The Stone Gods, By Jeanette Winterson

Satire and SF meet – on another planet

Science fiction has proved attractive to many top-ranking literary authors, including, in recent years, Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Kazuo Ishiguro and John Updike. Although veterans of the genre are occasionally resentful at this encroachment, the literary novel and SF complement each other in compelling ways. There's something appealing about the prospect of Jeanette Winterson using her formidable literary skills to explore mankind moving to a new planet in her new novel.

Winterson has always insisted on challenging boundaries, and has made great claims for her facility with the English language. At times these boasts have seemed vainglorious, and obscured the fact she has been most successful as a comic writer. Although she has always seemed certain her novels will survive, their ephemeral, lightweight nature (sentence quality aside) gives them much of their charm.

It would be pleasing to report that by taking on the end of the world, Winterson has written a novel that matches her still-astonishing debut Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, but The Stone Gods reveals her at her most uneven. It alternates brilliant ideas with foolish ones, predicting a future at times utterly convincing, at others about as considered as a 12-year-old's essay on what we'll all be doing in the year 2050.

SF fans have a particular pet hate: authors "info-dumping" to establish their new world. Winterson resorts to this throughout the early part of the novel, and it feels as if she is not just trying to explain the future to an early 21st-century reader, but to a maiden aunt. Describing a trend for filling a room with "celebrity holograms", she makes an analogy with how "people in the past used to stuff their lounges with china ornaments". Her TV spoof also seems curiously old-fashioned, suggesting she does not really have a sense of how that medium might develop.

Among the novel's more interesting ideas is Winterson's speculation about what might happen once people are able to fix their own DNA. Wives want to be frozen as schoolgirls in order to satisfy their husbands' latent paedophilia and celebrities augment their breasts and penises until they become grotesque. With everyone young and pretty, people get bored of sex and start frequenting pervert bars where they can sleep with giantesses, or women with mouths for nipples. Less interesting are her riffs on robot complaint departments and traffic wardens (her narrator, Billie Crusoe, ends up owing three million dollars in parking fines), which feel like contemporary complaints.

At times, Winterson enters Flesh Gordon territory. Billie Crusoe becomes enamoured of a sexy robot named Spike who used up three "silicone-lined" vaginas having sex with spacemen. When Billie is forced to undress in front of Spike, she falls in love with the robot and cannot resist her request to help her escape to Planet Blue. Planet Blue is populated by carnivorous monsters, but a space pirate named Captain Handsome is going there to use an asteroid to create a duststorm to kill the space dinosaurs.

It also emerges that the planet on which the action has taken place so far might not be Earth, but one its inhabitants escaped from before destroying this new planet in the same way. The environmental message is not subtle. Before it becomes completely ridiculous, the novel deliberately collapses, flashing back to 1774, and then someone finds the manuscript of the novel we are reading on a Tube.

When Winterson returns to her imagined future and Billie and Spike reappear (following a third world war), the fractured, surreal later sections, driven by sex and Socratic dialogue, resemble the work of Kathy Acker, an author Winterson admired. This part is both more sophisticated and less interesting than the straightforward SF, as though she has retreated defensively from the demands of her core narrative. Ultimately, The Stone Gods neither satisfies as science fiction nor as a literary novel that does anything new with genre. Nevertheless, it is the first Winterson novel to surprise in many years, and may yet win her deserved attention from new readers outside her committed circle of fans.

Matt Thorne's latest novel is 'Cherry' (Phoenix)

Hamish Hamilton £16.99 (207pp) £15.29 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried