The Green Glass Sea / Ellen Klages

So I went on a two month road trip in January and February. Which meant I was going to need an alternate method to read books. I subscribed to Audible and started looking for titles. As has been normal for the last couple of years, I looked for science fiction by women. It’s much harder to find interesting audio science fiction by women (at least on Audible) than with read-with-your-eyes books. Based on a suggestion by Debbie Notkin, I started by looking for WisCon guests of honor and Tiptree winners, and found Ellen Klages’ The Green Glass Sea. If you have ever met Ellen Klages, she is a riot. And as it turns out, a good writer.

Cover of The Green Glass Sea

Dewey Kerrigan is a young girl whose father is a mathematician. Dewey is a bit of an orphan. Her mother ditched the family long before. She hasn’t seen her father in some time at the start of the book, as he works for the government on a top secret military project. That book does not name the project, though it’s clear to us in the future that this is the Manhattan Project. At the beginning, Dewey is being shipped west to live with her father in New Mexico after a stay with her grandmother, who has just been put in a home.

Living on a top secret military base seems to suck quite a bit. But it does have one huge plus, and that is Klages gets to construct a sciency geeky kid’s dream: having a scientist father who encourages his kid to dig science, with brilliant scientists at every turn who explain things as well. The split makes for interesting comparison. Dewey is happy at home where she lives her dream, but struggles to fit in at school with her less experimental classmates.

Aside from Dewey’s story, the larger story of the atomic bomb is told. But seeing it through Dewey’s perspective has interesting effects. I, as the reader, only get to see pieces of the struggle to build the bomb, and only get to hear parts of the philosophical arguments for its manufacture and use. Of course, I understand the implications far more than Dewey does. The celebrations of the crew at the successful test are more of her guardians’ having a successful day at work, but have an ominous cloud for me.

I really liked Dewey. I wanted to see her do well. Both good and bad things happen to Dewey, but structurally the book doesn’t pivot on something like her science fair project. Dewey’s role is that of oblique witness to the gadget. The drama and buildup surrounds it, and I knew how that turned out. Dewey’s story and the gadget’s story intertwine, but their successes are not conditioned on each other.

By the end I wondered what kind of person Dewey would grow up to be. There is a sequel, but I don’t think it takes us to her adulthood. It also gets me wishing I had that kind of scientific encouragement as a child. Absent the crappy stuff that happens, she has something I kinda wish I had as a kid. For instance, I would love my childhood to be one where I built radios with my dad.

Lastly, as an audiobook, I quite enjoyed this. It had just the right pacing and level of complication for me to follow along smoothly while listening. Actress Julie Dretzin narrated the recording. She read more slowly than other books I’ve listened to, which I really appreciated. It makes it much easier for me to follow. The narration comes off as a bit melancholy rather than nostalgic. I don’t know if that’s just her style, or if it comes off that way because of the book. It definitely fits the text.

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