Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

"The Stone Gods" by Jeanette Winterson (Hamish Hamilton, 2007)

SF! It begins with a woman called Billie narrating

This new world weighs a yatto-gram.
But everything is trial-size; tread-on-me tiny or blurred-out-of-focus huge. There are leaves that have grown as big as cities, and there are birds that nest in cockleshells. On the white sand there are long-toed clawprints deep as nightmares, and there are rock pools in hand-hollows finned by invisible fish.

That's rather poetic I suppose. Several other aesthetics are on display too - e.g. we hear about Parking Meters and Reality TV of the future à la Douglas Adams. A different type of humour is when Pink says "Women are just planets that attract the wrong species". I'm unsure how much pastiche there is: when a new term is introduced (and there are many) it's followed by an infodump à la pulp, and is "life flourished there light years away from now" on p.53 deliberately wrong? (on p.125 there's "Like a light-years-away star", and on p.159 there's "light years later"). On p.68 we have tougher SF

Every second the Universe divides into possibilities and most of those possibilities never happen. It is not a uni-verse - there is more than one reading. The story won't stop, can't stop, it goes on telling itself, waiting for an intervention that changes what will happen next.
Love is an intervention.

Spike is a beautiful Robo sapiens. There's discussion on how human they are. A small crew escape the planet that's heading towards eco-disaster and head for The Blue Planet. On the voyage Captain Handsome has tales to tell - "There's a planet called Echo. It doesn't exist". He has opinions

'Women always bring it back to the personal,' said Handsome. 'It's why you can't be world leaders.'
'And men never do,' I said, 'which is why we end up with no world left to lead.'

(p.57). They die on the planet, having sent a message.

Part 2's entitled "Easter Island". Billy's abandoned there in 1774. The island's been denuded of trees. He finds Spikkers, a loner. Themes are continued

  • I do not know if Man has a Soul, but if he does, then it follows in the wake of his Ship, like an albatross (p.109)
  • To build the Stone Gods, the island has been destroyed, and now the Stone Gods are themselves destroyed ( p.113)

In "Post-3War" (the 3rd Part) a manuscript of "the Stone Gods" is found on a tube. We're back in a world of emerging Robo sapiens. Billie Crusoe recounts her life ("Birth is a shipwreck") and tells us that "We're right to teach our children how to think, but it is our children, more often than not, who can teach us how to feel" (p.142). Talking heads are discussing Spike on TV again

'She's like God without the Old Testament'
'No, she's like your mother without the guilt-trip' (Laughter)

(p.142). The final part, "Wreck City", continues part 3. Billie takes Spike's head to the ghetto, meets Friday, (an ex-economist) who has opinions ( 'Get a wider vision. You're looking at specifics all the time. I'm trying to talk about what it means to be human' (p.167). She finds Cook's journals, finds the abandoned Radio Telescope at Jodrell Bank, discovers that it received messages sent 65 million years before (sent presumably from Earth, bouncing to and from the Moon all that time?)

Readers who enjoy noting parallels will conclude that nothing changes. It's a fun romp, but for me there's not enough of the more serious features - speculation, emotion, and narratological ploys are spread too thinly. "cloud atlas" lite?

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