Pacific Storm, by Linda Nagata
I love Linda Nagata’s writing. It’s not just how she can fuse near-future technologies with the constancy of the human condition. Or how she can take large, sprawling issues – in this case, the effects of climate change – and make it feel intrinsic to a story line without pontificating; the response of the characters speaks for itself. It’s not even that she can take extremely complicated settings and make them feel accessible.
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No, what I love most about Linda Nagata’s writing is that her stories center around characters who are atypical in just how typical they are. Not ordinary, but recognizable.
Take the central character in her newest standalone novel, Pacific Storm. Ava Arnett is a shift captain with the Kahanamolu Coastal Authority based in O’ahu, Hawai’i. Experienced, capable, conscientious. Everything you would want in a central character in a near-future sci-fi local enforcement thriller. But… a woman. Middle-aged. Divorced – amicably. She chose to stay behind in Hawai’i after it had been decimated by Hurricane Nolo nine years earlier while her children moved to the mainland with their dad, because Hawai’i was her home, and it needed her. Her children needed her too… but not as much. There’s sadness attached to that, and yearning, and occasional guilt. But not angst. No drama. Ava has made her decision, and lives with it.
Now another hurricane is bearing down on the island, and Ava’s organization is focused on ensuring that it’s residents and tourists – those who are left, who didn’t manage to make it out – are safe (or what authorities are hoping is safe). But there are still those who stalk others. There are still those who subvert what feels like chaos, and, as Ava learns, who use disaster for their own aims, both personal and political. And even as the hurricane draws closer, the threats that Ava is uncovering become even more potentially destructive to the place she calls home, and the people she considers family.
Oh, but there’s so much more to this story. There’s savvy technology, used compellingly. There are environmental threats that are unfamiliar to us, but disturbingly plausible. There is a community – both organized and grassroots, commercial and indigenous – that is distrustful yet dependent on each other, sometimes simmering just at a boiling point, and that tension tears at the framework of the story. There is action, there is adventure. There is a love story. There are other characters that you care about. There are enough betrayals – some knowingly orchestrated and some shadowy – that part of the conflict of the narrative is knowing whom to trust, and when to recognize paranoia borne out of a lack of purchase. And there always, running throughout the entire narrative, the beautiful, beautiful backdrop of Hawai’i, even as it braces for disaster.
Pacific Storm is another one of Linda Nagata’s superlative efforts, that succeed on many, many levels. Science fiction fans will enjoy the technology and Linda’s imaginative take on what lies in store for us. Military sci-fi fans will enjoy the structure. Those who are drawn to thrillers will have plenty of action, mystery lovers will have a heckuva great time trying to figure out what is going to happen next. Those who enjoy complex yet clear characters will be rewarded – and those who understand that our environment is a part of our ongoing story will see both caution and incredible beauty in the narrative.
And for those of us who have been following Linda Nagata for years – we are treated to what we’ve come to expect: intelligent storytelling, thrillingly told, memorable, and above all, entertaining. Pacific Storm is definitely not to be missed; if you don’t know Linda’s works – this is a great place to start.
— Sharon Browning