or maybe Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, which reminded me of, well, a D&D campaign.)
Then there’s the disturbing romance between Abasio and Xulai. A minor spoiler: Xulai is not as young as she looks. However, Abasio becomes strongly attracted to her when he still thinks she’s a precocious seven-year-old. This is icky, and it’s made even more icky by the fact that Xulai is Tingawan (Chinese), because of the history of fetishization and infantilization of Asian women. Abasio is supposed to be the hero and instead comes off as really skeevy.
I got about halfway through The Waters Rising and threw in the towel. I’ve decided that this book and I were simply not meant for each other.
It’s always extra disappointing when it’s a favorite author that hits your DNF button. I’ll be giving this one a miss.
I’m still plodding away at it, but I think the elves come and move my bookmark backward when I’m sleeping. I just don’t seem to be progressing.
Looks like someone shared your opinion about the pokey start of this one:
I finished it but I’m a huge fan, and I don’t think it was one her better ones.