The Lord's Pink Ocean
New York: Daw, 1973
I'm not so sure that The Lord's Pink Ocean would have appealed to the audience that had been so captivated by the sentimental, uplifting story of Geordie MacTaggart. This is a novel of the 'seventies, a bleak work of science fiction set in a world deadened by a shocking pink algae. The cold waters of the Arctic and Antarctic protect several thousand survivors, but this is not their story. Instead we have the Parkers and the Smiths, two small farming families eking out a living in a secluded valley that overlooks what was once the city of Boston.
Yes, a secluded valley above Boston.
The Parkers are black, the Smiths are white; the Parkers have a boy, the Smiths have a girl; father Parker hates father Smith and vice versa. There's all sorts of stuff going on here, but for what purpose?
My reactions to The Lord's Pink Ocean mirrored those of William French, who in the 12 September 1972 edition of the Globe and Mail wrote:
I thought for a while that Walker was writing a satirical novel – that would make it more bearable. He could easily be poking fun at religion, which plays some part in the plot, or science fiction – pink algae, indeed – or industrial society, scientific progress and pollution. But the horrible realization dawned that he was serious.
French goes on to poke fun himself at Walker's dialogue, providing this example:
"Now be good sports and give our floats a mighty shove. Toodle-oo, then."
Those are the words of an Inuit Anglican minister preparing to fly off in his pontoon plane.
Like so many post-apocalyptic fantasies, The Lord's Pink Ocean works only if one doesn't pause to think. In this, film has an advantage – head shots to zombies do distract – but with a novel read over the course several evenings questions come to mind. For example, how is it that people born just a few years – or is it months? – after the collapse of civilization know next to nothing about "The Time Before"? How do two estranged men, each raised without religion, develop identical systems of belief? Why is it that they speak like 19th-century Mennonites, while their teenager children speak like... well, teenagers? And what's with that altitudinous valley anyway?
French titled his review "Blushingly Bad". A bit harsh, perhaps. The Lord's Pink Ocean is nothing more and nothing less than a middling genre novel. Might we expect better from a Governor General's Award recipient? Yes, but let's also remember that Walker was honoured in the same decade that saw the award go to Igor Gouzenko and Lionel Shapiro.
I chose to read The Lord's Pink Ocean because I thought it would be quirky enough to hold my interest. I mean, just look at the title. Maybe I made a mistake. A friend's mother recommends Walker's 1960 novel, Where the High Winds Blow, but I think the time has come to leave the author behind.
Toodle-oo, I say.
Object and access: Readers of science fiction will know what I mean in writing that this is a typical Daw paperback. For those who are unfamiliar: A nondescript mass market with a cover that does not reflect its contents. Copies of the Daw paperback are sold online for less than one Canadian dollar. The first edition, published in 1972 by Collins, can be easily had for less than eight dollars. Library shelves hold hundreds of copies, though Canadians will have to make do with the Toronto Public Library, Library and Archives Canada and our fine universities.