A Door Into Ocean (Elysium Cycle)

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9780312876524: A Door Into Ocean (Elysium Cycle)
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A Door into Ocean is the novel upon which the author's reputation as an important SF writer principally rests. A ground-breaking work both of feminist SF and of world-building hard SF, it concerns the Sharers of Shora, a nation of women on a distant moon in the far future who are pacifists, highly advanced in biological sciences, and who reproduce by parthenogenesis--there are no males--and tells of the conflicts that erupt when a neighboring civilization decides to develop their ocean world, and send in an army.

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About the Author:

Joan Slonczewski lives in Gambier, Ohio and teaches biology at Kenyon College.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Door Into Ocean
Part I ASHORE  
 
1 MERWEN REACHED OVER the boat rail, but her hand froze above the weathered pier. To be sure, spring morning breathed peace through Chrysoport harbor, and the sea rippled without a crest. Still ... a shore. Across the sky, where Merwen was born, none but the dead ever sank to touch the world's floor. She shook herself and straightened her back. If she were to flinch now, dear Usha would balk altogether and drag her home from this parched planet. At Merwen's elbow, Usha wrinkled her nose as her long arms yanked tight the rope of the houseboat, which had born the two Sharers down along the shore, this endless edge of dry floor. Away from the space landing; that had been an unintelligible place of screeching noises and choking smells. Usha had been right to escape to the sea, though a strange sea it was with its floor jutting out hard as a whorlshell. On planet Valedon, most people lived "ashore," upon dry land--if in fact Valans were people, Merwen reminded herself. Here in Chrysoport, a small, quiet place, she might find out. And that answer would save her own people. So Merwen placed a hand, then a foot upon the pier. Loose planks vibrated warningly as Usha hoisted up the spinning wheel, the hand-loom, and the bundles of iridescent seasilk. Silkspinning would occupy Merwen's hands while she awaited the mission that had brought her and her lovesharer so far from their home.  
The two women were foreign, but at first their presence went unnoticed in the sleepy town square. Olive-skinned fishermen were unloading their catch for the market, while brightly scarved vendors arranged onions and groundnuts on their stalls and came alive to shake their glass beads and argue shrilly over choice locations in the square. Those who did observe the strangers only stared in surprise. No one warned the pair not to settle beneath the luxurious shade tree by the granite storefront of the firemerchant. As shadows shrank toward the low houses which lined the marketplace, villagers trickled in to shop for cabbages and to hear the latestword from Pyrrhopolis, the upstart provincial capital under siege by the High Protector. Protectoral soldiers mingled with farmers and tradespeople at the firemerchant's door; they all came to recharge firecrystals, the white diamond-shaped energy cells more precious than any diamond. As customers passed the great tree, they gaped at the odd pair sitting beneath, and some wagered on how long it would take the firemerchant to boot the strangers out. Oblivious, the strangers wound their spindles full of rich shiny threads that squeaked when the strands crossed. Both wore garments of precious seasilk, yet crudely cut, like beggars clothed in a noblewoman's rags. Odder still, their flesh bloomed deep amethyst, from hairless scalp to nailless fingertips; and when a hand rose a moment, the overlong fingers spread to reveal scalloped webbing that shone translucent against the sun. No such creatures had ever been heard of on the planet of Valedon, not even from Pyrrhopolis or the other provinces whose uprisings guaranteed employment to Protectoral Guards. Did they come from a far star, one of the hundred now ruled by the Patriarch? It took years to crawl between stars at lightspeed; no one had done better since the old empire had collapsed, many centuries before. Away from the tree, a farmhand named Melas clapped dust from his trousers and leaned back against a vegetable rack. "They're Iridians, that's all," he assured the withered gray woman behind the stand. In Iridis, home of the High Protector, it was said that firecrystals littered the streets and moontraders wore such thick belts of gems that they swooned and fell off the skywalks. "That's an Iridian moontrader's boat they came on," Melas added. "I tell you, Ahn, they're tailored slaves of some noble lord. Did you ever see such perversion?" Ahn shook her head in disgust. "Not since I lost my good eye." Ahn's right eye was shrunken and sightless, ever since her head had been grazed by a firewhip from a couple of Iridian guards in a drunken duel. Her remaining eye narrowed as she counted change for a customer : Spinel, the stonecutter's son. "You won't find a city wickeder than Iridis on all the planets of the Patriarch." Spinel overheard her and smiled, for Ahn had never left Chrysoport, let alone planet Valedon. Then he stiffened with alarm and tightly clutched his change. An officer