(Orbit, £6.99, 360 pages, paperback, published 7 March 2002.)
When her colony world is abandoned by the corporate
sponsor whose bad decisions caused the colony to fail, Ofelia Falfurrias
decides to stay behind. It's not as if anyone will miss her -- at her
age, the company practically expects her to die in transit. She'll be
able to grow enough to feed herself with the garden vegetables the other
colonists leave behind, make use of the machinery the company can't
afford to remove, and live out her last few years in peaceful solitude.
Besides, other people have been telling her what to do her whole life;
it's about time she got to do what she wants to do.
Then one day, over the colony radio, Ofelia hears a new colonisation
party land further to the north -- and get wiped out by an intelligent
native species nobody knew existed. Suddenly she doesn't have the planet
to herself any more. And when the locals discover her settlement some
time later, Ofelia becomes the first human to make contact with an alien
race. She might also be the last, if Earth decides to come looking for
Remnant Population is a charming character study, and a poignant
examination of the role of the old woman in society. This latter aspect
may seem surprising given that the protagonist spends much of the book
in the absence of human society, but that's pretty much the point: we've
forgotten how to treat our old women, erstwhile babysitters, teachers
and matriarchs. The indigenous species hasn't, and they benefit from
the indifference Ofelia's family and neighbours have shown her. Ofelia
in her turn gains an admittedly strange band of new friends, and a purpose
hitherto lacking in her life.
Moon fleshes out Ofelia's character through deft use of backstory,
viewpoint observations and interior monologues. It's hard not to imagine
Ofelia's voice narrating the story. The natives' point of view is also
excellently rendered, believably alien but still easily accessible.
Other characters vary. The other colonists, although little more than
a series of cameos, are sufficiently well sketched to convince. The
survey party who arrive later on to establish first contact -- only
to find that Ofelia has beaten them to it -- are somewhat more off-the-shelf
characters, not so well defined. In fact, the novel overall dips a bit
towards the end; having strolled along at its own comfortable pace for
a couple of hundred pages, it suddenly accelerates into a finale that
seems too hastily thrown together. The good news is, up until that point
there's very little to complain about.
Above all, Remnant Population is different. How many SF novels
have you read whose major protagonist is a grandmother? That's not the
only reason this book deserves your attention, but it's as good as any.
Review by John Toon.
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