four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
35-July-Aug-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-The Stone GodsDespite her claim that she dislikes science fiction, award-winning British writer Jeanette Winterson (Written on the Body, Sexing the Cherry, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) has written a novel that fits easily into the genre. Yet her central themes—love and what it means to be human—transcend all genres.

The Story: In the first of three postapocalyptic tales, pollution-ravaged Planet Orbus is dying, and Central Power has sent a team of scientists, including Billie Crusoe and her love, the Robo sapiens Spike, to faraway Planet Blue, an inhabitable planet that, despite some troublesome native fauna, may save the human race. The scientists are charged with eradicating the dominant species, but things go terribly wrong. In the second story, Billy (formerly Billie) Crusoe, a sailor abandoned by Captain Cook on Easter Island in 1774, witnesses the felling of the island’s last tree. The third story describes a postnuclear, post–World War III London run by corporations, where Billie Crusoe finds a manuscript—the novel The Stone Gods—on a train.
Harcourt. 224 pages. $24. ISBN: 0151014914

Dallas Morning News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Even devoted fans of the gifted Brit will find themselves constantly surprised and elated by the story’s progress, which sometimes in this novel means moving forward by going backward. … What is human? What is love? This extraordinary novel dramatizes such questions in brilliant set pieces that dazzle the mind of even an old science-fiction hound such as yours truly." Alan Cheuse

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The imagery and action in The Stone Gods is all Winterson and, as in each of her works, she enlists the reader’s complicity in a dynamic process of transformation. In this case, cross-species love, spatio-temporal shifts and her timely version of political ecology, are refined, connected and channeled into a fulfilling place to land; an emotional topography replete with elevations, lines and points." M.E. Collins

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The Stone Gods … makes an excellent choice for desert-planet reading—scary, beautiful, witty and wistful by turns, dipping into the known past as it explores potential futures. … It is when the characters truly engage with one another, rather than with their own ideas, that Winterson’s story transcends the established facts and common fantasies; it becomes art, and thus makes its case most powerfully." Susann Cokal

Sunday Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods is a remarkably engaging and involving read. The novel may be loosely, almost slackly structured; it may jag about in time and space so much that it sometimes seems like a collection of carelessly linked short stories rather than a novel; it may, too, be overdidactic and often oversentimental; but these faults—all bear traps into which Winterson regularly falls—are amply compensated for here by the playfulness, stylistic brio, ambition and sheer imaginative vim with which the author approaches her task." Andrew Holgate

Guardian (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Her wit varies from flashy to flashing, her highly mannered, crackling dialogue moves things right along, the surface of her tale scintillates. … Despite the gaspy bits, the purple bits, and the lectures, The Stone Gods is a vivid, cautionary tale—or, more precisely, a keen lament for our irremediably incautious species." Ursula K. LeGuin

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Her newest novel, The Stone Gods, contains bold scientific hypotheses, enough anger to topple mountains and the imaginative assurance of a sleepwalker pirouetting on a tight wire. … The third narrative in particular feels hampered by rephrasings of key ideations, while paradoxically speeding toward the end, brakeless and high on the novel’s sustained vision while disregarding the pile-up of hard-to-believe images and coincidences." Kai Maristed

Independent (UK) 2 of 5 Stars
"It would be pleasing to report that by taking on the end of the world, Winterson has written a novel that matches her still-astonishing debut Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, but The Stone Gods reveals her at her most uneven. It alternates brilliant ideas with foolish ones, predicting a future at times utterly convincing, at others about as considered as a 12-year-old’s essay on what we’ll all be doing in the year 2050." Matt Thorne

Critical Summary

Winterson is best known for challenging boundaries—including those of gender and sexuality—and here, her imaginative worlds, achingly human characters, biting dialogue, and urgent message won many critics over; the Dallas Morning News called the novel a "dynamic and brilliant work of experimental fiction." However, the characters’ deep philosophical debates struck some critics as heavy-handed; some reviewers also found fault with the sappy scenes and the lengthy, and sometimes tedious, descriptions of foreign worlds and eras (known to sci-fi fans as "info-dumping"). Winterson, however, makes a clear case that, despite its capacity for love and compassion, humankind, "wherever found, Civilized or Savage, cannot keep to any purpose for much length of time, except the purpose of destroying" itself.