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An Awful Attempt at Speculative Fiction,
This review is from: The Stone Gods (Paperback)
This book strikes me as a very good example of a mainstream "literary" fiction writer experimenting with genre, and failing horribly. Winterson is a highly respected, award-winning English author, and many friends of mine love her writing. However, this foray into speculative fiction ventures into thematic territory (namely the essentially destructive nature of humanity, both with regards to each other and the natural world) that's been deeply explored, and displays all the traits of the worst kind of strident, polemical fiction. So, while certain elements and certain scenes work fairly well, the book is really quite a chore to slog though. Had I not been reading it for my book club, I probably would have left it unfinished after the first 40-50 pages, and in our discussion, I learned that I was not the only one to feel that way. Indeed, none of us eight readers found it to be a book we could recommend to others -- even Winterson fans (of which our group has two).
The book is divided into three sections: the first takes place largely on another planet during the time dinosaurs roamed the earth, the second on Easter Island circa 1774, and the third in some relatively near-future post-World War 3 England. A version of the same heroine (with the groan-inducing name of Billie Crusoe) inhabits all three stories, and serves as an authorial proxy, a voice of conscience whose tedious inner thoughts are rendered in italics. The first story is somewhat reminiscent of the film Idiocracy, spinning a few contemporary Western cultural trends out to their extremes (such as the obsession with youth leading people to "fix" their age at a teenage level), in it, Billie is sent as part of a mission to test a promising planet for colonization. The second finds a cabin boy sailing with Captain Cook marooned on Easter Island and witness to the disintegration of the island's society. The final story is a near-future post-WWIII story following Billie as she steals a prototype artificial intelligence robot owned by the MORE corporation, which now runs the world (or at least, what we can see of it).
None of the scenarios in the book feel fresh, the time-hopping triptych narrative structure feels like a poor-person's version of Cloud Atlas, and Winterson's writing style is both pretentious and boring. Every now and then there's a nice detail, or interesting minor idea, but the book is a dud. Of course, if you've never read any speculative fiction (aka "science fiction"), I suppose you might find it more appealing than I did.