by: Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey – Random House Publishing Group NY, NY 1996
Every once in a while my local library will order a new copy of an old book. In this case it’s the Ballantine Books paperback edition. I’m a fan of Elizabeth Moon as an author, but I’ve not gone out of my way to read everything she’s ever written. I do have her tagged though, so when the library DOES order a book, I get it.
Elizabeth Moon is notorious for writing from what I would call “uncommon” points of view. Her protagonists tend to be disabled in some way that would make society dismiss their worth. It is Ms. Moon’s gift to be able to recognize that worth and put her protagonists in circumstances that allow those inherent qualities to flourish.
The uncommon heroine of this story, (and heroine already makes her uncommon) is an elderly, uneducated woman. It is clear from the beginning that Ofelia has spent the majority of her life in a colony with very strict rules of propriety and gender roles. She has learned to play her part, placating the dominator, and avoiding them, so that she is only mildly abused.
When the colony is forced to relocate it is made explicitly clear that Ofelia is excess baggage. No one expects her to survive the trip to the new planet. Even though it is not “allowed” she chooses to stay behind. She hides from the authorities knowing that she’s not worth the trouble for them to find her.
The freedom of no one telling her what to do allows that small inner voice to come forward. We discover she is knowledgeable, capable, artistic and so does she. The memories of that wonderful point in girlhood where we trust ourselves to be able to do anything come forward and guide Ofelia’s choices. The “should” voice fades into the distance.
Then the authorities return and a new colony tries to establish itself on “Ofelia’s” planet. The challenges this brings are surprising, especially when the new immigrants discover that there is indigenous life. It is worth noting that Elizabeth Moon is ex-military. Many of her books depend on the hierarchy of authority. This one shifts that point of view considerably as those in authority simply function by rote rather than taking responsibility for their actions.
The contrast and interplay of cultural viewpoints is an easy theme when two cultures collide. Here we have even more points of view. The indigenous culture, the “company” that set up the colonization, the “military” that supports and protects interplanetary colonization, the culture of the colony where Ofelia spent her life, and her own personal instincts all vie for their interpretation of events.
At its heart this is a woman’s story, a grandmother’s story. It is a reminder that even in age there is value. Again, Elizabeth Moon does not disappoint.