Monday, January 5, 2009

Book Review: The Lord's Pink Ocean

Book Review: 'The Lord's Pink Ocean' by David Walker

3/5 Stars

The Lord’s Pink Ocean’ (by David Walker) was published in hardcover in 1972. This DAW paperback edition (No. 67) was published in 1973. It has one of the better covers (by Josh Kirby) for a DAW book of that era, although I can’t say the cover illustration is particularly relevant to the novel.

‘Ocean’ takes place early in the 21st century. The unremitting pollution of the late 20th century has birthed a new strain of toxic, pink-colored algae which has taken over the salt and fresh waters of the planet. The landscape surrounding the contaminated waters is lifeless and gray, and the algae prevent any other plants from sprouting; indeed, any life trespassing on the contaminated zones is instantly poisoned and consumed. Most of the world’s population is dead. A few survivors eke out a primitive living in a rural area near Boston, where a spring feeds a lake located in a lush valley that has so far remained free of the algae. Two families, descendants of refugees from Boston, reside in the valley: the Parkers: James and Ruth, and their daughter Mary; and the Smiths: Robert and Janet, and their son Ian.

The two families have an uneasy alliance; nonetheless, they manage to overcome their mutual distrust in order to collaborate on crude construction and agricultural projects. As children, Mary Parker and Ian Smith are friends; but what will happen when they get older ? The Parkers are black, the Smiths white, and neither James Parker nor Robert Smith are over-inclined towards embracing racial harmony.

To complicate matters, there are strange sounds in the sky and glimpses of what appear to be flying machines. Are other survivors of the algal apocalypse present ? And what happens when they discover the unique oasis shared by the Parker and Smith families ?

‘Ocean’ is a short (160 pp) but well-paced and engaging psychological drama, rather than an SF novel per se. The algae are used as a plot device for Walker to set up his tale of youthful ambition conflicting with the staid ways of the elderly; very much a stylish topic in the early 70’s. In fact, the scientific background for the algal bloom isn’t introduced until later in the novel, and when it does appear it’s somewhat belatedly tossed into the plot.

The novel works because the author weaves suspense into the interpersonal conflicts between the two families, and also into the troubling prospect of contact with outside authorities. There’s never a sense that ‘good’ will triumph and the story necessarily will have a happy ending.

As an example of early 70’s Eco-Catastrophe SF, ‘Ocean’s' small scale and intimate setting don’t give it the overall scope and power of, say, Brunner’s ‘The Sheep Look Up’ or Harrison’s ‘Make Room ! Make Room !' But it’s an effective novel, and one of the better representations of this genre of speculative fiction.

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