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A Door Into Ocean

(Elysium Cycle #1)

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  2,021 ratings  ·  171 reviews
A Door into Ocean is the novel upon which the author's reputation as an important SF writer principally rests. A ground-breaking work both of feminist SF and of world-building hard SF, it concerns the Sharers of Shora, a nation of women on a distant moon in the far future who are pacifists, highly advanced in biological sciences, and who reproduce by parthenogenesis--there ...more
Paperback, 403 pages
Published October 13th 2000 by Orb Books (first published February 1986)
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Scott It has been released as an e-book by Macmillan Publishers and should be available from many different stores (including Amazon for the Kindle). A full…moreIt has been released as an e-book by Macmillan Publishers and should be available from many different stores (including Amazon for the Kindle). A full list of the places one can buy the book can be found on the publisher's page ( Incidentally, the last part of that URL is the e-book's ISBN: "9781429963657".

(I know this answer is well after you asked the question, but hopefully you or someone else finds the information above useful.)(less)

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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Jun 07, 2010 rated it 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
May 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Native Tongue
Shora is a world without land. The humans who colonized it chose to reshape themselves, instead of terraforming the planet. Sharers, as the descendents of the colonists call themselves, strive to live in balance with each other and their world. Although they have incredibly advanced biological science, they try to change as little as possible about the natural ecology of Shora, even though it means losing friends and loved ones to vast monsters that roam the ocean. Their highest goal is to ...more
Jun 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Hours after I have finished reading this book I am still trying to emerge from the vast ocean Shora. The words on each page were like a whirlpool, sucking me in, forcing me to listen to their tale. I fell hopelessly in love with Shora and the sharers that inhabit Her. I feared for their fate at the hands of man. I questioned my own humanity, and that of others around me. My entire way of thinking has been eternally changed because of this book.

Perhaps, this is not as "critical" as a review
In a word: amazing. Landor’s narration is beautiful and lyrical, with well-detailed characterizations across the cultures and classes presented in Slonczewski’s award-winning novel of feminism, pacifism, and anarchism in a far-future of multiple visions of post-humanity. It immediately vaults into my all-time favorites list, though perhaps a half-step behind The Dispossessed and Parable of the Sower.
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
Meh. As with most ideologically pacifist writing, this one left me feeling unsatisfied.

The setup is good: a planet of women who live in a tribal egalitarian society, with life sciences way beyond our own, is threatened by an imperialist power that wants to exploit their planet's resources (and is threatened by their difference).

But that's where it ends. The Sharers are really hung up on teaching non-violence to their would-be conquerers. The lack of imagination here is kind of offensive, not
Kirsten #squirrelappreciationday #nationalnewenglandchowderday #internationalsweatpantsday
Interlibrary loan courtesy of Collins Library, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA.

Wow! What an incredible book!! Great world building, important messages about the environment and war.

One world is completely covered by an ocean and populated by an all-female race that reproduces by parthenogenesis. Another world is very similar to ours with a military, traders, etc.

One knows about killing, one knows about "sharing". This is a very powerful book with great characters and an important lesson
Dec 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: sci-fi fans
As I read this book I couldn't stop comparing it to Dune by Frank Herbert. In many ways it was similar, war time, a supreme ruler, a group of people who didn't want to fight, and a young male who is out of place but still makes a difference. The main difference- Dune is set in the harsh dessert while A Door Into Ocean is set on a planet with no land and only water.

Sharers are the only inhabiter's on the Ocean Moon planet or Shora. There are the lesser sharers like clickflies and starworms
Parallel Worlds
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Intended Audience: Adult
Sexual content: Significant
Ace/Genderqueer characters: Yes (Human and Alien)
Rating: PG-13/R for violence, torture, brief sexuality and rape
Writing style: 3/5
Likable characters: 4/5
Plot/Concepts: 4/5

Travelers from the ocean moon of Shora, Sharers Merwen and Usha must judge whether the Valans who have invaded their home are human in any sense they can know. Spinel the stonecutter's son follows them back, a "malefreak" among an all-female species. In the midst of the rising
Turns out I'm still in the mood for 1980s anthropological sci-fi, so I bumped this to the top of my reading list. (That, and current discourse about the ethicality of Nazi-punching made me want some pacifist philosophy in my life.) This hit both desires on the nose; Slonczewski's depiction of Sharer culture and morals is fascinatingly alien. I particularly appreciate that their pacifism is never presented as utopian; they are flawed people who may or may not be making the right choices, and ...more
Lis Carey
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, f-sf, fiction
This is a book that, in my opinion, does not show its age. It could have been published last week,

Two inhabited moons with very different cultures are part of a larger galactic empire, and increasing contact with the empire is causing its own strains. The more industrialized, military-inclined culture of Valendon wants to exploit the resources of Shora, a world virtually without land.

