Sea as Mirror
Tess Williams


'Sea As Mirror' is Tess Williams' second novel. The book is innovative in its sturcture and layout. It incoporates both email and magazine articles alongside standard narrative.

For all its innovations, though, the book is a flawed. The main character, Elizabeth, is a satellite tower technician. Because of her background she undertakes the highly skilled position of linguist, a field of work completely and totally different to her skills, to open human - whale communications.

The rest of the characters are divided into two types; those who believe Elizabeth is communicating with the whale (aka women), and those who don't (aka men). No explanation is given for the gender based division between those supporting and helping Elizabeth's communication with the whale, and those sceptical of and hindering Elizabeth's communication with the whale.

But given the gender division of the characters it came as no surprise that when Elizabeth needed to communicate a sense of religion and deity she eschewed the Christian motif of Christ on the cross for pagan symbology. And in the portrayal of pagan symbology she presented only the feminine images and ignored the masculine aspect of the duality of pagan belief. This portrayal confirmed the sexist character delineation which had been developing, for no adequately explained reason, from the beginning of the book.

'Sea As Mirror' is told from both human and whale perspectives. The whale perspective is given in whale-speak to '..offer a world which is different but from an intelligent point of view.' The only discernible difference is the whale-speak being a corruption of grammar into pidgin. The thought concepts of the whales are indistinguishable from that of the people portrayed in the book. A glossary of whale-speak is provided at the back to explain the pidgin language, unfortunately not all of the terms used are explained. It is mainly the terms whose definition are self-evident, by the context in which they are used, which are mentioned in the glossary.

The sections of email are used not to advance the plot, but dump vast quantities of biological theory on the reader to enable them to understand the story. The person Elizabeth is in correspondence only appears in the email sections. Coincidently they have precisely the right knowledge to answer Elizabeth's esoteric questions.

The couple of fictitious magazine clippings included are used as vehicles to bring the reader up to speed on what is happening in the book. The state what is happening in the rest of the world. It is done in a style trying to convince the reader it is a genuine article from a future magazine, except it rambles onto several tangents within each article. The points covered in each article would, in a true magazine, be several articles with a different focus.

The epilogue is unconvincing. After three generations of living on the sea a child is born with gill flaps on the side of her neck. As yet they are non-functional, but an indicator of the future. This is highly unlikely. They companion creatures of the humans living on the water are whales, sea-bound mammals with lungs, not gills. The morphological change needed to move to an aquatic existence requiring gills is more drastic and severe than required by the humans habitat. Webbing between the fingers and toes would have been a more convincing evolutionary change to suit the humans amphibious lifestyle.

Tess also seems unable to decide whether the book is written for Australia or the United States. Terms and spelling vary throughout the book. Sometimes colour is spelled without the 'u', sometimes with. In the prologue a young Elizabeth dresses in a sweater, which is then called a jumper through the rest of the prologue.

The best that can be said about this book is the writing, in the standard text, is accomplished. The characters are well drawn and consistent. The settings are described in detail, without getting in the way of the story. Tess has the ability to write a good story, but she has tried to do too much in this book.

All in all a book that attempts great things, but sadly fails.