15 January 2009

"Remnant Population" by Elizabeth Moon: A Review

After enjoying Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark, it was pleasant to come across another different kind of SF by her, Remnant Population.

A lot of SF is space opera, and that's fun, but variety is the spice of life and so it's nice to come across an occasional work that uses SF to take a different look at things. The Speed of Dark takes a look at autism and a possible future for people who suffer from the condition. Remnant Population takes a look at old age and its possibilities.

Remnant Population is about an old woman, Ofelia, who stays behind when her colony on a distant planet is evacuated. The evacuation has become necessary due mainly to the incompetence of the company that set up and ran it. There is a lot of incompetence on the part of the humans in this story.

Ofelia has friends among the community, but her own family do not treat her so well. Gradually, through her thoughts, we learn that she has had a hard life with some passion but not much love, that she has been abused, and raped, and that only one of her children has survived life in the colony. When she decides to stay behind it is because at her age she knows she won't survive the freezing for the journey anyway and, besides, she wants to live for herself a little.

She is quite happy by herself and barely notices the passage of time. Then she encounters the indigenous species.

Moon says in her forward to the book that she consulted a number of older women in her research for the story. It is easy to imagine that among them were the kind of women who, when confronted with a fist contact situation, would simply remark, "Oh, I can't be doing with all this." Ofelia, instead of being fascinated, is at first rather grumpy about the intrusion into her private life, but a lifetime habit of helping people out is hard to change. And thereby hangs the tale.

The aliens are interestingly presented. If I have a quibble it is because, by the end of the story, they are too perfect and the humans are strangely stupid. It is difficult to believe that people trained in the areas of anthropology and possible alien encounters should be so rigid in preconceived notions. Nor do the seem to realise that native intelligence and education are two separate things. One can only assume that the institution they come from is a cesspit in which we all know what rises to the top.

However, the tale of Ofelia and her gradual relationship with the aliens is a pleasant read.

Recommended reading.

Morva Shepley

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