Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Tsunami, by L. Timmel Duchamp

L. Timmel Duchamp
Aqueduct Press: 2007

Tsunami is set almost ten years after the conclusion of the previous volume in the Marq’ssan Cycle, Renegade. Tsunami does not reboot this series, exactly, but it refocuses the nature of the storyline. The Executive is once again operating openly in the world and in the wake of years of war, consolidating power. The Free Zones, under the nominal protection of the Marq’ssan, are building the vision the Marq’ssan presented – that of a free and cooperative society. The leaders of the Free Zones are building alliances and cooperation with other, more supportive governments, and are working towards equality.

There are three primary character perspectives in Tsunami: Elizabeth Weatherall, Martha Greenglass, and Celia Espin. After the first two novels, Weatherall and Greenglass are rather well known characters. Celia Espin is new. She is a human rights lawyer who, for doing her job, gets in trouble with the Executive. This brings Celia into the larger narrative of Tsunami – that of the conflict between the Free Zone and the Executive. Or, more accurately, the conflict complete social and political change.

Ultimately, Tsunami is a novel about power. The power of the Executive. The power of the Marq’ssan. The power of the Free Zone and the power of change. One of the many ways Duchamp demonstrates this is through Elizabeth Weatherall. Weatherall has been the de facto leader of the Security branch of the Executive for more than a decade. As the personal assistant to Robert Sedgwick, she wielded Sedgwick’s power when he was not able to. Weatherall had all the power of Security in everything but name. At any time any of the other senior leaders of the Executive could trump Weatherall by going to Sedgwick. Tsunami features a major power struggle between Weatherall and Sedgwick and this struggle is central to the narrative and the shape of the series.

This is a highly political novel filled with depth of thought. Duchamp uses dialogue and the inner narration of the characters to explain political and power philosophy. Duchamp may be a bit blunt and obvious in the handling of this political discourse, but by this point it is part and parcel of the story Duchamp is telling. She is telling a political and feminist story, and if that was going to be a problem it would have been a problem in Alanya to Alanya.

I hate to use cliché when talking about a work of this depth, but Tsunami is, in a sense, a case of the “dread” Middle Book Syndrome. First, it is a true middle novel, the third of five. That has nothing to do with the Syndrome because some book HAS to be the third book of five. The thing is, on a superficial level, Tsunami fits the bill. Duchamp moves characters from Point A to Point B (not necessarily physical locations, but in story terms) and sets up the direction of the series is to go with the next volume Blood in the Fruit. Specifically, I’m talking about Elizabeth Weatherall. Weatherall opens Tsunami in her previous role as Sedgewick’s Personal Assistant but in the very first pages Sedgewick confronts Weatherall with her actions in Renegade, the emotional torture and breaking of Kay Zeldin. This sets the tone and the gradual change in Weatherall’s position and political beliefs. Weatherall, more than any other character in Tsunami, is absolutely central to the story Duchamp is telling with this series and it is the changes in Weatherall that will set up Blood in the Fruit.

The thing is, there is far less of a clearly defined story in Tsunami than there was in either Alanya to Alanya or Renegade. The three character perspectives do not come together to build a unified whole. Rather, they remain mostly distinct stories which serve to better set up the next two volumes. This does not make Tsunami any less readable or enjoyable, but it does prevent Tsunami from in any way standing on its own as a novel. It is entirely dependent on what came before and what will come next. That’s fine, but it worth noting that what readers may have expected after Renegade is not at all what Duchamp gives the readers. The tension does not ratchet up as it did with the Weatherall / Zeldin showdown in Renegade. The closest to that sort of dramatic tension that is contained within Tsunami is the political / emotional interactions between Weatherall and Sedgwick. While these are arguably the highlights of the novel, they do not deliver the same visceral punch as did the first two novels.

In the end, Tsunami is a solid novel, if not as impressive as the previous two. It sets the stage for what are likely to be two explosive (politically, if not with action) novels. The fallout from Weatherall’s actions and the larger role the Marq’ssan took in this novel will be worth checking out.

Previous Reviews
Alanya to Alanya

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