So, I’ve finished reading The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson, and my reactions are mixed, to say the least. My primary reaction was one of intense sadness: she really does believe that she’s braving new territory. She is completely unaware that she’s hacking through a jungle right next to a long, well-trodden road and the crew that’s building it is far, far ahead of her, and her course takes her away from the best conclusions. She’s off in a strange, dualistic universe in which robots come to feel “just because.” There are dialogues about how humans have emotions and yet this obviously emotional robots does not, and yet not a single word toward the general consensus that emotions are what give us the capacity to come to a conclusion, to shut rationalization down and make a decision, to break ties between competing choices, and without emotions we would be helpless. When a video game acts as if it wants to defeat you, it has been given that want by its developer; at some stage, we turn off the abstraction and act as if the game wants to defeat us. Winterson doesn't understand this. Winterson picks up the glittering tools of modern science fiction and engages in bronze-age reflections with them.
The Stone Gods is science fiction written as an excuse to do whatever the hell she wants, without regard for the reader’s sense of continuity or rationale. The sense of used furniture is strong.
Winterson is trying to do too much: she’s trying to tell a love story. She’s trying to tell a story of ecological disaster. She’s trying to tell a story about fatalism, and about how fatalism is the only logical attitude to take given Mankind’s tendency to destroy himself. Individual death is a metaphor for the world’s end– not in an entropic sense, but in a personal one, and an immediate one.
Toward the end of the book her lyricism returns, coupled with some really stupid scenes stolen from the worst post-apocalyptic fiction you could possibly imagine. Think Shirow’s Appleseed, watched without translation or subtitles, and the author then tries to re-write what she saw as farce. That’s where it’s going.
But the ending makes me cry because the writing is so good, even if the writer is telling you the character is hallucinating as she dies. But Winterson makes me cry reliably. I wouldn’t waste my time reading her “science fiction” ever again. If you love breathtakingly beautiful writing, check out The World, And Other Places, her collection of short stories. Each is small, worth your time, and not an insult to your intelligence.