Starving Review: The Tsunami That Reshaped America: A Novel by James W. Mercer


The Tsunami That Reshaped America: A Novel by James W. Mercer (Amazon, Goodreads)

A well-balanced literary diet is important for any lover of literature, even if this Starving Reviewer often has to take whatever he can scrape onto his plate.  Today’s literary repast is the opposite of my last one in many ways.  Rooted in the near-now with hard science, Tsunami strives to fill the reader’s belly with the spicy tastes of the techno-thriller while grounded down to earth with a focused political situation.  Does Mr. Mercer match up to the master chefs of the genre or do things become muddled in the process?  Let’s find out!

Before we break out the silverware, let’s recite the Starving Review Rules to Eat By:

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.

There are three major core ingredients in Tsunami so taking a bite of each of those is a good starting place to this meal.  We have the techno side of things, the thriller, and finally the large amount of American politics mixed into spice it up a bit.

The scientific end of things, the techno side, is executed superbly.  The entire situation is rather well-grounded and believable.  There is ample explanation (perhaps too much, something we’ll look at later) that never talks down to nor talks over the average reader’s head, leading to an interesting basis for the main plot that doesn’t breach that all-important suspension of disbelief.  The few stretches of reality tend to be in association with the action scenes in the book, but those stretches play into the general action tropes associated with the genre and shouldn’t cause any problems with fans at all.

The thriller end of things, well, that’s where some lumps show up in the gravy.  At the macro level, the plot is well planned and executed but the problems emerge at the micro-level, at the writing itself.  Some scenes are well-paced but there are large sequences where the dramatic tension, the thrill of the thriller, is drained away as Mr. Mercer bogs down the narrative with minutiae.  To provide a prime non-spoilery example, during the rush to the climax, the main characters are racing across the globe to stop Horrible Threat A.  How long would you expect the travel itself to take, as nothing critical happens during it?  A sentence?  A paragraph at most?  No, Mr. Mercer treats up to three pages of travel specifics, even making mention of the quality of the layover airport’s shopping, before we make it to the scene of the climax.  That sort of thing KILLS the momentum of the action dead.  It’s never completely lost but the thrills are greatly impacted by this sort of stop-and-start narrative.

Finally, politics.  Here, the Starving Reviewer finds himself in a sticky spot, because his own personal politics is similar (at least in broad strokes) with the political narrative of this book.  However, even a like-minded thinker has to say that Mr. Mercer’s approach to the politics of the protagonists and the antagonists has all the subtlety of dropping an anvil on the reader’s head.  There is very little nuance in the world of Tsunami and political points are thrown at the reader on a regular basis, whether they are directly relevant to the story or not.  At times, it really feels like the book becomes more of a political tract than a techno-thriller.  It isn’t and that leads to Tsunami being the worse off for it.

When it comes to the writing itself, well, it’s a nice, plain white cake base.  It tastes fine but it never thrills.  Much like a recipe whipped up by a technically sound but uninspired chef, there’s almost no flaws in the grammar, style, or language, but there’s certainly nothing fascinating or dazzling about it.  This isn’t a bad thing, simply a statement of fact.  A solid style base is a Good Thing ™.

There is one flaw with the style, one that may be hard to mitigate given the style of the novel, and that is some fairly lengthy expository scenes mixed throughout the book.  From explaining the science, the politics, or other important chunks of story, I don’t think these scenes can be precisely removed but I do think they could be diffused a bit better, woven through action sequences or better masked into other segments.  Still, this is only a minor issue, as these scenes do move the plot forward, unlike the other filler scenes I mentioned earlier.

So, at the end of the meal, how did this reviewer feel about Tsunami?  Ultimately, The Tsunami That Reshaped America is a very utilitarian techno-thriller with few things to make it rise above the pack and few things that really hold it back.  The core premise is intriguing but held back by poor pacing that evaporates the dramatic tension.  Even with its flaws, someone with a strong left-leaning political bent mind find some fun to be had here but between heavy-handed political views, a lack of thrills for a thriller, and a sudden, poorly executed finale, this Tsunami didn’t do much to reshape my literary landscape.

FINAL VERDICT: ** (Solid core writing erodes under a deadening pace, a weak resolution, and excessive political pandering!)


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