Title: Remnant Population
Author: Elizabeth Moon
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Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon was chosen as the September read for the Women of Science Fiction Book Club. The book was a Hugo Award finalist in 1997 so I was looking forward to reading it.
The story is set on a colony world and follows Ofelia, an old woman who is now pretty much disregarded by her younger family members. Due to the colony pretty much failing, the company that put the colonists there loses its franchise and the people there have to be evacuated. Ofelia however know that she will likely die during any new space journey and therefore decides to stay behind on her own to live the rest of her life in a manner that pleases her. Unfortunately her peace only lasts a few years as it transpires that there is an indigenous intelligent life on the planet that was unknown to humanity and Ofelia ends up making first contact with them.
The first thing that struck me about this book was Ofelia herself, she is rather different from the normal sci-fi story characters I get to read about. However, I enjoyed the fact that she felt so real, her age related aches and pains were brought across well alongside her lengthy memories. She also acted throughout the novel in a subtle manner that befitted her wisdom and experience. Ofelia is a brilliantly constructed character although I have to admit that the first portion of the story set entirely around her did get a little bit dull at times and can drag.
About half way through the novel the reader gets introduced to the indigenous species which adds a little bit of plot into the book as we get to follow first contact between Ofelia and the natives before the arrival of experts from Earth. These natives are actually quite likeable and the different way of thinking and social structure adds in some interesting problems with first contact. The only issue I did have with them is that are presented in a manner that is almost too perfect. The author seems to find a way to highlight various ways in which they are better than humans, both individually and as a species. In my opinion it would have been nice to see some weaknesses in them as well as the weakness is humanity that is explicitly pointed out during the novel.
One of the strange aspects of the novel I felt was the actual technological abilities of humanity. Whilst humanity seems to be able to travel across space and set up colonies on new planets, the people on the colony seem unable to think of a way to build a boat after their previous ones get destroyed. Also, I find it hard to believe that somehow during the exploration of the planet and the various visits by ships no one was able to notice an intelligent species living on the planet.
One criticism I do have is the pace, as I said previously, the first portion of the story can be a little bit dull and slow. But then I felt some of the later parts of the novel around the experts from Earth and the ending itself seemed a little bit rushed and rather weakly developed. If only Elizabeth Moon has maybe spent a little less time on Ofelia’s life alone and a little bit more on the interactions between Ofelia, the natives and the experts from Earth I may have found the book to be excellent rather than just okay.
Overall, I have to say that Remnant Population is different from many other SF novels I have read. For that reason it is something that you should probably try out if you like to vary your sci-fi fix. However, any reader needs to be aware that the book is very much about the characters and not any specific exciting events to be honest.