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We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ

by Jennifer Muirhead (follow)
I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma ~ Eartha Kitt.
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we who are about to, Joanna Russ


Eight people survive the destruction of their space craft to find themselves stranded on a strange planet so distant from Earth that they can't even see any stars they recognise. Unlike in so many science fiction stories that begin this way, this handful of travellers have no hope of rescue, not even a means of sending a distress call. The ship's computer selected the planet on the basis of it's earth-like gravity and breathable air but they have no way of knowing whether they can drink the water or eat any of the native plant life. They have a basic medical kit, six months worth of food and water and that's that. In light of this, the unnamed female narrator thinks the group's drive to try to colonise and populate the planet is foolish and doomed. She prefers to die with dignity and suggests that they do the same. When they do not oblige she pushes them into a violent confrontation.

This novel was first published in 1977 and was reissued in 2005. I'm sort of surprised I hadn't heard of it before since it deserves a place alongside the classics of science fiction. It reminds me of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, only without Matheson's undercurrent of misogyny. I picked it up because I was in the middle of moving house and found myself in a strange place without a telephone or internet connection for a couple of weeks. Under the circumstances the book was oddly comforting. I could say to myself that no, I with my new neighbours and convenience store within walking distance, was not isolated. The unnamed narrator of this book, lost in space a bazillion miles from anywhere is isolated. As she points out in the the first paragraph, on Earth you can only ever be 13,000 miles from anywhere. It's all relative.

This novel, or novella really at just 118 pages, raises interesting questions, such as whether quality of life is more important than survival and whether choosing to die can be courageous rather than cowardly. I admired the narrator for her refusal to compromise her beliefs and her ability to accept certain hard truths.

The second half of the book is rambling, but I still found it quite suspenseful since what I had expected to happen had already happened and there was still 50 odd pages to go. I don't want to spoil it. Suffice it to say that if you are looking for a quick and engaging read, or are a fan of science fiction or stories that explore the big questions of life, then this book is for you.

#Science Fiction
#Fiction
#Feminist
#Novel
#Review
#Female author
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