Characters named Billie Crusoe, Friday and Captain Handsome make it hard to take this novel as seriously as the author does.
The latest from the eclectically adventurous Winterson (Lighthousekeeping, 2005 etc.) is equal parts meta fiction and science fiction. She conjures a world—presumably Earth, but here called Orbus—on the verge of environmental ruin, but most of its inhabitants are more concerned with their perennially youthful appearances. As a rebel who rejects her society’s values, Billie (initially a woman, though apparently a man in a later chapter) finds herself exiled as an outer-space explorer to colonize Planet Blue, where conditions appear to allow mankind to survive (and ultimately ruin another planet). Her frequent companion and potential lover is Spike, a robot in the form of an irresistible female. Actually Spike is a “Robo sapiens,” who has the potential to evolve to a higher level than humans. Within a novel where “time has become its own tsunami,” Billie skips back and forth across the centuries, sailing the 18th-century seas with Captain Cook and stumbling through the radioactive cinders of Post-3 War, with Spike as a disembodied head (who develops an appetite for oral sex). As silly as all this sounds, Winterson employs the plot as a backdrop for an environmental manifesto, making grand pronouncements—“History is not a suicide note—it is a record of our survival”; “Perhaps the universe is a memory of our mistakes”—amid allusions to Beckett, Sartre and Camus, as well as the inevitable Dafoe. Just in case the reader starts wondering what exactly this novel is about, the novel tells us. Exactly. After Billie finds a copy of a book titled The Stone Gods, Spike asks her what it’s about. “A repeating world,” replies Billie, a world in which every end is a fresh beginning and every beginning anticipates an apocalypse.
Vonnegut did it better.