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Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon
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Remnant Population (original 1996; edition 1996)

by Elizabeth Moon

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7402512,599 (3.92)73
Member:SuseGordon
Title:Remnant Population
Authors:Elizabeth Moon
Info:Baen (1996), Hardcover, 339 pages
Collections:Basement Collection, To read
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Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon (1996)

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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
The "last person left on the planet" idea has always been an interesting one to me (see my review of Grand Solo for Anton for more discussion of the topic), and in Remnant Population Elizabeth Moon is able to write a story that briefly creates a great atmosphere full of tension using this premise. Unfortunately, that atmosphere quickly dissipates, being replaced by a first contact story where the aliens aren't all that alien and the humans repeatedly behave like idiots so that Moon can keep pushing her elder-empowerment message.

The setting as it appears in the first parts of the book is the work's greatest strength. Remnant Population presents a universe where the galaxy is being seeded with human life not due to man's desire to explore the unknown, but because of corporate desire for profits. Colonies and all their inhabitants are corporation property, and the corporation can dictate the lives of individuals as it sees fit. When the colony of the protagonist Ofelia goes into the red, the corporation orders everyone to pull up stakes, but Ofelia uses this relocation in order to slip away unnoticed and remain in the abandoned colony. The materials left behind are more than enough for her, and she's content to live out the rest of her days in peace and quiet.

Moon could then have chosen for the book to progress at a slow burn, Ofelia beginning to doubt whether she was actually alone or was losing her mind, dropping hints that something else was on the planet with her. Instead Moon has everything stay peaceful until a recolonization attempt, which reveals that the planet is actually inhabited by previously undiscovered intelligent life. Why did this remain unknown to the first colony? For no sufficiently justified reason. There are a few brief pages of Ofelia noticing things are happening in her village and her suspecting that she isn't alone, but it's a brief segment and the tension is quickly erased when the other lifeforms reveal themselves. Ofelia doesn't freak out as a realistic person would, because she's a wise old woman and therefore not nonplussed in the slightest. The alien lifeforms likewise treat Ofelia with kindness thanks to some of those convenient coincidences that are the hallmark of poor plot writing. These aliens aren't all that alien, they're basically the noble savage with a coat of alien paint. All of their thoughts and societal structure are recognizable, there isn't anything truly alien about them. In other words, they're boring. Moon is no Lem.

Having learned that the planet is home to alien life, humans send specialists to make contact with the aliens. They do stupid thing after stupid thing, act close-minded at every opportunity, to the extent that it's impossible to take them seriously as characters. They're basically convenient puppets so that Moon can illustrate that young whippersnappers with their mere book learning don't know anything and that it takes the wisdom of the elderly to successfully negotiate with alien life. God I wish I were kidding.

Anyway, this is a 2 star book elevated to 3 because of the setting and the fact that, very briefly, the book moves lives up to its potential. Unfortunately that occurs early in the book, and then the rest of the book happens. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
Loved this affirmative story of an elder woman finally taking control of her life, being creative, enjoying nature, overcoming the inner voice that used to always tell her she was no good & has no power. Her sensitivity to body language enables her to develop ties with an indigenous intelligent species and confront bureaucrats who take a paternalistic attitude to that species.
I had previously read Haushofer's "The Wall" (cited by Moon as a literary antecedent). I can hear Moon thinking "I wouldn't be such a sad, rigid stick if I were left alone in the world" and going on to prove it. I'm glad she did.
Some good quotes: "Always something to overcome the body's momentary collapse, if you only gave it a chance. A color, a scent, a scrap of music." (p. 194) "What they [teachers] cared about, all they really cared about, was that she learned to do what she was told and not make messes...had not cared whether she understood the machines she was taught to tend and repair. Follow the instructions...It's no harder than making a dress from a pattern, one of them told her. Even homemakers like you can do that. She had clenched herself around the pain of his scorn and proved that she could..." (p.160) "The joy of creation, of play, had been the empty place unfilled by family and social duties. She would have loved her children better, she thought now, if she had realized how much she herself needed to play, to follow her own childish desire to handle beautiful things and make more beauty." (p 100) "It was the old guilt, which insisted that she be responsible for everything, that things must be conserved in case of later need." (p.101) ( )
  juniperSun | Jul 23, 2014 |
The story of a pleasant old woman who avoids leaving when her colony is evacuated from a recently settled planet; a replacement colony is slaughtered by locals, but she gets on friendly terms with the local begs and shares language with them. A hardline group of investigators tries to deny the aliens are intelligent language-users, using Chomskyite "Clever Hans" arguments etc. Ultimately the aliens defeat the hardliners and she ends up living (and finally dying) peacefully surrounded by reconciled humans and aliens. There are only two or three books I can think of that make equally intelligent use of language/intelligence theories for science fiction. Her aliens are not cute little fuzzies. They drink animal blood and kill people quite efficiently, but still they are sympathetic beings with their own point of view. ( )
  antiquary | Jun 21, 2014 |
This is a book I re-read from time to time.

I love the way Ofelia is portrayed: such a sympathetic portrait of an old woman who is sick of fitting in with everyone else and just wants to be left alone.

It's a beautifully crafted book and has a satisfying ending. ( )
  fairyhedgehog | Dec 14, 2013 |
Tiptree longlist 1996 ( )
  SChant | Nov 8, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Moonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ruddell, GaryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Betsy, who provided the spark,
And Mary, Ellen, and Carrie
who responded with warmth and light.
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Between her toes the damp earth felt cool, but already sweat crept between the roots of her hair.
Quotations
Always something to overcome the body's momentary collapse, if you only gave it a chance. A color, a scent, a scrap of music. (p. 194)
What they [instructors] cared about, all they really cared about, was that she learned to do what she was told and not make messes...had not cared whether she understood the machines she was taught to tend and repair. Follow the instructions...It's no harder than making a dress from a pattern, one of them told her. Even homemakers like you can do that. She had clenched herself around the pain of his scorn and proved that she could... (p.160)
The joy of creation, of play, had been the empty place unfilled by family and social duties. She would have loved her children better, she thought now, if she had realized how much she herself needed to play, to follow her own childish desire to handle beautiful things and make more beauty. (p 100)
It was the old guilt, which insisted that she be responsible for everything, that things must be conserved in case of later need. (p.101)
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Book description
Alone at Last

People had always told Oelia what to do'; for once she was going to do what she wanted. She refused to get on the cryo ships, refused to leave the only world she could call home. and when they finally came for her, she hid - not that the authorities looked all that hard for one crazy old woman. Now Ofelia is alone, content to live with no more demands on her self or her time, the only remaining settler on an abandoned planet.

Then new settlers arrive.At first she fears they have come to reoccupy the settlement she has come to think of as hers - but they land far away. And as Ofelia secretly listens, the are slaughtered to the last child by stone-age aliens no one knew were there.

Now it is up to OFelia to save the aliens form Earth's wrath...
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 034546219X, Paperback)

In a far-flung capitalistic empire among the stars, generations of colonization without a single contact with an intelligent, non-human species have reduced the colonial process to a franchise system. Amid the abuses of the system which inevitably follow, an old woman decides not to leave when her failed colony is evacuated, thinking the freedom to live alone and die in peace is worth any risk. In this entertaining but suspenseful first-contact novel, Elizabeth Moon's apt depiction of the interaction between old and young plays counterpoint to the interaction between human and alien.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:28 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

When her company relocates to another planet, Ofelia Falfurrias, 70, who expects to be downsized anyway, decides to remain behind. Thus she discovers the planet's population as it emerges from hiding, now that the humans have left. A meeting of cultures.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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