Nathan Lowell’s South Coast is the fourth of his tales of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper that he has podcast at Podiobooks. Unlike the others, this one is set on a single planet, and is subtitled A Shaman’s Tale. It follows Otto Krugg, only son of Richard, who is the Shaman of his village. As Richard is, so must Otto be, and at first the inevitability rankles. But while the commercial fishing industry tries to get through a crisis time, which involves Otto’s parents being out fishing all day, Otto comes first to terms with his destiny, and then embraces it.
In a parallel thread, we follow Jimmy Pirano, the Company representative on the planet, and incidentally son of the CEO of the company. Jimmy is given the job of increasing the planet’s catch of fish by an impossible amount, and a good deal of the book is devoted to his struggles to do so.
A third thread follows Richard, who has never really been a proper Shaman. He has simply gone through the motions. When he is bitten by a dangerously venomous fish, he experiences an internal change so great that it allows him finally to become a real Shaman. Richard’s and Jimmy’s stories cross and are resolved in the final scenes of the book.
The fundamental driver of the first half of the book is the impossible demand to increase the quota of fish caught. The characters expend a lot of energy trying to find out what subtle and devious plans have resulted in the unexpected and unreasonable demand. When the reason for the impossible demand became clear, I was distinctly disappointed by a turn of events I thought unlikely to happen in real life. Without spoiling the plot, I can’t say much more than that I would have thought such momentous issues would have been more widely discussed than they were.
My favourite parts of the book were the mystical sections where Otto is discovering his vocation as a Shaman. He discovers his ability to carve whelkies, spirit guides in the form of animals carved from driftwood, that are given by Shamans to people who need help. The carving process is referred to as freeing the animal from the wood. Otto also discovers how to bless boats, and that it involves a small sacrifice of his own blood. It is the difference between Otto’s form of blessing and Richard’s that lets us know that Otto is the real deal and Richard is the fake. My enjoyment of the slow discovery of a personal vocation continues a trend for me with Lowell, as I also enjoyed those parts of his other books where Ish was discovering his own vocation.
On the whole, however, I don’t think South Coast worked as well as the Trader’s Tales, nor did I feel the need to devour it in a single day, as I did with them, and so I rate this book yes.