Which is a tragedy, because I loved it.
So why the bin? Because page 122 proceeds to page 171, goes through to page 202, and then to page 155… and thence to the end. So I can never read this again, and can never lend my copy to anyone, and I cannot in good conscience even give it to a charity.
But yes, I kept reading, even with missing 30 pages in the middle, because this book is ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE.
If there’s no country for old men, there’s barely even a nice quiet kitchen for old women. But this story is centred almost entirely on the experiences of one old woman, Ofelia – whom Ursula le Guin described as “one of the most probably heroines science fiction has ever known.”
I got hold of this last year as part of the Women in SF book club which sadly imploded in about May, as the host decided she couldn’t do it any more. Hence its sitting on my TBR shelf all this time. When I decided to finally read it a few days ago, I didn’t even read the blurb, I just jumped on in. Which can be a really awesome way of doing things, if you either trust the author or the recommender enough.
Ofelia is a widow, living with her sole remaining son and his rather unpleasant wife on Colony 3245.12. Sims Bancorp Company has the franchise for the planet (… what the?? Ah capitalism…), and the colonists are all basically contractors to them. So when the Company loses the franchise, because the colony isn’t doing well enough, all of the colonists have to leave. With 20kg of stuff each. After living there for forty years. In 30 days’ time. Ofelia, though, gets a very sneaky idea: what if she didn’t leave? What if she hid out until the shuttles have left, and just… stayed? Which she proceeds to do.
A good chunk of the story is concerned with Ofelia on her own, and how she physically copes with gardening and what she decides to make and so on. There is an interesting comparison to be made here between her experience and that of the woman in Joanna Russ’ “We Who Are About To…”. Very different situations, of course, but both women alone on a planet, and very different responses. Perhaps more intriguing is the decisions that Ofelia makes about herself, and the internal dialogue she has about those things: about doing what she wants and not what she doesn’t – wear clothes? plant certain things? and whatever else. Her reflections on her life, and the expectations on her as a daughter, a wife, a mother… a woman… are painful because they ring so true.
It’s a bit of a spoiler that Ofelia eventually discovers that she’s not alone on the planet, but the blurb reveals that (it turns out), so I don’t feel bad about saying it. The relationship between Ofelia and the aliens (who are after all the indigenous ones) is utterly captivating and real and compelling. And Ofelia never stops being an old woman: it’s not like she’s magically transformed into a Ripley, all brave and sacrificial, or any other somewhat-stereotyped female figure. She stays a bit cranky, and quite achy, and impatient; when the creatures turn up, she’s more cranky about losing her precious, precious solitude than anything else, and when they want to learn she has a moment of, “Again? But I’ve DONE the mother thing already!” – which I think is hilarious and totally appropriate.
Moon makes me think again about the way the elderly are treated in society, which I’m sure is at least part of the point. The way Ofelia is treated because she has no formal training, and because she is old, is horrible and cringe-worthy. The alternatives are joyous and far more honourable.
It’s a wonderfully written story, and even with missing 30 pages I loved it very much.
You can buy it here: Remnant Population: A Novel