by Aidan Baker
Steve Erickson's characters inhabit a fragile world, an alternate reality that might as well be our own, but isn't. His characters are always at some remove from their loved ones, whether physically or mentally, and the chain of consequence brings them fleetingly together only to tear them apart. Erickson writes about the forces of chaos that constantly alter and distort the individual's place within history. He revels in a sort of cyber-gothic mode mixed with cinematographic imagery (he used to be the film critic for the L.A. Times), slipping easily into a fantasy that almost seems entirely natural, except nothing is entirely natural in Erickson's world.
Erickson's previous novels are basically continuations of each other, but The Sea Came in at Midnight, his seventh novel, is notably distinct from his previous efforts. The novel opens in a new setting, Japan, and utilizes a new voice, a teenaged girl. Kristen works in a brothel that doesn't sell sex but memories, because the Japanese have run out of memories and have taken to buying and/or stealing them from American time-capsule cemeteries. When the perspective shifts from teenaged Kristen to another character—a shift that is trademark Erickson—and continues on through subsequent characters/narrators in a loop of coincidence, the book loses some of its originality, although it certainly doesn't lose its intensity or validity.
The central conceit to this novel is that of a secret millennium which has been in existence some 30 years before the year 2000 and the "real" millennium. As the character named the Occupant, who calls himself an "apocalyptologist," explains to Kristen: "sometime in the last half century . . . modern apocalypse outgrew God." This secret millennium is delineated not by a normal calendar cycle of days but by such random acts of nihilistic, sadistic, incomprehensible violence as the Sharon Tate murders (9 August 1969 or Year 2 of the Apocalyptic Calendar), the mass suicide of a religious cybercult hoping to catch a ride on a passing comet (26 March 1997/Year 29), or the death of Princess Diana (31 August 1997/Year 30).
Perhaps this conceit seems absurd to the point of foolishness. But Erickson revels in the absurd--the absurdities of ourselves, existence, the world--and while he may waver between profundity and foolishness on that tightrope of absurdity, The Sea Came in at Midnight makes for an intriguing and fascinating read as his characters move through the Age of Apocalypse, trying to make sense of and give meaning to their various realities.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 1999 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 1999