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A Door into Ocean: The science of being human

October 23, 2011

This year is the 25th since publication of A Door into Ocean. Written during Reagan/Thatcher, with “the bomb” ten minutes away, A Door into Ocean asks: How can we defend our freedom yet remain human?

A Door into Ocean won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, ahead of runners-up James Morrow’s This is How the World Ends and Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead. It was noted by Isaac Asimov on his list of the year’s top books. Three years later, the European Revolutions of 1989 accomplished what most Western political scientists called impossible: the overthrow of communist dictatorships–including the USSR/Russia itself–by largely nonviolent popular movements. Czech student protesters wrote my family that they read A Door into Ocean during their struggle. Much of my background research came from nonviolence historian Gene Sharp, whose methods were used in Europe and this year at Tahrir Square–and in Tunisia, voting today in their first free election.

In A Door into Ocean, the nonviolent Sharers must defend their ocean-covered planet Shora from invading soldiers of planet Valedon. The Sharers appear physically defenseless; but in fact, they have genetic weapons. Should they use these weapons–although their use will destroy themselves?  Or can they use their Sharer way, even against the soldiers?

It’s important that the Sharers are genetic engineers; their molecular biology, and the ecology of their planet–with its raft-trees, seaswallowers and flying squids–are consistent with science. (See posts to come this week.) A Door into Ocean is “hard science fiction,” while embracing the full range of human experience. Today, more than ever, our planet faces threats from war, pollution, and greed. Can we use the way of Sharp and Sharers to defend our planet–and our humanity?

  1. October 24, 2011 7:00 am

    Shora is one of the most memorable worlds in all of SF.

  2. October 24, 2011 5:55 pm

    Good to know that Gene Sharp’s work influenced Shora. I only found out about it after the Arab Spring.

    Can it work? Yes and no. Door Into Ocean doesn’t have a past for the Sharers, while we’ve got thousands of years of history on Earth to trip over. That’s a problem, because history is one of those things people fight with. The whole issue of path dependence (getting from modern day Earth to the sharers) is somewhat fraught.

    Still, I think it’s a worthy goal. I suspect what will happen is similar to what happened with Buddhist and Christian monasteries (or perhaps even more accurately, with Sufi orders or the Amish). In other words, alternative communities espousing the values of people like Gene Sharp will spring up. Most will die or go mainstream, and some will continue on, imperfectly, in a symbiotic relationship with the rest of society. Monasteries have classically been the savior of bits of old civilizations, so this is not a bad thing.

    • October 25, 2011 10:37 am

      Yes, that is what happens to Sharers in my next book, Daughter of Elysium.
      But what also happens is that their worldview seeps into our own–without our realizing it.
      See Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.”
      The New Yorker has a good review.
      Pinker argues that the reason why we think the world is getting more violent is that in fact our expectations for peace have risen so high. We don’t realize (statistically) how far we have come from how violent humans used to be.

      • paws4thot permalink
        October 25, 2011 11:33 am

        I see the point, but I’d suggest that “most of us” (for the usual value of “us” in an English language blog as meaning North Americans, Western Europeans and ANZACs) also have a very false perception of the last 110 years as being a period of mostly peace.

  3. November 1, 2011 9:30 pm

    What a joy to come across this blog! Door Into Ocean was a major influence on me starting into hard science fiction in my late teens. I had consumed every fantasy novel I could find and had read some basic sci-fi, but your novel, Ms. Slonczewski put me on a path to true reading enlightenment. It also inspired my artwork as I had begun working in the groundbreaking field of 3D. In fact, oh those many years ago, I rendered a scene of an ocean with large tentacles waving from the depths and somehow (without a Google!) found a way to send it to you. Not sure if you ever received it, but nevermind, just know that you influenced a mind into delving deeper into science, imagination and opened a door for me.

    Thank You!

    • November 1, 2011 9:44 pm

      Great to hear from you. I’d enjoy seeing your artwork again. Perhaps I can post a link to it.

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