REMNANT POPULATION

by Elizabeth Moon

Baen

0-671-87718-6

339pp/$22.00/May 1996


Cover by Gary Ruddell

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


Remnant Population has a strange, disassociated feel to the writing which works because it mirrors for the reader the events which surround Ofelia, Moon's protagonist. A woman of seventy, Ofelia is informed by "The Company" that because she has out-lived her usefullness her contract has been allowed to expire. Because of this, her family must pay her transport fee off planet when "The Company" abandons the planet in a mere thirty days. Rather than leave the home she has known for the majority of her life, Ofelia chooses to hide from "The Company" when the last shuttle leaves and continue living on her own.

Freed from the contraints of her society, Ofelia must still deal with her internal constraints. Even as she is testing her bounds and rebelling against the strictures under which she lived, she feels guilty and embarassed for doing so. Not a rebel when she was surrounded by other people, Ofelia internalized her desires. On an empty planet, she is still not entirely capable of letting these internalizations have an external outlet. Ofelia must still discover who she is when she is not defined by other people.

It quickly becomes apparent how isolated the small, abandoned colony really was, not just from the rest of the galaxy, but from other regions of their own world. Left alone in the village, Ofelia is left with nothing but her memories, a good way for Moon to describe a variety of events which occurred during the colony's occupancy. When another colony attempts to establish itself far to the northeast of Ofelia, she accidently overhears their transmissions on an old radio and discovers their destruction by an unknown, possibly sentient species. Moon later describes the attack from the natives' point of view, reinforcing the disassociation which already pervades Remnant Population.

Ofelia continues to define her worth in the viewpoint of others, both the aliens and the four-member contact team which is sent to make contact. However, she does become somewhat discerning with regard to her acceptance of the roles which are defined for her. Se rebels against the narrow parameters which the contact team tries to impose.

At the same time Ofelia is being defined, all the other characters are defined from her point of view. Ofelia, intelligent but uneducated, has a distinct view of the over-educated, and not, perhaps, too intelligent members of the contact team. Her opinions shape Moon's presentation of these characters. If the linguist Bilong is a dense as Moon portrays her, the reader wonders how she ever got as far as she did (although Moon provides a generous clue in that respect). Nevertheless, Bilong does, on occassion, demonstrate her education.

Ofelia's social position is possibly the most unique aspect of Remnant Population. Unlike most science fiction, Moon's protagonist is an anti-intellectual elderly woman. Although she espouses some popular ideas, an anti-corporate and anti-government philosophy, she also flies in the face of many of the attitudes which science fiction fans take for granted. By doing this, Moon has written a novel which may not be entirely palatable, but which will force the reader to think about their position on these issues.


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