A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski

Read: 4 December, 2017

I picked this book up after Lois McMaster Bujold mentioned it in Dreamweaver’s Dilemma. I can’t recall the context, but the mention was favourable, so I thought I’d give it a try.

The book’s synopsis feels a tad heavy handed – a planet of women must fend off encroachment from a patriarchal culture. And, yet, the feminist aspects almost seem to take a back seat to the pacifism. I found the characters were quite varied – the staunchest pacifists have their doubts, the Sharers have individuals who want to fight back, the aggressors doubt the ethics of their mission, etc. The book doesn’t have any simple answers, both between the two dominant sides and within each camp.

The first 2/3rds of the book is a little slow, as Slonczewski builds her picture of the characters and locations. Despite the pacing, the discovery of Shora (largely centred on the planet’s ecology) did keep me from getting bored.

Then it picked up. It so picked up. For the last third, I couldn’t put the book down. And then it ended, very suddenly. It was a bit disappointing, though I’m not really sure how a book tackling such huge impossibilities could have ended satisfyingly.

There are aspects of the book that reminded me quite a bit of Dune. There’s the quasi-feudal space culture, there’s the society of women with a keen interest in genetics, and there’s even an emperor-type figure who has ruled many planets for hundreds (thousands?) of years. But perhaps the biggest similarity is the way that the book tackles Big Questions without providing easy answers.

Despite being very much a product of ’80s feminism, A Door Into Ocean doesn’t feel too dated. And though some of it does feel clunky by today’s standards, there’s more than enough going on to make this a valuable addition to the science fiction canon.