It pains me to DNF this book. Sheri Tepper is one of my favorite authors. Her novel The Family Tree is one of my all time favorite books. But I can’t make myself continue reading The Waters Rising. I have tried for over a month to read this book, and the same thing happens every time — I find my attention wandering after about five minutes. I think this can be attributed to three different things.
First, if you’re going to set a story on future Earth, you’re bounded by Earth’s physics and geography. The world in The Waters Rising is being submerged. Most of the world was left devastated during an incident called The Big Kill, a technologically-environmentally driven collapse of most of the world. Genetically engineered creatures now roam the wilderness with no natural predators to stop them, and technology has basically disappeared from among the survivors. What differentiates this from other dystopian futures is that there is a new disaster arising — the water at the center of the earth is starting to emerge, causing continued flooding and the loss of more land. As the water leaks out, land is falling into the cavities left behind, causing more land loss. One character, talking about the extent of the new flooding refers to Misspi as having been submerged. Now, I have no problem if you want to create a world where you actually have water emerging from the core of the earth, but according to my high school earth sciences class, this world isn’t built like that. The basic scientific discrepancy left me cold, and made it impossible for me to submerge (haha) myself in the story.
Second, and more importantly, I don’t care about any of the characters. The villainess, as far as I can tell, is EEEEEEVILLLLLLLL. That’s about her only distinguishing characteristic. We know she is evil because she is sexually active, aggressive, manipulative in seeking her own advantage, and driven to acquire wealth and standing. I don’t think this story would work if she was a man. There is no nuance to her or to any of the characters. The protagonist is boring and perfect, when she isn’t being a ninny; the supporting characters are uni-dimensional and, I’m afraid, stereotypical. As far as I can tell, the heroine and her people are the remnants of the Chinese or a conglomeration of the remaining Asian peoples. Of course, they are also mystical, possessors of ancient knowledge, and technologically advanced. I found the stereotypical nature of this insulting. It just felt tone-deaf from an author who is typically very politically astute in her writing.
Third, it bugs me when authors attempt to create tension by withholding information, because then it is confusing. You should be able to build tension with the story, not by obfuscation. I don’t know what mysterious organization the male lead is a member of, or the purpose of that organization, or who he is taking orders from and why. If he’s there on a mission, it would be nice if we at least understood why he is there. (The Waters Rising is marketed as a stand-alone novel set in the world of A Plague of Angels, not as a sequel.) The way it read made it feel like the beginning to a badly written D&D campaign, where the dungeon master hasn’t worked out a back story, so all the adventurers meet in an inn.
I think the most damning element is that I haven’t mentioned a single character by name. Wanna know why? Because I can’t remember a single character’s name. I’ve been reading this book for a month and I don’t know the characters’ names. That’s not a good sign. The female lead’s name starts with an X, but without going and looking at the book, I can’t remember them. So, as much as it hurts me, this Tepper novel is not going to get finished. I think I’ll go reread The Family Tree to get the bad taste out of my mouth.