Thursday, May 08, 2008
Thursday Book Report: The Stone Gods
This was a heady one. Jeanette Winterson's The Stone Gods is a series of novella vignettes concerning our relationships with each other and our environment. I had read novels by Winterson before - most notably Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Sexing the Cherry, and Written On The Body. Winterson is a writer I primarily know for her exquisitely written stories on gender politics, so I was intrigued to learn she had written a sci-fi novel.
The first vignette, "Planet Blue," seems to take place in the not-far-off future. Billie Crusoe is a minor bureaucrat in the Enhancement Services - and is not fond of her job. She looks into barely legal DNA enhancements (one woman wants to have her DNA fixed so she appears 12 years old - to forestall her husband going after schoolgirls), and has a talent for accruing multiple parking tickets in a single day. She catches the eye of a famous Robo Sapiens; Spike has just returned from Planet Blue - the newly discovered planet that the affluent Caucasians plan to immigrate to, leaving Orbus (their dying planet) behind (and the Eastern Caliphate and the SinoMosco Pact with it). Spike is in the process of being downloaded to a mainframe and then she will be dismantled - and she asks Billie to help her escape. Billie does not aid her, but ends up in love and on an adventure with her nonetheless. Planet Blue is a pristine, healthy planet with one problem; it has dinosaurs.
The second vignette, "Easter Island," is the shortest and takes place in the late 18th century with a sailor stranded on Easter Island, witnessing a savage confrontation between two warring factions. The Island is already in decline - no vegetation, decreasing population, starvation, and sacrifice of the Mo'ai (statues). Billy is a British sailor who befriends a half-native product of a previous contact with European sailors, Spikkers. Spikkers is on a quest to re-establish the Mana and well-being of his people by means of an hunt for the first tern's egg. I am not sure how this particular vignette fits in other to show that industrialization is not required to destroy a landscape and people.
The third vignette, "Post-3 War," occurs in our near future - a post apocalyptic future where identity cards, compulsory fingerprinting, military occupation, and curfews have become commonplace - the world is run by MORE - a multinational corporation. This section starts off with an intensely painful introspective of how the narrator came to be; teenaged mother, absent father, forced adoption - all written in gritty detail. Billie (a different one than in the first vignette) is a scientist whose job it is to teach a Spike (a different Spike), a Robo Sapiens in training, how to be human. Spike does not have a body yet - she is just a head. Billie takes Spike out for a walk and they end up in "Wreck City."
"Wreck City" is the fourth and last vignette, and is a direct continuation of "Post-3 War." As in Winterson's words, "Wreck City is a No Zone - no insurance, no assistance, no welfare, no police." It is on the edge of the still-radioactive areas where all the people who survived the bombings but did not fit anywhere (or refused to) went to live. In the midst of a confrontation, Billie loses Spike and must go on a frantic search for her. MORE's hopes are pinned on Spike being able to be an objective voice of reason, but her exposure to the free-willed humans in Wreck City changes Spike, and she finds herself evolving (with some inadvertently funny results).
Winterson ties all these vignettes together with quotes from Captain Cook's ship logs and the story comes full circle at the end. There are aspects of these vignettes that are so damning - she takes what now is commonplace and skews it to horrible extremes. And I was pleased that Winterson did not stray from the gender politic themes she has become known for. After finishing the book, it occurred to me that The Stone Gods reminded me of Stephen Baxter's Evolution in its scope. If you like novels that make you think, read this book. Winterson writes beautifully lyrical prose - even when discussing something unpleasant.