The Shorans have different ideas.

The are peaceful, cooperative, and communal. They are also all female. The
A Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski not sure now where on goodreads I saw this one after I read the synopsis I thought well that sounds interesting lets give it a try. So glad I did, there were a few reviews where the reader hated the book I don’t see what there was to hate, the science was clear and far above average the author being a microbiologist. The Pacifist creed of the sharers of Shora was very well thought out although the circular compressed logic of their speech made me more than a ...more
Sue Davis
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this novel and used it as an example of the feminism that posits that women are different from men, ie morally superior.
Roddy Williams
‘From the ocean world of Shora, Merwen the Impatient and Usha the Inconsiderate travel to Valedon, the world of stone. The Valans view with suspicion the ancient female race of Shora: with their webbed fingers, their withdrawal into ‘whitetrance’ and their marvellous arts of healing. Where the Sharers of Shora hope for understanding, they are met with aggression.

Joan Slonczewski pushes the moral and political philosophy of non-violence to its very limits in a powerful and gripping narrative. To
This review is adapted from a post I made in a discussion thread about the book.

I had my doubts after the first section of the story; it was a slow start, and I just didn't like the way the Valan society was structured. But about halfway through the book, I realized I was completely sucked into the story and found myself constantly thinking about it as I went about my day.

I want to gush about the beautiful world-building on Shora. The ecology is believable and complex, and everything about the
Jan 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
One Of The Classic Novels of Both Feminist Science Fiction & Space Opera

Joan Slonczewski's "A Door Into Ocean" is definitely a masterpiece of science fiction literature, comparable to the best ever written from the likes of Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel Delany, and Bruce Sterling, to name but a few of our finest American writers of science fiction. In this astonishing, thoughtful novel published originally back in 1986, whose universal themes of environmental awareness and relationships between
Carla Speed
Feb 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Joan Slonczewski is a science fiction writer who has more than an armchair understanding of science, and it shows. When you have solid input from the real world, your new spins on old tropes can be surprising and fresh.

What follows isn't really a spoiler, but it is part of the story: When I first read DOOR INTO OCEAN in college, my classmates were saying "A whole planetful of purple lesbians? Really." But the purple color of the Shorans' skins derives from a microbe living in their bodies that
Feb 06, 2017 rated it liked it
This classic feminist sci-fi book is a testament to nonviolent political opposition, genetic engineering, and guerrilla diplomacy. It's a powerful tale birthed from the uncertainty of nuclear war in the 1980s. It's a very interesting look at the tensions at play and frustrations brewing within Slonczewski during the Reagan era.

I liked Spinel and Mirwen as characters and really enjoyed the women of Shora's attempts at nonviolent political opposition.

Good book.
Mar 12, 2014 rated it liked it
...All things considered, I feel that A Door into Ocean would have been a better book if it had been a bit less political. I love the worldbuilding, emphasis on ecology and the way Slonczewski handles language for instance. In some respects it is a very strong novel so I can see why it was awarded the Campbell. I can't help but detect a bit of irony there, Campbell himself would, given the content and his views on women and science fiction, most likely have detested the novel. Ultimately it's ...more
Sep 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While an interesting read, for the sake of her political imaginings, it falls short in its characterizations. Her anarchic, feminist, pacifist utopia is fun, yet she seems to have put much more of her energy into world-building rather than character building. Yet while the first half is slow, for just these reasons, the second half then truly takes off and causes a certain amount of fingernail biting. Somehow the whole just seems slightly dated, or perhaps it is just that I have moved on beyond ...more
Jeff Lewonczyk
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I heard about this book about a year ago, in a roundup of author suggestions of books that could help gird us for incoming Trump administration. I can't remember who made the recommendation, but it was one of the only fiction books on the list, and certainly the only sci-fi novel, which I found very intriguing. The book turns out to combine the densely textured world-building of Dune with the wryly empathic anthropological insight of Ursula K. LeGuin and, yes, the overall narrative structure of ...more
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018-reads
Book club. I'm not a big science fiction reader, so this presents a sort of challenge for me.
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sf-fantasy
First read when new, and once or twice after that. Holds up quite well, as the themes and exotic biology are carefully thought out. I agree with other reviewers that the resolution is a tad too tidy, but it’s not a deus ex machina sort of thing—and I didn’t find the style all that wordy. Reminds me of THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS for its courageous exploration of unconventional sexuality and the quality of its extrapolation.
Michael Battaglia
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
So you're a young man still undecided about your career and who hasn't ventured too far out of the city where he grew up. One day two women from a nearby moon invite you back to their world, a world that's basically a giant ocean inhabited by nothing but women who never wear clothes. For Spinel it should be the greatest day of his life.

