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Bruce Sterling – Involution OceanInvolution Ocean is Bruce Sterling's first published Novel – and I very nearly threw it back on the 'read sometimes later' pile after reading the blurb on the back:
"The only habitable portion of Nullaqua is a handful of islands at the bottom of an immense crater. Surrounding the islands is a sea of the finest dust. And in the sea live the dust whales whose bodies yield Flare, a potent, exhilarating drug."

What does this sound like? Cheap Dune rip-off, anyone?
But fear not Dear Reader, it isn't … except in the very brief summary/blurb there are no similarities with Dune; this story has it's very own scenario and storyline.

The story takes place in the crater mentioned in the blurb – one heck of a crater it is; 70 miles deep, 500 miles across, and is filled with near-mono-atomic dust. As the only part of Nullaqua (now there's a descriptive name for you) that has breathable air and is thus inhabitable, it has some rather interesting flora, fauna, and of course history. The area just outside the crater sports the ruins of two Elder Culture Outposts, which makes the main human industry (Dust Whaling on the surface of the Dust lake of indeterminate depth) a rather interesting one if you think about it for a while.
The story follows the steps of one John Newhouse, connaisseur of the drug Flare, who ventures onto a Dust Whaler (Lunglance, captained by Nils Desperandum) to secure future provisioning of the drug, made from Dustwhale oil. On the Luglance he meets Dalusa, a winged, surgically beautiful alien, and embarks on a rather unusual relationship with her (Dalusa is allergic to physical contact with him).

I won't go into further details – this is a well written exploration / adventure story, playing in the remarkable flora and fauna of Nullaqua; featuring the group of sailors on the Luglance, and its secretive captain Desperandum, who sees himself as an  Explorer / Scientist of the old school, with very little formal backing or education.

Overall (you might have guessed from the main characters laid out above) most if not all characters in the story appear to be damaged, driven, and with unspoken agendas of their own. The lack of a proper 'hero' is something that appeals, and, I feel, is a trick Sterling does well, and did to perfection in his later Cyberpunk work.
This here is not his best or most polished work, but it's a great story, quite well executed, providing an entertaining read, and clearly shows the promise he had for the future (easy to say with hindsight, I know).
The main criticisms from my part would that the story appears trite in parts, and that he has a tendency not to correlate some details, or to only touch on some thing where they could have provided depth to the story, charcters, and/or setting.
Other parts are very well done  - I loved the fantastic life forms from the Dust sea, for example. You have seen the descriptive naming of places and characters – he also plays this game with the name of the book (Involution) – the story plays on multiple meanings of the word … clever indeed, and I'm not going to give away which ones I saw.

Definitely a book to purchase and read should a copy cross your paths.

Title: Involution Ocean
Author: Bruce Sterling
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  Legend
Publication Date:
Review Date: 1988
ISBN: 0099589206
Price: UKP2.5
Pages: 175
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Space Opera

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