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Scott Mackay
Pyr Books, 340 pages

Scott Mackay
Scott Mackay is the author of the science fiction novels The Meek and Outpost; a mystery novel, Cold Comfort; and a World Wr II thriller, A Friend in Barcelona, in addition to numerous short stories. He is the winner of the Okanagan Award for literary short fiction. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Orbis
SF Site Review: Outpost

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Somewhere along the line, while he was writing Tides, the question may have been asked of Scott Mackay, "Why a science fiction novel?" After all, you have a courageous sea-captain, uncharted waters, and an undiscovered continent with seemingly backwards natives waiting to be exploited. Why not an historical novel, with a modern emphasis on the sins of the exploiters?

Because then there would not be two moons in the sky, with tidal waves a hundred feet high, and there would not be such a disparity in resources between the two continents; with Paras a fruitful garden lacking in the metals necessary for advancing technology, and Ortok a bleak, volcanic landscape, short on food but rich in the metals that Paras lacks. Mackay uses this set-up to explore the conflict of two cultures, one with an enforced code of honesty in public conduct, the other with a kill-or-be-killed ethic.

Hab Miquay is the mariner whose quest to sail past the tides and find a fabled continent rich in iron sets events in motion. His attempts to gain financing are reminiscent of Columbus begging the courts of Europe for money, and it is quickly apparent that, like Columbus, Hab is willing to stretch the truth in order to get what he wants. Hab quickly finds himself up against the Formulary, Paras' law that values honesty above all else. But Hab's increasing willingness to deceive, and more, does not prepare him for what he finds on Ortik, a civilization almost the total opposite of Paras in its regard for truth and pursuit of power.

It's the science-fictional aspects of Tides that allow Mackay to set up this confrontation of civilizations with different, and quite opposed, ethics, based on each's access to natural resources. This morality play aspect of Tides shows itself mostly in the character of Hab Miquay, whose experiences make him uniquely qualified to understand both sides.

Still, Tides is first and foremost an adventure story. The challenge of sailing the ocean in a wooden boat and a story that features imprisonment, betrayal, escape, murder, and war sees to that. While Hab is aware of the moral dimensions of his actions, he does what he has to do and for much of Tides the philosophical quandaries become secondary to matters of survival and the need for action. There are hints, however, of more to come, of an underlying deep history that links two alien cultures and sheds light on the origins of Paras. No doubt there are further volumes to come in which Mackay can continue to explore both the personal and cultural consequences of a clash between the morality of honesty and the ethics of survival. Until then Tides, with its combination of spirited adventure and characters beginning to understand themselves and the world they live in will do just fine.

Copyright © 2006 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson has lived most of his life about as far away from an ocean tide as a human being can be. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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