Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Sun Jun 09 23:22:34 EDT 1991

Raymond's Reviews #104

%T The Wall Around Eden
%A Joan Sloncezewski
%I Avon Books
%D December 1990
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 288
%G 0-380-71177-X

Readers sophisticated enough to appreciate hard science fiction in new and unusual guises will be fascinated and impressed by "The Wall Around Eden," Slonczewski's latest addition to the subgenre.

Slonczewski's book features a post-Holocaust world in which small enclaves of humans have been saved from death-by-nuclear- winter by aliens who have enclosed certain settlements in force bubbles they cannot leave. The enclosures protect the humans from the worst extremes of temperature and radiation, and the aliens implement limited communication and barter among the enclaves, but otherwise the survivors must deal with the effects of limited food and medicine, and prolonged exposure to excess radiation, as best they can.

The novel opens, twenty years after the Death Year (as the survivors call it) in a small enclave that was once the rural town of Gywnwood, Pennsylvania. Gywnwood's inhabitants believe that the worst extremes of radiation outside the bubble has abated. They long to be free to rejoin the rest of humanity, begin rebuilding the civilization the bombs ended, and -- most importantly -- to save themselves from inevitable extinction by radiation-induced disease and infertility.

The plot turns on the moral choices faced by various Gywnwood inhabitants who attempt to breach the wall. Slonczewski could easily have used this premise as the springboard for yet another veiled attack of technology as intrinsically evil, and the words and conduct of some of the characters appear to support this view. But she does not stop there. The Gywnwoodians ultimately achieve their goal of escaping Eden, in true scientific fashion, by investigating their "keepers," and increasing their knowledge about how those creatures function. Moreover, this triumph is achieved nonviolently -- despite substantial ambivalence in the book as to whether the use of force, of any kind, can ever be morally unjustified.

The Wall Around Eden deserves kudos for many reasons: for being pro-science and pro-knowledge, despite obvious temptation to stack the deck against this view; for presenting complex moral issues in a believable context; for refusing to do the reader's thinking by neatly resolving those moral issues; and for creating characters the reader is not ashamed to care about. The reader will have to judge whether these depths outweigh the slowness and awkwardness of the "plot," and whether the result is Hugo material.

[This by guest reviewer Cathy Olanich -- ESR]

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Sun Jun 09 23:22:34 EDT 1991

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>