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New Release: Be the Sea – Clara Ward

Be the Sea - Clara Ward

QSFer Clara Ward has a new queer sci-fantasy book out (ace, bi, demi, gay, lesbian, non-binary, poly, trans): Be the Sea.

In November 2039, marine scientist Wend Taylor heaves themself aboard a zero-emissions boat skippered by elusive nature photographer Viola Yang. Guided by instinct, ocean dreams, and a shared birthday in 1972, they barter stories for passage across the Pacific. Aljon, Viola’s younger cousin, keeps a watchful eye and an innovative galley. Story by story, the trio rethink secrets, flying dreams, and how they experience their own minds.

When they reach Hawaiʻi and prepare to part ways, opportunity and mystery pull them closer together. Both scientific and personal discoveries take shape as they join with ex-lovers, lost friends, and found family. Wend must navigate an ever-shifting future, complicated by bioengineered microbes and a plot to silence scientists, entangled with inexplicable dreams and a calling to Be the Sea.

Warnings: This novel contains mentions of childhood bullying, child abuse, emotional manipulation, cults, trauma, and rape. Throughout the book, deep dreams are described, including some that are disturbing. Anxiety and a panic attack manifest on-page. The death and consumption of sea animals is depicted. There are brief instances of acephobia and polyphobia. Occasional discussion of off-page sexual activities include domination and kink. A character is accused of professional misconduct, and queer familial relationships are accused of being of dubious consent with regard to power dynamics. A bomb is used to threaten human life. Suicide attempts are discussed, and the two scenes opening Chapter 31 contain an on-page suicide and its retelling. Readers choosing to skip those scenes will learn who died and where at the start of the third scene. All issues are presented gently and with sensitivity to trauma.

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The water pulsed, dim but clear. The high cliffs enclosing La Baie des Vierges blanketed the seafloor in early morning shadows, while the rocking of meter-high swells comforted Wend. The press of warm water through their scuba gear meant safety. The drag of the air tanks, sample bot, and drybag on their back kept them grounded even while swimming through unfamiliar ocean.

A shining school of fish changed direction to swim alongside Wend. Their yellow-green backs and white bellies brightened the underwater world, making Wend smile behind their full-face mask. Only when the small fish turned and dove en masse, did Wend rise closer to the surface to reorient.

Five sailboats remained at anchor in La Baie des Vierges in November of 2039. Despite ten centimeters of sea level rise, looming rock features and tall palms still dominated the bay, viscerally reminding Wend of pictures posted decades before.

There it was. The reason Wend slipped uninvited, through unknown ocean, now of all times. The purple hydro turbine on the double-ended cutter pierced the clear water, a bright human-made shape, easy to spot below the surface. Nuovo Mar gleamed in a coordinated violet script at the stern. Since no ladder hung over the Nuovo Mar’s signature purple rubbing-strip, Wend timed their approach to swim up with a swell and throw an arm high to grab a metal stanchion.

Their shoulder yanked hard. They used the momentum and all the core strength they still possessed to kick one finned foot onto deck. The fin tip smacked hard and missed a solar panel by inches. Wend grimaced but carried on.

Rolling onto a boat’s deck was never graceful or quiet, but Wend made it on the first try, which was as much of a success as they could ask from the day.

“Dites-moi qui vous êtes!” The stocky figure shouted something that was clearly not a request and brandished a knife while holding something unidentifiable in the other hand.

“Dites-moi pourquoi la vie est belle.” Wend raised both hands and spit out their regulator as they responded impulsively, brain pattern-matching faster than it could decode a language Wend barely spoke.

“Tang ina!” The knife stabbed forward a couple inches, but with questionable intent.

Wend had no idea what that phrase meant but guessed it was a swear in some language other than French. “Hello? Hola? Ciao? Sawatdee?”

A taller figure rose from the shiny white cockpit into a slant of sunlight and responded in English, voice gruff but clear, “He doesn’t care why life is beautiful or how this ocean features in some old musical you’re quoting. But who you are seems like a fair question. Climbing aboard the wrong boat near dawn is a strange walk of shame.”

Wend pushed up to sitting. The deck was well equipped for an older sailboat, with two solar panels braced on the foredeck and two more clamped to railings. Feeling exposed all of a sudden, Wend took a deep breath. They leaned against their air tanks and all their earthly possessions strapped to their back, as they stared in between the two backlit figures. Wend carefully displayed both empty hands before disengaging their scuba mask and raising it onto their bristly short hair. “Are you Viola Yang? I’d like to join your crew.”

Only bird cries and lapping waves interrupted a long silence.

Then Viola laughed, deep in her throat, and asked, “I suppose you swam up from Atlantis to meet me?”

The man with the knife shook the item in his other fist menacingly. The shift revealed it to be a papaya. “Everyone on this island is loko-loko.”

He stomped over to a drying rack spread with sliced fruit and covered with netting. A separate drying rack held only fish. Without the bright light of the rising sun directly behind him, Wend saw the man was compact, maybe five foot six, wearing shorts and a faded red tank top over medium brown skin. The stringy but well-defined muscles of his arms and shoulders flexed as he chopped the papaya with more force than necessary, having dismissed Wend as a threat.

“You still haven’t said who you are.” Viola kept her distance but moved around the cabin and the stowed mainsail to lean against the bow railing. Her tank top was less faded than the man’s, batiked with mottled blues and greens on what might have been silk. It hung lose above threadbare denim cut offs. Messy curls of brown and gray framed olive-skinned monolid eyes that matched what Wend could remember from the picture on Viola Yang’s webpage.

The reality of what Wend had done hit them like an anchor dropped from above, but they found their voice and said, “I’m Gwendolyn Taylor. But please call me Wend, pronouns they/them. Your photos of attractive megafauna at the coral reef four islands over, in Anaho Bay, ran in the last issue of Ocean Rescue beside an article I co-authored with the Marine Census Project. I wrote the section on the reef microbiome.” Most of that speech came out the way Wend had planned, and they counted it as their second success of the day.

Viola lifted her chin but held the rest of her body still and relaxed against the rail. “Okay, say I check online, despite the exorbitant local cell rates, and confirm you are who you say. Why are you boarding my boat like a pirate, then demanding to join my crew?”

Pirate? Demanding? Wend took a deep breath, wondering if the words were meant as a joke. They didn’t feel like a lie, but there was a pressure behind each syllable. Wend wanted to explain that pressure and what had drawn them from several islands away, but couldn’t. Not yet.

Author Bio

Clara Ward lives in Silicon Valley on the border between reality and speculative fiction. When not using words to teach or tell stories, Clara uses wood, fiber, and glass to make practical or completely impractical objects.

Their short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Decoded Pride, The Arcanist, and as a postcard from Thinking Ink Press.

Author Website

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