Thursday, August 7, 2014

Remnant Population

Elizabeth Moon
Completed 7/25/2014, Reviewed 7/28/2014
5 stars

The hardbound edition cover of “Remnant Population” has a fraught, middle-aged woman gazing into a wood filled with spying tribal owl-like aliens.  It’s one of those covers that as a kid, would suck you in, but as an adult, makes you scowl with disdain and put it back on the shelf.  When I found this edition at the library, my first thought was “How bad can this book be?!”  After finishing the book and looking at the cover, with tears streaming down my face, I thought “Never, ever, EVER, judge a book by its cover”.

Ofilia is a colonist a distant planet.  She spends most of her time in her garden, raising vegetables and avoiding her condescending son and daughter-in-law.  After nearly forty years on the planet, the conglomerate they brought them has lost the colonization contract and must evacuate and reassign everyone in thirty days.  At seventy, widowed, and having had so few children, Ofilia is a special case.  She must be “retired”, and her son and daughter-in-law will be forced to pay the fee to transport her back to Earth. 

Having lived there so long, and with so many people bossing her around, Ofilia decides she’s going to stay and live out the rest of her days in peace and solitude.  She hides in the forest until the last shuttles leave.  Finally, peace, quiet, and control of her own destiny.  It lasts for about a year, then the aliens, or rather, the indigenes appear. So much solitude.

“Remnant Population” is an uncomplicated novel, with a simple story line and a simple moral.  It’s a twist on the Robinson Crusoe tale.  It’s about the value of the elderly and the wisdom they offer.  It’s about not taking for granted that just because we’re the dominant culture, we know all the answers. 

What makes this book amazing is that Moon can tell an excellent story with almost no pretension.  Everything in the story supports her theses.  There are no asides, no subplots, nothing to distract you.  Throughout most of the book, Moon keeps the reader inside Ofilia’s head.  By the time she meets the indigenes, I found myself completely identifying with her, her fears, annoyances, and joys.  At one point, I thought the long process of trying to communicate with the indigenes and showing them the technology of the colony remnants and her daily life might be excruciating to some, but I was completely enrapt.  Ok, so I’m fifty-three, but I could feel the aches, tiredness, and impatience as if there in the pages of the book with her.

There are some points that might be considered a little trite.  For example, when the investigative mission from earth appears, the stereotype of the wise, all-knowing, old woman goes a little further than it should.  And the end wraps up a little too nicely.  But I bought it, hook, line, and sinker. 

As I noted at the top, this book made me cry uncontrollably.  Okay, so it was past midnight and I was really tired.  But I was walking around the apartment, going to the bathroom and getting a drink of water, and I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my eyes.  This is my classic definition of a five star book: one that moves me profoundly on an emotional level.

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