A Door Into Ocean

Oceans have always mesmerized and terrified people–their beauty, their power, their capriciousness are hard to deny. They are alien, other, a place we didn’t adapt to during our species’ infancy or imprint on our evolving minds.

Or maybe not. In the amniotic fluid we recapitulate those first watery ages, acquire memories of gills and tails, memories that give us a sense of the ocean as mother–memories that help explain the appeal of Joan Slonczewski’s remarkable debut novel, A Door Into Ocean (1986).

I might as well admit up front that this novel has influenced my thinking deeply. Door is a science fiction novel–one of the best–and as such delves into the nitty-gritty of world making and the sciences; but it does not stop with introducing us to a consistent and plausible future. Slonczewski takes us much farther, creating believable and sympathetic characters and a nimble plot set against a difficult but all-too-familiar political and cultural situation. And beyond that, she offers insights on, and even solutions to, some of humankind’s most intractible problems.

The story is set some thousands of years in the future and concerns the fate of Shora, an ocean moon orbiting a “normal” water/earth world. Normal in every way, I should note: male-dominated, money-driven, technology-based, power-worshipping. In pointed contrast, Shora is home to a woman-only society that has been intentionally shaped to live in harmony with the rich ecosystem the moon’s ocean supports. But take note, all men who value their gender and who also are alert to the struggle for women’s recognition, respect, and self-expression–this is not a male-bashing novel. There are positive (and charming) male characters (such as Spinel, the teenage boy who must take a “stone-sign”–that is, find a profession); female characters who need some serious therapy (witness Jade, an interrogator); and an admission that even Shora’s admirable ecology at times depends on predation and suffering. And then there is Berenice, the liaison between Shora and the outside political system–who becomes Nisi on the ocean world and takes the self-name, “the deceiver.”

I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot, so I will only say that Spinel’s decision regarding his stone-sign helped me make peace with my own calling as a poet and that I would be thrilled if people on our planet would adopt the custom of self-naming. Slonczewski offers many more suggestions concerning humanity’s struggle to create a truly peaceful and prosperous society.

And did I mention that the author’s prose is a delight? Sorry, I can’t think of any more reasons to not recommend this book. Take the plunge and read A Door Into Ocean, a novel utterly dedicated to the ideal of peace and happiness in our lives.    –RT

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Photo: Rogue Wave in the Bay of Biscay, 1940; NOAA; WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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