in Iridian blue and gold was just passing toward the firestore. To Spinel's relief, the officer took no notice;his chiseled features were set hard, and he walked straight ahead without looking left or right. The back of his uniform cut a striking figure, with its shoulder line swooping up to a point at either side where the ruby stonesigns glittered. Spinel absently filled a bag of groundnuts for Ahn to weigh. His nose had an engaging crook in it, and his eyes were green as malachite, while his ragged shirt revealed a dark chest still bare of any stonesign to mark a decent trade. He was beginning to think of joining the regiment, to escape and seek his fortune far beyond this sleepy town. Something occurred to him about the strangers at the tree. Dreamily he watched one of them apply silken fibers to the spinninghead through her long webbed fingers. "In the ocean," he murmured. "That's where they come from." Melas stared at the youth. "You think I have cornstalks for ears? The bottom of the sea, eh? How does the mayor collect their taxes?" "No, no," Spinel protested, as Ahn laughed so hard that her speckled stonesign shook around her neck. "I meant the other ocean. The Ocean Moon." Ahn's laughter faded. She rearranged some bunches of ripe grapes bright as amethysts, or bright as the bare arms of the strangers. "Shora, the Ocean Moon. That's where the traders get their best medicines." Shora, sapphire of the night sky, world whose sea had no shore. But Melas strode forward, trousers swishing, and shook a finger in Spinel's face. "I thought those moon creatures the traders know have gills and scales! Where are their fishtails?" . "So I've heard," Spinel admitted. "They descended from catfish, and they spin magic from seaweed." "A fishy tale, or I'm the Patriarch." Spinel's arm shot out, but Melas parried the blow and sent him tumbling onto the stand. A crate of onions slid off; Ahn shrieked and uttered curses while she stooped to gather the scattered bulbs in her apron. Flustered, Spinel seized his groceries and left. He drifted among the motley racks and stalls, where customers shouted and haggled, children played hide-and-seek though they should have been in school, and a robed Spirit Caller with a winking starstone received alms. He was sick of this, Spinel thought suddenly. Until he got a good stonesign, he would be left to running errands and sawing slabs in the stoneshop. He paused by a cage of silvery furredmonkeys, a delicacy he had tasted only once in his life. Then an odor of fish lured him to Tybalt's stand, where basins overflowed with thick pink fillets and tight clams. "Pst, lad; over here." Tybalt waved him over, neck outstretched like a plucked chicken. "Hagfish go for three solidi today. Two-fifty, for you." Spinel rolled his tongue but said, "Not today, friend." His coins were spent for the day. Stonecutters were thought to own the stars, but a town like Chrysoport boasted few noble customers, and how many commoners could afford better than chip-flecked glass? His father's business was precarious at best, despite his mother's firm hand on the account books. "Not today, eh?" the fishmonger repeated. "Wait. See that beauty on the cutting block?" Tybalt's knobby thumb pointed to a magnificent specimen laid out beside the cleaver. Still alive, its scales flashed as it writhed on the block. "Do me a favor, and she's yours." Spinel's eyes opened wide. The fish would last their stewpot for a week. Tybalt leaned over the table, and his stonesign swung forward. "See them foreigners at the firemerchant's tree? You've got a smooth tongue; get them to pick up and move, before it's too late. Trouble's bad for business." The request surprised him. Tybalt must be in debt to the firemerchant again. Watching the fish, Spinel sucked air through his teeth. "All right." He turned to the tree, whose foliage hung in thick folds like fishermen's nets. Slowly he approached the strange moonwomen. How should he address them? Their dress might be common, though it consisted of fine seasilk, now that he got a closer look. They wore no stonesigns, and not a single string of beads, which village women trailed in abundance. They must be noble; it was said that in Iridis noble ladies spun and wove for a pastime, despite their mechanical servitors and inexhaustible firecrystals. But what in Valedon would bring them here? He scratched the back of his neck, warm from the sun overhead. One moonwoman concentrated on the spinning wheel, her foot rhythmically pumping the pedal. Wrinkled violet skin lay between her toes, which were twice as long as Spinel's own. He shuddered despite himself. Her companion looked up at him from where she sat crosslegged on a mat of iridescent blue, while she pulled tufts of blue seasilk between a pair of wired cards. A gingery perfume wafted over, exotic and expensive-smelling. Spinel smiled uncertainly at the woman on the mat. If he addressed her as a lady, he decided, at worst she could laugh. "My lady, I have an urgent matter to bring to your attention. To address you properly, may I ask your stonesign?" She must have at least one, if only to mark her noble house. The woman on the mat watched him without missing a stroke. Baldness accentuated her long, oval face; small ears pressed back closely to her hea...

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