A Door into Ocean Essay - Critical Essays

Joan Slonczewski


A Door into Ocean is the second science-fiction novel by professor of biology Joan Slonczewski, following Still Forms on Foxfield (1980). Like her other novels, it has been praised by critics for the accuracy of its science, the completeness of its alternate cultures, and its characterization. It won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award as best science-fiction novel of 1986.

As a work of science fiction, the novel offers the situation of the alien encounter. Shifting the scene from one planet to another, it explores the situation of alien encounter from the perspectives of both worlds, opening with the visit of the Sharers to Valedon. As in other science-fiction novels describing encounters with aliens, the story raises and examines the issue of the nature of humanity. When Valans turn purple like the Shorans, they fear the loss of their humanity. When Merwen considers the possibility that some of the Shorans are willing to hasten the death of the invaders, she worries that Sharers will lose their identity.

The two societies are not portrayed in monolithic and static terms, but the novel presents the encounter between Valedon and Shora as a juxtaposition of utopia and dystopia. The utopian society of Shora is not without difference, nor is the dystopian world of Valedon without its redeeming qualities. At the end of the novel, Spinel chooses to remain on the utopian Shora, but his choice carries the possibility of the...

(The entire section is 473 words.)