A Door into Ocean

Joan Slonczewski
A Door into Ocean Cover

A Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski


A Door into Ocean is written by Joan Slonczewski who is a microbiologist and a science fiction writter. It won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1987. I selected it because I have never read a feminist sci-fi novel before, and an all-female world seemed fitting for a WoGF reading.

Imagine a world of an endless ocean of Shora inhabited by a purple race of fearless women called Sharers who have known only peace, sharing and the natural cycle of life for thousands of years. And then the human race (Valans) steps in to colonize the planet and make sure the locals obey their emperor. The issue is the people of Shora do not understand obedience. This leads to a conflict which at times balances on a thin line of a complete destruction of all Sharers. When the conflict starts, the Valans are the only ones that display the violence, the local resistance is absolutely peaceful and harmless, as they do not know how to 'hasten death'.

The story centers on the Sharer Merwen, the Impatient One, and her family: Usha, her love-sharer and a doctor, Lystra, her strong and impulsive daughter, among her other daughters. Merwen invites Spinel to Shora, a human 'male-freak', to prove to other Sharers that Valans are humans as well, even though their lives and behavior are alien and beyond comprehension. Merwen struggles to maintain the balance of between what is good for her family, her planet and for the 'children' – that is the derogative term by which the Sharers refer to the Valans. Eventually she becomes one of the center figures of the planet respected by both races on whose decision and reasoning lies the fate of both planets. Spinel is one of the few humans who are not described in a negative way. Eventually, the reader starts to despise the stubborn and single-track minded humans.

The main concept that describes this race is 'sharing' that involves all aspects of life: learn-sharing, love-sharing, etc., except death. Their primary objective is the protection of Shora. The Sharers continue to learn-share throughout their lives (opposite to the humans). One becomes an adult after she selects a selfname, and then spends her life trying to disown it. We also get to know a human Lady Berenice who acts like a Valan representative on the planet. She studies their ways of living and is the first human ever allowed to select a self-name. There are no males, as 'only the lesser races produce males' and no conflicts, as the worst punishment for a Sharer is to become 'Unspoken' by all the race.

The ecosystem of Shora is described in detail and seems to work perfectly well. The Sharers live on complex raft colonies and use an advanced communication network: daily underwater transmissions produced by a creature known as starworm (equivalent for a radio) and tiny clickflies that carry messages world-wide. The Sharers do not have political leaders and all the decisions are made during the Gatherings which work as a form of direct democracy. They have extent knowledge on genetics and genetic engineering, that is why the humans feel threatened by the 'doctor-witches' who can reproduce damaged organs and treat most deadly wounds within days.

To conclude, the world-building is the strongest and the most interesting part of the book. I enjoyed discovering the Sharer culture, knowledge and their eternal patience. When it comes to the story, it failed to really draw me into it, as there is not much action and the occurrence of events is at times slow. However, I do recommend this book for those who like feminist sci-fi, or who are looking for a unique world, and enjoy the concept of a non-violent resistance.