09 December 2013

Book review: Remnant Population

Remnant Population, by Elizabeth Moon

Ofelia is a woman in her 70s who lives on a colony world and works on a farm. As the story opens, she has just learned that Sims Bancorp, the company she "works" for and which owns the rights to colonizing that world, has lost their license and are not renewing it. When she gets the order to go into cryosleep, for which her son and daughter-in-law have to pay, because the company sees Ofelia as useless cargo likely to die on the way, she says to hell with that and stays behind.

After some time, another company makes a colonization attempt, except their chosen site is already occupied by sentient indigenous animals, who attack the landing party. Ofelia encounters them soon after, and she learns about their ways. A team comes to study them, and Ofelia has to convince them not to follow the Prime Directive, because she's already showed them human technology. Also, the aliens are really smart and curious.

This is a very slow-paced book. It's told primarily from the perspective of Ofelia, with occasional digressions to the aliens and other humans. It's about what it's like to be female in a society that has structural sexism built in (much like modern society!). Ofelia has been disrespected her entire life, by the people who wouldn't let her take the scholarship to study, by her parents, by her husbands (in succession, not simultaneously), her children, her daughter-in-law. When the survey team shows up, they dismiss her as a senile old woman.

When Ofelia is finally alone, with no one to give her dirty looks for not wearing shoes, for example, she discards her shoes. She discards her clothes, too, feeling free and without shame for the first time in her life. She starts wearing a shawl when she gets sunburned in her garden.

She is finally allowed to live for herself when everyone she had to take care of is gone.

There's a poignant moment when Ofelia discovers that the indigenes are highly intelligent and extremely curious. She muses that children were that curious, until adults beat the curiosity out of them.

On the whole, I liked this book. It tends toward the anthropological, but of our society. In addition to the look at what being a woman of a certain age is like, there are also some critiques of corporatism and an homage to the old company store days. If you can handle a slow-paced opening, you may enjoy it, too.

02 December 2013

What I'm reading

After the frenzy of reading between the Hugos and my Viable Paradise instructors, I was feeling a bit burned out on the whole reading thing. That, and I was trying to wrangle several stories to submittable quality while organizing a two-week stay in Germany.

I picked up my e-reader to see what the last thing I was reading was, and it's John Joseph Adams' post-apocalypse anthology, whose name I'm blanking on right now, and my e-reader is upstairs. I got about halfway through that and had some really weird dreams, so I set it aside for a time when I wouldn't be reading right before bed.

Then I re-read The Hobbit. I can't remember the last time I read it, and I found the first page of a North Carolina voter registration card tucked inside it. I registered to vote here in 1999. The tone is definitely different than that of LOTR; it's much more childish, like your slightly off uncle telling you a story. (There are a lot of asides and comments from an I-narrator, so it's framed without being explicitly set up as a frame story.)

While I was up at my college reunion, I picked up a few books at the Friends of the Library book sale. $1 each. One I got was Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon. I wasn't sure what it was about, but I knew it wasn't in the middle of a series, and I'd heard a lot of people mention it. I'm about halfway through, so now I remember that it was mentioned in the context of having older female protagonist. I'll let you know what I think when I finish it.

I'm also reading a large stack of textbooks on language acquisition theory and didactic methodology, though I started taking the test on this module, so there's less reading and more "Oh, damn, where was that bit?" followed by *flip through the pages*, as well as scribbling notes that I'll turn into my answers. I don't really miss school.