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.

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