Angela's Reviews > A Door Into Ocean

A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski
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's review
Dec 04, 2013

did not like it

I loathe this book with an ungodly passion.

I want to preface the rest of my review by saying I am deeply feminist. In fact, feminist science fiction is my most beloved literary subgenre. I am well-versed in the canon of women SF/fantasy writers. And yet... I cannot like this book. I wanted to, and instead ended up throwing it across the room at several points in my reading. The plot is offensively gender-reductive. Slonczewski equates femininity with every positive attribute possessed by any of the characters: the all-female Sharers are nurturing, generous, telepathic, gentle, and in all respects aligned with nature; masculinity is essentialized as purely brutish, destructive, and selfish. I don't think that this lazy broad-brush ecofeminism does women any favors, as it continues to relegate femininity to the realms of body/emotion/instinct rather than allowing for logic or intellectual choice. She could use a dose of Judy Wajcman.

The book does have positive features, making my dislike of it all the more frustrating. The author is a professor of biology, and her vast knowledge of the subject shines through in the descriptions of parthenogenic reproduction and marine life. Also, the linguistic description of the Sharers is as good a fictional exploration of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis as we are ever likely to see. It's too bad that these really interesting points get overshadowed by the oversimplified gender roles upon which the entire plot hinges. It's an endless, clumsy rape allegory, and I find that a little nauseating.

I don't recommend this book if you believe that character traits cannot be divided neatly along moral lines. I do recommend this book if, perhaps, you enjoy oceanic euphemisms for sex and own more than one adult item shaped like a dolphin.
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02/25 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Magdelanye It was a long time ago when I read this book. I remember having some difficulty with the language, but in the end I thought it was quite good and Im so puzzled by your reveiw I thought we might have a little chat about it.

Alexa I loved your review! While I wouldn't have said it myself, it definitely struck a chord with me. However, if a society is exclusively women, what is the meaning of gender for them?

message 3: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam Diener Angela, I understand your concern about gender reductiveness. On the surface, this book could have fallen into that trap. But I wonder, how far did you get into the book before you threw it across the room for good?

Because as the book progresses, the gender binary division of good/bad is thoroughly shattered. It is in subtle ways from the beginning, actually (Merwen travels to the companion moon basically to disprove those among the sharers who hold a gender-reductive view).

Just a few ways this book is not gender reductive:
1) the head torturer for the invaders is female.
2) Nisei the Deceiver attacks quite violently
3) One of the sharers is depicted as a psychopath, who, despite the sharer conditioning, takes pleasure from committing acts of violence.
4) the male soldiers are increasingly won over by the sharers
5) Spinel's development as a biological male into a sharer ally specifically disproves any biological reductive explanation.
6) the sharers rejection of stone-shaping is portrayed, especially be the end, as a dangerous form of self-destructive ideological fundamentalism.

I could go on, but I hope you'll be willing to give this book another chance, and that others won't be dissuaded from reading this book based on the misperception that Slonczewski falls into a biological determinism that the book itself firmly rejects.

message 4: by Magdelanye (last edited Jun 30, 2012 01:55AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Magdelanye Thanks Sam, you defended this book way better than I did and I agree that its an important one, if a bit pendatic,for the very reasons you outline. I think JS set out to SMASH gender fundamentalism

message 5: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim I do not agree with your description of the plot as offensively gender-reductive.

I do not think that Slonczewski equates femininity with every positive attribute possessed by any of the characters. She equates Shorans (Sharers) with those things. Sharers live in a society with only one gender, so they cannot possibly possess the socially constructed notion of gender differences. Their existence and the way they live their lives cannot be allegory on the superiority of the feminine. By accident of biology or evolution they are female but everything about A Door Into Ocean would have been identical if they had all been male, or (perhaps easier to imagine) a third gender.

Are the people of Valedon the evil masculine aspect? No, of course not: they consist of the normal roughly but not exactly half and half mix of genders just like humans of the real world.

In summary it's monogendered society versus polygendered society.

So Slonczewski is equating all those good qualities with a society that doesn't fragment itself along gender lines but instead has a single all-inclusive gender. When you only have one thing, it doesn't matter what you label it.

Elisa I agree with Sam Diener.

In Valan society, women are shown hold positions of power and be just as corrupted as their men.

While many of the Sharers are very misandric at the beginning of the book, this is not a shown in a positive light. Rather it a negative contrast to Merwen's hopes of peace and camaraderie between Valans (both male and female) and Sharers.

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