Monday, March 31, 2008

My heart is human, my blood is boiling, my brain I.B.M.

Jeanette Winterson's latest novel, the Stone Gods, is a dark mix of 1984, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and the Cloud Atlas. Despite the fact that her characters state they don't like science fiction and she herself says she hates it in this interview, the book is very much a science fiction novel. It is fixed on ideas, but would be comfortably shelved in either the literature or the science fiction sections of the bookstore.

The book's principal idea is that human society is pre-disposed to destroy itself and the resources at its disposal. Given a chance, it wouldn't learn from the mistakes, but simply repeat them. While the focus is on the Western, globalized society, Winterson doesn't let the rest of the world off the book either. The book suffers a bit in the end by too directly criticizing the Bush Administration. As Ross Douthot notes in this post about the paranoid movie style, making too close a criticism of the real world diminishes a work of art and Stone Gods falls a bit flat in places because of it.

Despite a Tolkeinesque longing for the pastoral and hatred for the mechanistic that pervades the book, one of the most interesting characters is Spike, a robot that is very nearly human, but designed to be purely rational. Spike's designers hoped that her lack of emotions would make her better able to make crucial decisions, but she quickly evolves into an emotional being.

The relationship of Spike and Billie, the main character is the only element of hope in an otherwise bleak story about human self-destruction. As the relationship moves from teacher-pupil to something more intimate, there is a sense that there are things for which it is worth living, despite the hell that might surround you.


Anonymous said...

Check out the douchebag review posted by a "rapanuiphile" on Amazon. I love the way Amazon's review structure allows preening, self-described experts to show off their expertise. Of course, my reviews are truly expert. SCM

Tripp said...

I saw that one, but couldn't stomach it so I stopped. Preening is precisely the correct word.

What is more interesting is the bizarre insistence that ALL fiction must follow the rules of historical fiction.