Microbiologist Joan Slonczewski is a total gem of a sci-fi writer that is rapidly becoming one of my favourites. In Daughter of Elysium we are transported back to Shora, the planet that first appeared in A Door into Ocean (1986), though taking place several centuries later (this is a loose sequel but could be read separately if you haven’t yet read Door.) Shora is a water covered moon inhabit by an all female race of beings called Sharers who use genetic engineering to control the ecology of the planet. They are also feminist and pacifist, and essentially use silent protest to protect their planet from military invasion in ADIO. It’s pretty awesome. In Daughter of Elysium the Sharers still inhabit their floating rafts on Shora, but have allowed the Elysians to settle and learn about lifeshaping. When the Elysians came to Shora they agreed to exchange their reproductive abilities for elongated life spans; for every citizen that passes away they create what is essentially a test-tube baby to replace them so the population remains steady.
There are quite a number of things going on in this book. There are many, many characters, the central family being the Windclans – Blackbear, Raincloud, Hawktalon and Sunflower – who have traveled to Shora from their vastly differing home planet Bronze Sky, one where the matriarchy is strong, citizens worship a female deity and all women are referred to as “Goddess”. Raincloud provides translation services to the Elysian Government while simultaneously being a very hands on mother, and even becoming pregnant and birthing a third baby. This is what I would consider to be one of the most important elements to this novel; it’s not very often in this genre child-rearing is such a prominent part of the story. Raincloud holds a job, is a supportive partner to Blackbear, wrangles her very clever children, and literally kicks ass like a ninja and all without breaking a sweat. Impressive.
Over the course of the novel there are a number of conflicts involving several different societies; reproductive freedom, genetic experimentation, gender equality, slavery, non-violent resistance, feminism, and treatment of servile bots who attain sentience are all topics that are ambitiously addressed by Slonczewski. Also there is space travel. Perhaps one too many balls being juggled if I had to offer any criticism, but regardless of that I really enjoyed the exquisite world building and strong character development, as well as all the highly thought provoking topics presented in this book!! There are two more books set in the same universe that I am very much looking forward to tackling. I think I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again; Joan Slonczewski is way underrated. Go buy her books!!