Unfortunately for him none of the women are interested in him in the way he'd like and don't even need him frankly. In short, they only like him for his mind and
Jen Julian
If eco-feminist "hard" SF is not your bag, I get it, but what can I say? I frickin' loved this. I consumed this thing. I can't argue it's place as a literary masterpiece, but it features masterful world-building paired with a super sincere (if not reductive) political and philosophical stance. It's clear that Slonczewski is highly optimistic from the get-go about the capabilities of passive resistance against a traditionally-patriarchal military mindset. However, the tension remains high ...more
Apr 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Written in the eighties (the author has her own study guide up about the political times), about a world of women, a world of no land, that comes into conflict with the more traditional militaristic moon nearby. It's a study in nonviolence and consensus (she mentioned the Quakers in her study guide, see also Dazzle of the Day), and a setting rich in ecological niches. One of the great books that I hadn't previously read. In comparison, her more recent Highest Frontier has more economics, less ...more
Nov 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Old feminist sci-fi. The basic idea is that at some point, safely prior to recorded history, a group of women genetically engineer themselves to be semi-aquatic so they can go live in naked peacefulness on a water planet and not talk to anyone else for 10,000 years, at which point, traditional society led by the Man has a run in with them.

I will give the author credit for trying to make the fish ladies complex and not gratuitously superior. The personal (which is political, natch) stories are
Kevin Knowles
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
An epic world spanning eco-feminist book of self discovery and conquest. Ultimately, the main thing that bothered me about it was the pacing. Some scenes were just not needed or focused on a character who we never saw again. Also, about halfway through the novel (2/3 the way through part 3) it seemed like the end to a book and then it immediately started anew. The first half we follow our off worlder protagonists through their journies of self discovery. The second we watch as a war is wages on ...more
Dec 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
So, here's the thing...I was at times totally enthralled and mind-numbingly bored by this book. The world-building is some of the best I've read in a long time! The POVs, though many, each had their own distinct voice, and I just fell in love with so many characters. But this book spans such a long period of time, the course of an entire war, and some of the time jumps left me feeling disconnected from the characters and their story. I also wasn't particularly keen on the politics, but then ...more
Oct 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
The ideas of an ocean planet inhabited only by women and a plot involving non-violent resistance are really cool, but this reads slow and clunky a lot of the time such that it's often hard to tell which of the many characters are doing what. Despite its problems, this one leaves the reader with a lot to think about, so I'd recommend it for people who like their science fiction more biological and sociological. Also, this website from the author helped me navigate the book: ...more
Jul 11, 2007 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book because it involves a planet full of naked women. I found it so cheesy and the characters so shallow, though, that I had to force myself to read it--I didn't enjoy it at all. I don't get what people see in this book.
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Joan Lyn Slonczewski is an American microbiologist at Kenyon College and a science fiction writer who explores biology and space travel. Her books have twice earned the John W. Campbell award for best science fiction novel: The Highest Frontier (2012) and A Door into Ocean (1987). With John W. Foster she coauthors the textbook, Microbiology: An Evolving Science (W. W. Norton).

Other books in the series

Elysium Cycle (4 books)
  • Daughter of Elysium
  • The Children Star
  • Brain Plague
“What the devil is 'wordsharing'? Does the word for 'speak' mean 'listen' just as well? If I said, 'Listen to me!' you might talk, instead."

"What use is the one without the other? It took me a long time to see this distinction in Valan speech."

Spinel thought over the list of 'share forms': learnsharing, worksharing, lovesharing. "Do you say 'hitsharing,' too? If I hit a rock with a chisel, does the rock hit me?"

"I would think so. Don't you feel it in your arm?"

He frowned and sought a better example; it was so obvious, it was impossible to explain. "I've got it: if Beryl bears a child, does the child bear Beryl? That's ridiculous."

"A mother is born when her child comes."

"Or if I swim in the sea, does the sea swim in me?"

"Does it not?"

Helplessly he thought, She can't be that crazy. "Please, you do know the difference, don't you?"

"Of course. What does it matter?”
More quotes…