If I had read James Morrow’s first novel The Wine of Violence when it originally appeared, I probably would have found it much more bizarre than I did in my actual encounter with it, after having read much of his later fiction. Although it is quite unusual for a science fiction novel, it is actually the conventional space opera context that most sets it apart from his larger oeuvre, while it exhibits many themes and features common to his work as a whole. These include bereavement of central characters, materialization of ethical and metaphysical concepts, and moral inquiry verging on gentle didacticism.
The principal character of the story is Francis Lostwax, an exo-entomologist whom we encounter with the rest of the crew of the spaceship Darwin on return from a successful interplanetary expedition in the UW Canis Majoris system, to which humans had emigrated from Earth many generations previously. The scientists are forced to land on an unexpected planet, where they encounter a quasi-utopian society descended from a lost colony-ship sister to the one that brought their ancestors to New Earth (“Nearth”). These pacifist Quetzalians live behind fortifications which protect them from the rapacious, cannibalistic Neurovores.
In keeping with its title, the book poses several central questions about aggression and the capacity for violence. Are they intrinsic to humans? Would we be better without them? Despite the fact that the characters are in some measure ciphers for answers to these questions, I did care about them as a reader, and I would recommend the book as a fiction as well as philosophy. [via]