Two races, two continents, two moons and one world, under the power of the 40-foot-plus tides of the great ocean - these elements flavor Scott Mackayís aptly titled novel, Tides. Mackay delivers a interesting tale of two races meeting for the first time, after thousands of years of evolving on separate from each other. The protagonist, Hab is the most distinguished mariner in his native land of Parras being the only person to brave the enormous tides and successfully sail to the planetís equator and back. Parrasís inhabitants refer to their country as the Golden Land, due to its near utopian lifestyle; people live rather simple lives, there is very little criminal activity and war has been outlawed/banned for five hundred years.
On one of the voyages Hab captains, a scientists informs him of another landmass, which he deduced from the remnants of volcanic ash falling out of the sky. This is later confirmed when Hab sees an ash cloud floating over the ocean. After journeying in the ocean for much of his life, and growing weary of life in Parras, Hab has the unquenchable desire to cross the ocean and prove there is life other than the gilded land of Parras. Hab urges his ruler to sanction him to lead an expedition across the enormous unforgiving ocean, in search of the mythical other continent. The proposition is very risky, both for the safety of the crews of the ships and the cost for mounting the expedition. Despite this, and the fact that his father died in the ocean after his ship was destroyed by the tides, Hab persists in this newfound drive. After a failed attempt at crossing the ocean, Hab rather sneakily signs away his familyís fortunes in order to secure a second three-vessel fleet.
Despite the loss of life and damage to the vessels, Hab and his remaining crew arrive on the newly discovered continent. However, when Hab and crew finally arrive, the inhabitants they meet and the land are not what he or his crew expected. Bleak, dark and desolate, Ortok, as the continent is called by its native lizard-men, is quite the opposite of Habís Golden Land. There is very little green or vegetative life and the land is pockmarked with volcanoes and the ever-threatening Lizard men. These lizard-men tower over the humans and because of the strength and power in their legs, bound or jump rather than walk. Hab and his crew aptly enough, come to call the Lizard-men hoppers. Hab eventually becomes a prisoner of Rango, one of the hopper drillmasters, and the two educate each other about their respective cultures and lands. Hab soon realizes just as the land and people of Ortok are very different, so is the philosophy and approach to life. Where honesty is the rule in Parras, the lie is the way in Ortok.
Mackay does some interesting things in Tides. In particular, I thought the two nations were well drawn. In some passages, as Rango takes Hab on a tour of Ortok, Mackay evokes the feel of the land nicely. There is a mystery behind the two races and the legends both races build about each other added a mythic feel to the story and world. I think Mackay also gave Hab a good supporting cast of secondary characters.
However, I did have some difficulties with Mackayís execution. Perhaps my largest problem was with the character of Hab. He was somewhat inconsistent and for all intents and purposes, not a very bright guy. Granted, he was brought up in a land where truth rules just about everything, I still felt he revealed too much information to his captor too easily. Given how he was not exactly truthful in securing the second expedition, this blind faith on his part was tough to swallow. Also, about one third into the book a characteristic/hobby is revealed about Hab, that worked for the moment in the plot, but was either not obvious or mentioned very much prior to that point in the story.
Even though the plot and outcome were both fairly predictable, and the protagonist was frustrating at times, I still feel Mackay put forth an interesting and thought-provoking novel. While the novel ended with closure, the world itself may be ripe for more stories Parras and Ortok. In total, Tides was a entertaining novel of cultural conflict and rite of passage.
© 2006 Rob H. Bedford