The only reason I read The Quiet Pools is because it was a Hugo Award nominee. I love lists, and I’ve been reading through every Hugo nominee and winner. I tried to track down a copy of this book through the library system, after discovering it wasn’t available as an e-book (at least not anywhere I knew to look). The library system, even through interlibrary loan, took a while to track it down. I was surprised at its apparent scarcity, given it was a Hugo nominee and also a fairly recent (1991) novel. Then I read it, and was thrilled. It’s books like The Quiet Pools that make me want to read lists like I do–they help me discover reads that I enjoy immensely that I’d never have encountered otherwise.
Kube-McDowell has crafted a surprising look at the launch of a generation ship. Many novels set around the same idea focus either on the generation ship’s flight or on the apocalypse that leads to its launch. Here, though, the entire book is around the leadup to the launch of the second generation ship to leave Earth. The first one was met with adulation, but this one is seen by some as stealing the best and brightest from Earth for chasing a forlorn and possibly heretical dream in the stars.
What surprised me most, though, is that the part of the book I was most interested in was following the imagined family dynamics of the future as Kube-McDowell explores the concept of a “Trine” (family group with three adults married) or other groups with more people through the lens, primarily, of the male partner of three. Initially, Christopher comes off as foolish and jealous, but the way the group gets developed is fascinating, as is the look at counseling for Christopher. It’s a familiar idea with new developments , and it gives a strong basis for character development that actually goes somewhere in the midst of this novel with bigger ideas. In a way, the whole book reads like a kind of slice-of-life novel set around a major world event, and the main thrust of the novel–the launch of the generation ship–can almost fade into the background at times as we see not just Christopher but several other characters living their lives. Yes, these lives are centered around the ship in many ways, but they also are lives lived, full of flaws and tragedy and hope and development.
There are also scenes centered around the selection process for who goes on the ship and who stays. There are some action scenes around terrorist-fueled attempts to stop the launch or disrupt the selection process. There is tragedy and loss, and triumph. It’s all written in a rather quiet way. I saw the reviews on Goodreads/Amazon placing it squarely in the 3/5 camp on average, and that doesn’t surprise me. One almost has to be in the right mood for this book. It’s an exploration of humanity, but not one that is as wide and vaunted as a space opera, nor one as hyper-focused as some hard sci-fi thriller. And it hit me at the right time, in the right way.
The Quiet Pools holds up well. Kube-McDowell doesn’t try to predict the future, but simply reports a version of it as he imagines it. And it’s believable, almost to the point of being humdrum. It just feels like it could be the near future, especially the near future as viewed from the early 90s, when the novel was written. I’m not saying that it is dated–and it probably is, in some ways–I’m saying that it is the kind of book that gives insight into the view of the world at the time in which it was written. I mean this in a good way.
The Quiet Pools ought to be considered a classic of science fiction. It’s a subtle story that reflects upon human nature in the midst of greater events. And it deserves a wider readership.
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