"We all have some emptiness in our lives, an emptiness that some fill with art, some with God, some with learning. I have always filled the emptiness with drugs." This is how John Newhouse begins the tale of his adventures aboard a whaling ship that sails across the dust ocean of Nullaqua.
Sterling's first novel, published in 1977, Involution Ocean is a SF version of Moby Dick. The mad captain, Desperandum, has chosen knowledge, the secret of what lies beneath the great ocean of dust, as his great white whale.
Beyond the captain, sanity is in short supply on the whaling ship Lunglance. Newhouse falls in love with Dalusa, a female alien whose flesh is too sensitive to stand a human's touch, but who has a passion for human blood.
As the ship moves from one danger to the next, Sterling shows that he is capable of creating a patient and interesting piece of fiction that is more along the lines of fantasy than hard SF.
This is a well paced and curiously interesting book, a reminder that before his name became synonymous with cyberpunk, Bruce Sterling produced an elegant piece of science fiction in the New Wave tradition.
Ace Books, 1977