Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon

Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon
Published: Simon & Schuster, 1996
Awards Nominated: Hugo

The Book:

“For forty years, Colony 3245.12 has been Ofelia’s home. On this planet far away in space and time from the world of her youth, she has lived and loved, weathered the death of her husband, raised her one surviving child, lovingly tended her garden, and grown placidly old. And it is here that she fully expects to finish out her days–until the shifting corporate fortunes of the Sims Bancorp Company dictates that Colony 3245.12 is to be disbanded, its residents shipped off, deep in cryo-sleep, to somewhere new and strange and not of their choosing. 

But while her fellow colonists grudgingly anticipate a difficult readjustment on some distant world, Ofelia savors the promise of a golden opportunity. Not starting over in the hurly-burly of a new community . . . but closing out her life in blissful solitude, in the place she has no intention of leaving. A population of one.

With everything she needs to sustain her, and her independent spirit to buoy her, Ofelia actually does start life over–for the first time on her own terms: free of the demands, the judgments, and the petty tyrannies of others. But when a reconnaissance ship returns to her idyllic domain, and its crew is mysteriously slaughtered, Ofelia realizes she is not the sole inhabitant of her paradise after all. And, when the inevitable time of first contact finally arrives, she will find her life changed yet again–in ways she could never have imagined. . . .” ~barnesandnoble.com

I read Remnant Population for the Women of Science Fiction Book Club, hosted by Calico Reaction.  And with this, I am finally caught up, since this is the September pick!  I’d never read any of Elizabeth Moon’s work before, but this was a pretty entertaining novel.

My Thoughts:

The heroine of Remnant Population, Ofelia Falfurrias, is a surprising protagonist. It’s not often you find a science fiction novel that features an elderly woman, particularly one who spends a large portion of the story alone.   In this case, I felt that Ofelia’s strong voice and personality carried the story, even when it was simply chronicling her solitary life on the planet.  Part of the reason I enjoyed Ofelia’s character might be because certain aspects of her personality reminded me of my own grandmother, who was an amazing woman.  Ofelia’s hearing loss, her drive to spend each day doing something useful, her fondness for gardening, and the quiet, sarcastic edge she develops when someone irritates her all remind me of my grandmother.  Ofelia has not had the best deal in life, and for her, the departure of her community finally gave her the freedom to live as she saw fit.  For me,
Ofelia was a character that was easy to like, and easy to care about. 

As it states in the description, her simple life is disrupted by first contact with an apparently hostile indigenous species.  These aliens, while they have interesting differences in social structure and language, struck me as a little too similar to humans.  Biologically, the differences between the two species seemed to be mostly cosmetic.  Their thoughts, perhaps because of the similarity of biology, also seemed far too close to human for me to truly consider alien.  I still enjoyed reading about the first contact and the aliens themselves, but I felt like there was not much that significantly set them apart from humanity.

Aside from the aliens (or, I should call them indigenes), the remaining characters in the book are other humans.  Most of these characters seemed very close to caricatures.  They often seem deliberately disrespectful and dismissive of everyone, and willfully ignorant.  This is mostly a factor near the end of the novel, which had some of the weaker writing, in my opinion.  It seemed like these characters existed more to make a point than to enrich the story, so I was frustrated both by their flat personalities and the roles they filled.

The one-dimensionality of the other humans in the story highlights another problem—this is not a subtle story.  The moral and social points it chooses to make are very blunt.   Some of them I agree with, such as the value of the experiences of the elderly and the fact that they should be treated with respect.  I don’t mind the depiction of the heartless Company that exploits its workers, though it would have been nice to see a little more complexity there.  Other points, such as the value of native intelligence and experience over education, were a little more irritating to read.  I certainly accept that native intelligence and experience are valuable, but I disliked that the book chose to emphasize this by making all highly educated ‘experts’ incompetent.  The novel also uses the alien culture to highlight flaws in human society.  This approach can be interesting when done well, but here it seemed a little over-emphasized and clumsy.

With all that being said, though, I found Remnant Population to be a very entertaining book.  I thought the main character was interesting and likable, and I enjoyed the story of survival on an alien planet, not to mention the interactions with the aliens and their culture.  It’s a pretty light story, altogether, and I had fun during the hours I spent reading it.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Remnant Population is an interesting story of first contact, featuring a non-traditional heroine.  The elderly Ofelia, who stayed behind after the departure of her entire community, has a strong voice and a personality that is believable and sympathetic.  The indigenous race was too similar to human for my personal tastes, but I enjoyed reading about their language and culture.  For me, the biggest weakness of the novel was the heavy-handedness with which it made its points, particularly in the latter part of the book.  Aside from that, I found Remnant Population to be a fairly light, entertaining story and well worth reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment