Unfettered by the knowable, Winterson hurls her new novel into the future, the distant past and an apocalyptic landscape yet to be navigated, first on the planet Orbus, where life is barely sustainable, robots perform everyday functions, and the government is all-powerful in its knowledge of every citizen.
Peace of a sort has been made with the great powers, although predictably the Central Power has reached the stage of populating other planets with secret plans to repel any countries in order to establish supremacy and stabilize life for those fortunate enough to benefit.
Pressured into a voyage to the Blue Planet (Earth), not yet habitable for the intended residents, scientist Billy Crusoe leaves her beloved farm behind, traveling with an eccentric group of characters - a Captain named Handsome; a human-like robot (robo-sapiens) named Spike; and Pink McMurphy, a woman trapped in the stasis of life on a dying Orbus, the new planet yet to be purged of menacing dinosaurs.
Science has dominated culture for some time, citizens genetically “fixed” at a chosen age, all women beautiful, men virile, the human form optimized by progress. Billie is one of few rebels, a threat to a government that requires “state-approved mass illiteracy.” Thus she finds herself propelled to an unknown future where the beautiful robo-sapiens, Spike, beckons her to explore the boundaries of love.
The written word has become extinct, but the walls to the spacecraft are papered with the classic works of the great recorders of human behavior - Shakespeare, Scott, Defoe. Then, reaching Planet Blue, the new arrivals learn that “randomness is not a mistake in the equation - it is part of the equation.” Armed with only their protective accoutrements and precious fragments of Captain Cook’s journals, they become a fractured party not of conquerors but survivors.
Winterson reinvents time in her novel, examining human motivations beneath the surface of the known world, past, future unknown, images of time and place that twist and turn each moment. Tapping into hidden regions of identity and hope, Billie’s tale is but the beginning of an existential journey as thrilling as it is surprising, the reader’s expectations reinvented in each fresh enterprise.
The novel changes time frames - pre-Earth, Captain Cook’s 1774 expedition, Post-3 war and the shambles of Wreck City - the human detritus of a waning civilization dominated by science and technology.
Winterson had me at hello; I soon identified an ongoing theme of love amid destruction, albeit highly unusual and surrounded by a frightening scenario of man’s impulse to ignore the lessons of history and self-destruct, a bit tedious by the end. The political circumstances are a natural extension of life as we know it, but the spirit of connection and affection surfaces through each daunting phase of existence.