BOOK REVIEW (for LIFE-ONE)
by Dr. Stathis Papaioannou
So there you have it: science fiction, philosophical novel, love story.
Even if at times the writing in this book is not as polished as it might have been,
it is still a fascinating read.
John Doan's first novel, Life-One, begins on Earth half a millenium hence, in the middle of that perennially popular human activity, a Great Big War. Our hero, Antonio the pilot, takes a wrong turn in his aircraft and ends falling through a black hole, finally crash-landing on the planet which gives the book its title. He is found by a young woman, Misha (who of course later becomes the love interest), and once he is restored to good health, we are introduced to Life-One society. In many ways, the inhabitants are very similar to Earth humans; in fact, too similar to be credible given that Earth and Life-One had apparently never known of each other's existence prior to Antonio's accident, and therein lies one of the novel's mysteries. The differences are as striking as the similarities. For example, Beethoven and Einstein are contemporaries in Life-One, and through the protagonist we get to see both. The most striking difference, however, is the central idea of the novel: the green-blooded humans of Life-One reproduce asexually, have no notion of sex, and have no notion of there being anything wrong or unusual about public nudity. On the contrary, there is a great deal of very public nudity on Life-One, and all the parts of the naked body are celebrated as beautiful without, as it were, prejudice or discrimination.
At first glance, this idea may seem a little passe. After all, nudism has been a well established movement for a hundred years, hasn't it? Well, yes, but the point is that on Life-One, it isn't a matter of making a conscious decision to flout convention; on Life-One nudism _is_ the convention, and needs no special justification. That it is not unusual, however, does not mean that it is not noticed. Cultural life on Life-One seems to be even more obsessed with the body - generally beautiful, young bodies - than is the case on Earth, although to completely different effect. This includes popular culture, "high art" (eg. we meet Van Gogh, sans ear, painting, of course, nudes), and what may be termed the culture of everyday life. It makes for some passages in the book which are surprisingly disturbing; who would have thought there was anything left to write about in this age sated and saturated with images of porn and violence that comes across not only novel, but also disturbing? And we, as Antonio, are disturbed despite knowing full well that people on Life-One just don't think about these matters the way we do. There is a scene where a little girl points something out to a grandparent:"she has a beautiful arse, Grandfather!" There is another scene where Misha exclaims, on seeing for the first time Antonio's penis, "My mum would love to take a photo of that!" And so on.
The worst part for Antonio is the fact that he is attracted to Misha and she to him - but what does physical attraction mean on a planet where there is no sex? What is the quality of "love" that makes it more than just an intense friendship, and more than just lust - or is it any more than just lust? These are all very old as well as very weighty questions, but they are explored in the book in a totally novel way. They also almost drive Antonio crazy, bringing him into conflict with both Misha and her society, and driving the plot along.
So there you have it: science fiction, philosophical novel, love story. Even if at times the writing in this book is not as polished as it might have been, it is still a fascinating read.
© 2004 John Doan / www.jdxworld.com/johndoan.htm / Modified 25 Dec 2003