Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Review: The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson
The Stone Gods

Published by Hamish Hamilton Ltd

Reviewed by Drew Gummerson

This book is Jeanette Winterson doing science-fiction. Whatever that means? For this is Winterson’s book which most deals with the here and now.

The planet, not Earth (not yet) but Orbus is in trouble. The natural resources have been used up, it’s got perhaps fifty years left, and it is being plagued by clouds of red dust which cause all it citizens to don special masks.

At the opening of the book the citizens of Orbus are given a second chance. A new planet, Planet Blue, has been discovered. It is like Orbus sixty-five million years previously except that it has dinosaurs, large beasts with ‘metal-plated jaws’. It also has forests and trees and oxygen and beauty.

Billie Crusoe, a scientist, and Spike, a robot (or more specifically, a robo sapiens) are sent to this planet. Their mission is... Well, that would give too much away.

Winterson uses the future setting to critique what is wrong with our society. Her future is one of greed and destruction. Commercialism has gone mad / bad. With money you can set your age permanently. Everybody is beautiful, ‘except for rich people and celebrities, who look better. That’s what you’d expect in a democracy’. Sex has become a commodity, natural food a thing of the past.

This section is not without its faults. At times it is too polemical, it wears its learning too much on its sleeve and you wonder sometimes why the narrator is explaining every nuance of her society.

But the faults are minor. This is a book with a quantum plot. Words fizz like sub-atomic particles. History repeats itself, quite literally, and Billie and Spike weave in and out of multifarious worlds. There’s a sequence on Easter Island in the 18th Century and, my favourite, post-apocalyptic Earth.

This last, in my opinion, is the most successful. Abandoned train carriages containing bars form a dividing line between Tech City and Wreck City. Wreck City harbours an alternative life-style. Nebraska and Alaska, two gorgeous girls, have looted World of Leather to create a chic home. Fires burn in bins. Nuns come and go. Parties happen. People talk about what it means to be human.

‘It means art, it means time, it means all the invisibles never counted by the GDP and the census figures. It means knowing that life has an inside as well as an outside.”
It means stories. It means books. Like this one. Go buy it.

Drew Gummerson lives in Leicester, England. In 2002 his first book 'The Lodger' was published. It was a finalist in the Lambda Awards in the States. Drew’s next book 'Darts' was a finalist in the UKA/PABD Great Read Novel Competition. Drew’s latest novel 'Me and Mickie James' is due to be published in July 2008 by Jonathan Cape.

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