Time Travel and Humanity: A Sea of Tranquility Book Review

Gabrielle Bossart, Editor

A quick, pleasant read, Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel follows a handful of characters throughout time and history as they find themselves connected by a strange phenomenon. The plot mainly follows Gaspery Roberts as he investigates an anomaly in time and ponders what it means to be human.  

It is a science fiction book with elements such as time travel, space travel, simulated reality, and moon colonies. The futuristic science aspects are subtle enough not to feel overwhelmingly unfamiliar, but just different enough to be interesting. But for all the scientific aspects, the book still feels remarkably human. It is ultimately about love, isolation, and human connection. It is about wanting and trying to save people even when it is impossible and finding where you belong in the messy web of human existence.  

The setting takes readers from the sweeping countryside of early 20th century Canada to present day earth to the futuristic moon colony known as the Night City. Sea of Tranquility weaves a web of characters that are dealing with their own deeply personal problems amidst massive ongoing societal changes. One of the characters, Olive Llewellyn, is an author dealing with the stressors of a book tour in the year 2203 when a pandemic breaks out on earth. Her experience harks back to a reality that is all too familiar to those who have lived through the isolation and struggles of Covid-19. 

My favorite aspect of the book was the concept of the Night City. St. John Mandel does an excellent job of building the city and giving it realistic nuisance. It is a semi-plausible look at what the future of space exploration and planet colonization may look like in the next few centuries. The ongoing concepts of time travel and the validity of reality were also compelling aspects of the plot that had me thinking about what it means to fully live a life.  

The novel is as much a character study as it is a thoughtful meditation on human survival, advancement, and what really matters at the end of the day. I will conclude with my favorite quote from a mere fourteen pages into the book. The quote comes right before Edwin, a young man living in England in 1912, is about to speak out against societal expectations at a dinner party full of his parents’ guests. It is as follows: “Sometimes you don’t know you’re going to throw a grenade until you’ve already pulled the pin” (14).  


Mandel, Emily St. John. Sea of Tranquility. Random House Large Print Publishing, 2022.  


Gabrielle Bossart is a Dakota Student Section Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].