|Submitted by Archren |
(Jun 29, 2006)
“Remnant Population” is a stand-alone science fiction novel from Elizabeth Moon. You may be used to her adventure-oriented fantasy and space opera. However, her range is much broader than that, and when she steps outside her norm the results are always beautiful. This book earned her a Hugo nomination, and 2004’s “The Speed of Dark,” which examined autism, won the Nebula award for that year.
This story is completely character-driven. Ofelia is an older member of a defunct colony world. Their existence had been marginal from the start, and their sponsoring company is pulling up their stakes and shipping them elsewhere. Ofelia was a founding member, and has had several children and outlived all but one of them. The company doesn’t want her now that she’s past her child-bearing years, and she doesn’t really care to do their grunt work anymore. So she hides out during the evacuation process, and stays behind. There is plenty of equipment remaining, and its not too hard to support one person off of food stores and a reasonable garden.
For the first half of the book, it’s just Ofelia. We watch her survive and thrive as we learn more about her life and history. Her character changes once she is released from the pressures of others’ demands on her. Her creative side emerges as well as the practical skills she’s had all her life. It’s an amazing character study, dealing specifically with issues of gender, class and age.
The rest of the book deals with Ofelia being the only human contact with the native sapient species, a people who had never emerged when the whole colony was living there. This once again places demands on her, but she doesn’t lose her new, fuller character. Her inherent resourcefulness and general goodwill (leavened by the well-earned crankiness of age) see her through. Some chapters written from the alien’s POV can be hard to read, but emphasize their “otherness” nicely.
The tension ratchets up when a new batch of humans arrive. They are aware of the native population and are not thrilled that their first contact opportunity has been usurped by an old lady. This group is not terribly well characterized; they’re too over-the-top: they’re automatically dismissive of Ofelia, they’re too arrogantly superior, too incurious as to what has been happening, and they make too many knee-jerk assumptions about the aliens. However, they provide a stark contrast in character and re-emphasize the themes of gender, age and class that Moon is examining.
The writing style is wonderfully evocative throughout. She handles the extensive periods of pure introspection very well, and weaves very real emotional responses in the reader. Ofelia is not a super-woman, but she is a real woman, the kind you have almost certainly met in real life. That she happens to find herself in extraordinary circumstances in no way undermines that fundamental truth. This is the sort of well-written sci-fi to hand to people who scoff that sci-fi is just squids in space. This is light-years away from that.