Sea of Tranquility

Updated: June 22, 2023

Written during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel is a science fiction novel that explores pandemics, time travel and the nature of reality.

Favorite quotes from the book:

"there's pleasure in action, there's peace in stillness"

"The truth is," Olive said, behind a lectern in Paris, "even now, all these centuries later, for all our technological advances, all our scientific knowledge of illness, we still don't always know why one person gets sick and another doesn't, or why one patient survives and another dies. Illness frightens us because it's chaotic. There's an awful randomness about it."

Won't most of us die in fairly unclimactic ways, our passing unremarked by almost everyone, our deaths becoming plot points in the narratives of the people around us?

If we can run fairly convincing simulations of reality now, think of what those simulations will be like in a century or two. The idea with the simulation hypothesis is, we can't rule out the possibility that all of reality is a simulation.

There's a low-level, specific pain in having to accept that putting up with you requires a certain generosity of spirit in your loved ones.

Pandemics don't approach like wars, with the distant thud of artillery growing louder every day and flashes of bombs on the horizon. They arrive in retrospect, essentially. It's disorienting. The pandemic is far away and then it's all around you, with seemingly no intermediate step.

If moments from different centuries are bleeding into one another, then, well, one way you could think of those moments, Gaspery, is you could think of them as corrupted files.

If a time traveler appeared before you and told you to drop everything and go home immediately, would you do it?

It's shocking to wake up in one world and find yourself in another by nightfall, but the situation isn't actually all that unusual. You wake up married, then your spouse dies over the course of the day; you wake in peacetime and by noon your country is at war; you wake in ignorance and by evening it's clear that a pandemic is already here.

This will be our lives now, she thought dully, memorizing which surfaces we've touched.

...if definitive proof emerges that we're living in a simulation, the correct response to that news will be so what. A life lived in a simulation is still a life.

When I wasn't playing my violin in the airship terminal I liked to walk my dog in the streets between the towers. In those streets everyone moved faster than me, but what they didn't know was that I had already moved too fast, too far, and wished to travel no further. I've been thinking a great deal about time and motion lately, about being a still point in the ceaseless rush.