Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Book Review: Ammonite

Posted on November 12, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

By Krysteana Scribner, Free Press Editor-in-Chief

“Change or Die,” reads the first sentence on the back of my pastel-colored book titled Ammonite. It was a book I had asked to borrow from a friend, after noticing it was covered in dust, like an untouched treasure waiting to be discovered.

Nicola Griffith, the author of this science fiction novel, writes about one woman’s journey to discover the secrets of a planet named Jeep. Readers can relate to the independent nature of the main character, while the trials and tribulations which she endures remind us of what it means to live the human experience.

Marghe Taishan, the main character of the book, travels as an anthropologist to Jeep in the hope of learning more about an endemic disease, named appropriately after the planet. While testing a vaccine against the virus, she also begins to explore the world around her, both through her scientific knowledge and her philosophical theories regarding the new world.

Planet Jeep is a described in detail throughout the text, often like a historical painting in which the meaning has been lost in translation. The narrator lingers on the sensory: the sight of the orange cream and indigo skylines, and the silence that fills the oxygen of this strange new planet. Her attention to specifics draws readers in with a delightful, unique sensory experience that urges us to understand what it would be like exploring a world we know very little about.

Marghe, who goes on to travel across Jeep, lives and learns from a variety of tribes she meets on the way and begins participating in their cultures. From these people, she learns more about the planet she now calls home, and discovers that she, too, must decide whether she wants to travel back to Earth or adapt and conform  to the mysteries and discoveries of Jeep.

Her words force us to imagine new ideologies and to question the historical origins of our own planet. What mysteries do we have yet to uncover? What would discovering a new planet, specifically in modern times, do to our advancement as a race?

We are also urged to ask more questions as the plot develops. This virus kills all males and has a mortality rate of 25 percent in females, leading the reader to question what a world ruled by women may look like. Would it be chaos? How do these women reproduce? Although this text was written in 1992, it echoes timeless discussions: the fight for women’s rights, the importance of scientific research and the philosophical contemplations of what it means to exist in the first place.

As readers, we are forced to experience Marghe’s fears as she deals with loneliness anger. Yet, we are also gifted with her moments of self-reflection in solitude, her appreciation for the simple pleasures and the determination she derives from her experiences,the good and the bad. These emotions signify that life experiences are not linear, and that without the negative memories we could not appreciate the positive memories as genuinely, or as deeply.

Through experience, we become stronger, like the way Marghe holds onto her mother’s memory and stands strongly by her intuition even when it is being questioned. Ammonite forces the reader to come face to face with the reality of survival: If we cannot adapt, we cannot survive.

Change is humanity’s universal condition, and humanity is bogged down by the question we all, at some point or another, contemplate: What does it mean to be a human being when the meaning of existence itself is irrelevant? All these questions are important to our own experiences because Marghe’s story will, in turn, offer us a deeper understanding of life and what it means to be a human being.