Wednesday, 8 February 2017


(January 2017)

Space opera of a sort, despite the fact very little of it takes place in space. Marge Taishan is an anthropologist charged with investigating the planet Jeep. Unknown generations ago it was settled by humans, whose society has long since reverted to pre-industrial modes. An attempt at recolonization failed once it was discovered that he planet harbours a virus which kills all men (and a good proportion of women), leaving the planet isolated and the survivors quarantined.

This won the Tiptree Award in 1993, and you can see why: it's a knotty, considered story exceedingly well told. Marge is the PoV character for most of it, with occasional switches to Hannah Danner, the field-promoted leader of the ill-fated recolonization mission. As Marge heads out into the world to experience various travails and epiphanies, Danner remains in her compound and is slowly divested of her certainties regarding the universe and her and her comrades places in it.

Marge's journey (literal and figurative) is clearly the heart of the book, but I really liked Danner. Her presence is one of the main things that elevates this above the usual quest narrative, not least because the changes she undergoes to her conception of self are in many ways more drastic than Marge's. On top of that, she's sensible. I’ve previously spoken of my impatience with flawed characters who make plot-forwarding shitty decisions due to a single easily identifiable character flaw, usually a form of headstrong stubbornness which is frequently indistinguishable from flat-out stupidity.  Danner, however, is that rarest of literary beasts: a reasonable person who makes reasonable decisions. When she does make poor ones (because of course she does) it’s more often than not because she simply doesn’t have enough information, rather than from any more obviously mandated personal weaknesses. It's amazing, and slightly scary [obligatory current affairs reference goes here], just how rare a commodity rationality can be.

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