What if we found another planet–pristine and habitable, like our own, before we took it to the edge of destruction? Would we start all over again or repeat the same mistakes? In The Stone Gods, Jeanette Winterson takes us on an imaginary journey to find the answer.
The Stone Gods is comprised of three different but interlinking stories: Planet Blue, Easter Island and Post-3 War/ Wreck City. All three stories are set at different times, places and even planets, but all share the same thematic concern: humans’ penchant for destroying the planet.
In each story, the two protagonists Billie and Spike reappear in different reincarnations. In the first story, set on planet Orbus some 65 million years ago, Billie is a disillusioned scientist and Spike a female Robo sapiens–an advanced form of android–and both join a space mission to the newly-discovered Planet Blue (which, unsurprisingly, turns out to be our planet at the time when dinosaurs where yet alive). The second story retells the popular history of Easter Island, which had turned from a lushly forested paradise to a wasteland within 600 years after humans first set foot on the island. The story sets in shortly after the arrival of James Cook’s expedition on the island in 1774. Billy is a young British sailor on the expedition and he meets the half-Dutch half-native Spikkers on the island. Together, they are about to witness the felling of the last palm tree. In the third story, set in the very near future after a Third World War, Spike becomes a disembodied robotic head and Billie her programmer/ teacher. They escape on an adventure to Wreck City, a place outside government’s legislation, with fatal consequences.
Although the settings of the stories are so different, it’s easy to see the common thread that connects them. In all three stories, the world is at the brink of destruction. Environmental devastation and ruthless consumerism have made each place–and indeed planet–almost inhabitable. In the end, Winterson’s judgement on humanity seems dire: Regardless of the time and place, humans will keep repeating the same ecocidal behaviour. As it says in the novel:
“A repeating world–same old story”
But as in every dystopia there is a glimmer of hope inside the story, which Winterson locates in the two protagonists and the “intervention” of love. In two of the three stories, Billie/Billy and Spike/ Spikkers become same-sex (inter-species) lovers, resisting the constraints placed upon them. They can’t be put into boxes and for readers familiar with Winterson’s oeuvre, this is an aspect that reappears in almost all of her novels (For those unfamiliar with her works: no one hates binaries as much as Winterson). The novel leaves much room for interpretation and doesn’t come up with a clear-defined solution to humanity’s destructive tendencies, but at least for me, it seems to suggest that if we want to escape the deadly spiral, we have to recognize human entanglement in the world and and stop destroying nature at our pleasure.
“Life has never been All or Nothing- it’s All and Nothing. Forget the binaries.”
The Stone Gods is typically Winterson, that is: confusing, weird (in a good sense!) and really cleverly composed. It’s definitely not an easy read and I had to re-read some passages to understand what’s going on, but in the end, it all adds up. It covers some really important topics, above all environmental destruction and climate change, with insight, profundity and a lot of dark humour. The Stone Gods is science-fiction at its best. I’m sure readers of the genre will truly enjoy this story.
Have you read The Stone Gods? Which other novels by Winterson do you recommend? Let me know in the comments below!