The Stone Gods, By Jeanette Winterson

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The Independent Culture

Jeanette Winterson has arrived late to science fiction, and her latest novel is aware of its forebears. It contains visions of lost and future worlds very much like H G Wells's; it features 1984's totalitarianisms and a Brave New World of biological engineering; the philosophical, emotionally capable robots of Asimov and Philip K Dick; the optimistic space travel of Star Trek, and the bleak vistas of J G Ballard's disaster fictions. It's a remarkable novel not just for how many ideas it contains, though, but for how densely these ideas are packed in and arranged. It is short but has a fractal structure, the narrative forever repeating and curling in on itself, each section containing the whole story in microcosm.

It is alternately set far into the future and far into the past. It features characters making the tentative move across the universe to colonise a new blue planet, carrying with them the all of humanity's dreams of a second chance. It also features dinosaurs, and Captain Cook's visit to Easter Island, and post-apocalyptic scenes from the early 21st century, but because it is about how life has a cycle, history repeats, and the human race keeps on making the same mistakes, it is appropriate that a reader is never certain if they are being zoomed forwards or back in time.

Winterson's various narrators are aware of their history but are out of step with their surroundings and out of control of their destinies. But they are existential heroes. They keep search for meaning when they know there isn't one. They reach out to make connections, are thwarted, then reach out again. In this novel, love, like life, is both fragile and eternal.

Winterson's prose is as precise, gleaming and beautiful as a new-born android, and The Stone Gods is a string of polished aphorisms. What really makes it, though, is not how very clever it is, but how very wise.

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