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by Jean Stewart
Rising Tide Press, 1992
Review by Su Terry on Aug 6th 2002

Return to Isis

Return to Isis by Jean Stewart is the first volume in this science fiction trilogy about an amazon colony in the year 2093. This first volume finds the heroine investigating the destruction of Isis, one of the amazon cities that resulted in the destruction of its complete population including her mother. Complicating matters, the heroine finds herself falling in love with her an enigmatic woman who may be the sole survivor of Isis but who may also be the person responsible for the massacre.

Return to Isis is set in the year 2093. The AIDS/HIV epidemic has devastated the world’s population. In reaction to the AGH plague, America has split into two sectors: Elysium and Freeland. Elysium is dominated by a Christian fundamentalist patriarchy. “Regulators” dominate the society where all women are either breeders or slaves whose sole purpose is to serve the needs and desires of the male population. Freeland, on the other hand, is a loose collection of harmonious city-states. Each city-state, however, varies according to its own particular gender and/or sexual orientation – same sex or mix genders, homosexual (gay or lesbian) or heterosexual. Between these two regions is “the Border”. The Border is a “no person’s land” filled with AGH infected outcasts who eking out a subsistent existence. The Border is also dominated by a force field that prevents regulator warriors from Elysium from raiding and/or destroying Freeland. This series focuses on a colony of city-states that are lesbian in orientation. Whit, the heroine, is a warrior who has ventured into Elysium on a spying/information gathering mission. Mission complete, Whit ventures into the Border in order to past through the force field and return to Freeland. When “regs” attack Whit, it is only through the courageous efforts of a Border farmer named Amelia that Whit survives and crosses through the force field. During the long trek back to Artemis, the capital of the colony, Whit becomes aware of her growing attraction to Amelia, however, Amelia is not only “a Border farmer” but she also bears the AGH tattoo for being HIV positive. In Artemis, Amelia is put in chains until her fate is determined by the city council. Amelia, it seems, may harbor secrets locked deep within her brain. Amelia may be the missing daughter of Isis’ leader. If she is, then she is the sole survivor of Isis, a city-state destroyed in a reg. invasion. Her memories might detail the last hours of Isis and might indicate how she alone survived and implicate who was the traitor who shut down the force field allowing the enemies to enter. Only time will tell what if anything Amelia remembers and time is running out for Whit, Amelia, and the citizens of Freeland if the traitor is still at-large.

I am not a great fan of science fiction literature. I, however, did find the various aspects of this all woman utopian society interesting. The author’s attention to detail and depth of description of the various societies are well thought out and very complete. A new reader, like myself, will not be left to fill in too many blanks nor will the reader get lost in an over abundance of details. While there is a certain amount of “male bashing” especially in regards to the Elysium society, the reader soon learns that there is good and bad in all societies. Whit is also an interesting character. At first, I found it hard to warm up to her egotism and prejudices. I suspect, however, that as a warrior, her attitudes are essential to her function and survival in protecting the colony. As the novel progresses, her attitudes change and soften. This maturation process is a significant subplot of the book.

Jean Stewart is a professional writer. “Born and raised in Philadelphia, Jean Stewart has earned a Bachelor and a Master in Education. Jean taught school and coached women's athletic teams for eleven years, then left that profession to concentrate on writing.” The Isis series contains three volumes - Return to Isis (1992), Isis Rising (1993), and Warriors of Isis (1995). Return to Isis was nominated for a Lamba Literary Award and Warriors of Isis was a finalist for the Lamba Literary Award.

Return to Isis is a unique science fiction novel. It is an interesting view of what an all woman utopia might look like. Part fantasy and part mystery it will appeal to readers of both genres. It is a light read and its award nominations speak for it. I recommend this book.


© 2002 Su Terry

Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.


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