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A Door into Ocean (Elysium Cycle, Book 1) Paperback – February, 1987

28 customer reviews
Book 1 of 4 in the Elysium Cycle Series

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Paperback, February, 1987
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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In her ambitious second SF novel (after Still Forms on Foxfield biology professor Slonczewski has created an intriguing ocean world with its own culture and biological adaptions. (Particularly ingenious are the clickfliesinsects that collectively serve as both a living computer and a communications network.) But the book has problems with its rigid ideological structure. On one side is the planet Valedon, a patriarchal, capitalist, mechanistic and militaristic society. On the other is Valedon's watery moon Shora, an all-female society based on life sciences and the principle of sharing. It gets by without any government, shuns the mechanical and, knowing its limits, lives in harmony with nature. In the inevitable confrontation, Shora uses Gandhian techniques of passive resistance to thwart Valedon's troops. Fortunately, this schematic political framework is enlivened by the full-blooded characters who negotiate between the two cultures. Science Fiction Book Club selection. February 7
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.


''By the time the conflict . . . has moved to center stage, you not only know the antagonists intimately, you care passionately about the outcome . . . The story deals with the efforts of decent people on both sides to see beyond their culture-bound definitions of humanity.'' --New York Times Book Review

''[A] dreamy, poetic book . . . very much in the spirit of Dune or Le Guin's works. It's tough to build a world, particularly if you try to get the science correct. Author Slonczewski accomplishes that difficult feat and manages a gripping plot into the bargain. Maybe Le Guin has competition.'' --San Francisco Examiner

An intriguing ocean world...[The] schematic political framework is enlivened by the full-blooded characters who negotiate between the two cultures. Science Fiction Book Club selection. --Publishers Weekly

''One of the best new science fiction novels of the last several years.'' --VOYA

''Slonczewski creates an all-female, nonviolent culture that reaches beyond feminism to a new definition of human nature. This novel is highly recommended.'' --Library Journal --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Avon Books (Mm) (February 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380701502
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380701506
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 4.2 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,887,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joan Lyn Slonczewski is a microbiologist at Kenyon College and a science fiction writer. She is the first since Fred Pohl to earn a second John Campbell award for best science fiction novel, "The Highest Frontier" (2012); her previous winner was "A Door into Ocean" (1987). "The Highest Frontier" invents a college in a space habitat financed by a tribal casino and protected from deadly ultraphytes by Homeworld Security. According to Alan Cheuse at NPR, her book invents "a worldwide communications system called Toy Box that makes the iPhone look like a Model-T Ford."

Slonczewski's classic "A Door into Ocean" depicts an ocean world run by genetic engineers who repel an interstellar invasion using nonviolent methods similar to Tahrir Square. In her book "Brain Plague," intelligent microbes invade human brains and establish microbial cities. She also authors with John W. Foster the leading microbiology textbook, Microbiology: An Evolving Science (W. W. Norton).

Author blog:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Tom Bourne ( on April 8, 1998
Format: Hardcover
In this novel Joan Slonczewski combines striking character interactions with a solid science background, making a thoroughly enjoyable story that completely captured my attention. The clash of the Sharer society concerned with fitting into the overall ecosystem on the ocean moon Shora with the techno-mechanical Valan military trying to establish lordship over Shora makes for an excellent story that should become one of the textbooks for future science fiction writers. The interaction of the Shora and Valan cultures are effectively illustrated from both an overall culture perspective and a personal point of view, and I was captivated with the diverse character set created by the author. The book manages to convey the Shora ecosystem science aspects in an easily readable form that you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand. The internal conflict in the Sharer community over how to deal with the Valan presence seems to me to be a classic study on the trials all non-violent societies go through to maintain their ideals when confronted with an opponent prepared to use violence. I found this book to be a most enjoyable read and have gone back many times to reread it.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By dandeliondreamer on October 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
Dune was probably the first "environmental" sci fi, exploring issues of how "where you live" and how your relative harmony/disharmony with that place can affect your society. This book is similar in that way-- and it adds the element of a society where gender relationships are examined, like the best utopia sci-fi. I thought that the characters were interesting, and the clash between a sort of "patriarchy" with a definite matriarchy was thought-provoking, as well. If you liked books like Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, The Handmaid's Tale, The Gate to Women's Country, and other "dystopic/utopia" fiction, you'll probably like this one.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a very good science fiction novel. The scene is a system with 2 inhabited worlds. There is an inhabited planet and a moon around the planet which is entirely ocean. Markedly different societies occupy these worlds. The planet is a largely traditional human society; capitalist, patriarchial to a large extent, traditional forms of government, and physics based technology. The inhabitants of the aqueous moon are females who reproduce via parthenogenesis, have a very egalitarian society, and rely on sophisticated biotechnology. The book is about the clash of these two cultures. The themes are rapacious patriarchy versus feminism, hierarchy versus egalitarianism, ecological integration versus exploitation of the natural world, and coercion versus pacifism. This is a well written and enjoyable book. The author does a very good job of depicting ecology of the aqueous moon. Defects include the fact that the contrasts between the two societies are too black and white, and an overly elaborate plot with unnecessary prolongation of the book. This book is also somewhat derivative. There are themes and ideas drawn clearly from Ursula Le Guin's great utopian novel, The Dispossessed. This book is still superior to most science fiction but because it has pretensions to greater value, invites harsher criticism.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By gac1003 on November 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
The planet Shora is covered completely by water, giving it the name The Ocean Moon. Its inhabitants, all female, have lived peacefully for tens of thousands of years, peacefully co-existing with all the creatures of the planet. That is, until the Valan traders from the neighboring planet of Valedon come, bringing with them pollution and a terrible stonesickness.
To understand the Valans, two Sharers leave for Valedon with the hope of sharing learning with them: Usha the Inconsiderate and her lovesharer, Merwen the Imaptient, who believes deep down that Valans are humans, too, like the Sharers of Shora. For her to prove this, she must teach a Valan the ways of Shora, and after their ordeal on Valedon, they bring home with them a young stonecutter's son, Spinel.
As Spinel's learnsharing begins, the Patriarch, protector of Valedon, wants to bring Shora into its folds in order to make use of its valuable resources such as minerals and fish. His Envoy dispatches a military unit to move relations along, at first with kind words. When that goes nowhere, he resorts to terrorism, both ecological and physical. Undaunted, the Sharers, unaccustomed to useless killing, fight back with pacifism and intelligence, hoping to bring an end to this unwanted presence on their homeworld.
Slonczewski has created two very distinct and intriguing worlds, populated with very human-acting characters. One item I truly liked about this book is the interplay of the contrasting world views of the Sharers and the Valans don't think that the either is human: the Sharers consider Valans nothing more than children who need to learn in order to grow; the Valans think of Sharers as nothing more than catfish.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Michel Avery on September 29, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This gem of a sci fi novel is the best case study of nonviolent resistance to oppression I've ever seen. It follows the struggles of a peaceful, aquatic (women's) culture as an outwardly more powerful (male-dominated) enemy from another world tries to take them over. From the viewpoints of strategically-placed protagonists, we see the characters contend with the atrocities committed against them by their enemy, as well as with their own divisions and disagreements about how to resist. These characters include a wide range of perspectives: community leaders; an adolescent male who was invited to come live among them so the inhabitants of "Ocean" and a representative of their opponents can learn to understand each other better; and a three-year-old girl who participates in a coming-of-age ritual with other children when they are held hostage, and decide in their captivity to take up the adult responsibilities of resisting the enemy. The only book I know that compares to this one is Starhawk's almost-as-wonderful "The Fifth Sacred Thing."
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