A Door into Ocean

Joan Slonczewski
A Door into Ocean Cover

A Door into Ocean


I have been looking forward to Slonczewski's book for several months, so when the new reading challenge started, Ocean was an obvious choice for my first book.

I'm actually saddened that my review can not be more positive.

My first complaint is the most deadly to a writer, I felt no burning compulsion to read more. I took more than three weeks to finish the novel, which for a novel of only 400 pages, considering my reading speed, is a very long time. I'd read several chapters or a part and then go read something else, like a Haruhi novel say, before returning to Ocean. Again and again this happened. Read a little and then go read something else. This novel could only hold my attention for brief spans of time.

I think the main reason Ocean did not hold my attention is that it held no surprises. It was obvious what Slonczewski was setting up when it came to cultures and their predestined clash. It was obvious how she was maneuvering her characters to the roles they would play. When it came time for them to act, their actions seemed very reasonable, logical - given what she'd set into motion - with no surprises. I purposely tired not the figure out what would happen next, and when it did, it always seemed, well that's really what should happen right then, given the situation.

On the cover of my copy is a blurp from Fantasy Review: "A world, a people, and a culture as rich and as intriguing as Frank Herbert's Dune and Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness."

That's high praise indeed. If this praise is true, then why is Ocean not considered to be up on that plateau of SF achievement? The simple answer is that Fantasy Review is only half right. When it comes to the Sharers, the Shora community, their world, people, and culture, the review is right. Slonczewski does a fine and sometimes exceptional job. But that's just half the battle. The Valedon culture then, standing in opposition to everything the Shora culture is, which is it's role in the novel, is the main problem. That culture feels like it's just been cobbled together from the worst examples of 19th and 20th century cultural, economic, social, and political norms. It's Patriarchy in all it's brutality. So familiar and so deadly. The Sharers need something to contrast with, but what Slonczewski gives us just falls flat. It's trite and uninteresting. And always predictable.

As far as I can tell, this is one of those SF novel which misses true greatness by just a little bit. I can understand how and why it gets compared to certain novels. I can understand why it's on several lists tracked on WWE and won the Campbell award. I can understand that but... I did not find it to be an enjoyable read. Others undoubted will, but I did not.