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We Who are About to.... by Joanna Russ
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We Who are About to....

by Joanna Russ, Geoff Taylor (Cover artist)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3151035,272 (3.66)17
Member:Dirk_P_Broer
Title:We Who are About to....
Authors:Joanna Russ
Other authors:Geoff Taylor (Cover artist)
Info:Magnum Books (November 1978), Edition: Mass Market Paperback, 125 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:feminist sf, Science Fiction, women's press sf

Work details

We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ

  1. 10
    The Night of the Long Knives by Fritz Leiber (lquilter)
    lquilter: Both Russ's We Who Are About To ... and Leiber's "The Night of the Long Knives" have characters confronting death in a bleak and hopeless landscape. Russ admired Leiber's work, and it shows very much in these two works, which work in some ways on the same issues.… (more)
  2. 00
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (smiteme)
  3. 00
    I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman (marietherese)
    marietherese: While Harpmann's book is likely an allegory of the soul as much as an exploration of gender relations, survivalism and dystopia, the two books share strong, singular (in every sense of the word) female narrators and similarly bleak but moving endings.… (more)
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» See also 17 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Just before exploding, a lost starship ejects its passenger compartment on a planet with a breathable atmosphere. There are three men and five women, food and water for six months, and no idea where they are. It may be, as the narrator puts it, “We’re nowhere. We’ll die alone.” The other survivors do not favor her point of view, and begin planning how to live on this unknown planet and how to populate and subdue it. But as the days wear on, friction among the group builds, tempers flare and violence erupts.

This is a superbly written gritty tale of survival and extinction. ( )
  MaowangVater | Feb 3, 2014 |
What happens when a starship crashes on an uninhabited planet?
Really? Everyone dies.
2 vote EverettWiggins | Jan 21, 2014 |
Womb Raider

Caution: minor spoilers ahead. Also, trigger warning for rape and violence.

The year’s 2120 (roughly), and an unlucky group of space travelers find themselves stranded on an barren alien planet devoid of animal life. Hurled there by a multi-dimensional explosion, they have little hope of being rescued, the nature of space travel being what it is: in essence, the folding of spacetime. Do it wrong and you can end up “God knows where, maybe entirely out of [y]our galaxy, which is that dust you see in the sky on clear nights when you’re away from cities.” (page1)

Though the planet is “tagged” – meaning that, at some time in the distant past, a team of scientists surveyed a square mile of the planet’s surface and found nothing in the atmosphere that’s immediately lethal to humans – it’s far from hospitable; the narrator variously describes it as the Sahara, a tundra, the Mojave desert. They have few supplies – a water filter, enough dried food to last six months, a pharmacopeia of drugs stashed on the narrator’s person, and the ship itself – none of which present a solution to their precarious situation, the book’s futuristic sci-fi setting notwithstanding. With no way to call for rescue (assuming that rescuers could even reach them during their natural lives!) the survivors are left to their own devices. They are five women and three men.

Most of the group resolves not just to survive, but thrive: almost immediately, they set about colonizing the planet. Within days this new society devolves into an Upper Paleolithic patriarchy, the women of which are reduced to little more than baby makers, walking wombs. With the middle-aged Mrs. Graham luckily excused from service, and her daughter Lori a few years too young to bear children, that leaves three women: Nathalie, a young adult who was on her way to begin military training when the ship crashed; Cassie, a thirty-something ex-waitress; and the narrator, a 42-year-old musicologist with medical issues. Whereas Nathalie and Cassie somewhat reluctantly agree to “do their duty,” the narrator (cynically but realistically) scoffs at their plans. In an especially amusing exchange, one of the men insists that it’s their responsibility to rebuild civilization. “But civilization still exists,” the narrator points out. “We just aren’t a part of it anymore.” (I paraphrase, but you get the gist.) Humans, always the center of their own little worlds!

Naturally, the narrator’s fatalistic observations do not go over well.

Despite the obvious difficulties of starting over with nothing, the women are initially disallowed from doing manual labor (though this policy changes rather quickly), and just four days in the seemingly affable Alan savagely beats Nathalie for “disrespecting” him. (I guess he didn’t get the memo that womb-bearers are to be protected.) When the narrator gets especially “uppity” and starts to talk of suicide, she’s put on 24-hour watch so that her precious uterus is not compromised. Eventually the narrator – who’s recording these events after the fact on a “pocket vocoder” – escapes on a “broomstick” (a small hovercraft), finding refuge in a cave several day’s travel from the group’s camp. Instead of letting this “troublemaker” go her own way, the group chases her down and attempts to drag her back “home,” where she’s to be tied to a tree, raped, forcibly impregnated, and made to carry and birth a child against her will. Barbaric, right?

And yet many reviewers seem to blame the narrator for her own predicament. She’s nihilistic, narcissistic, a feminist harpy shrew. Indeed, by story’s end the narrator comes to believe that she deliberately provoked her fellow survivors into a confrontation because she wanted an excuse to lash out at them physically. And perhaps this is true. But they still took the bait. Even after she removed herself from the situation, leaving them to do as they pleased, they hunted her down, with the intention of violating her in the most intimate and traumatic of ways. She (and the other women) was dehumanized and objectified; treated as little more than a means to an end. I fail to see how a little extra politeness on the narrator’s part would have altered the men’s plans.

Suicidal throughout the story – likely even before the crash – in the narrator I see not misanthropic feminazi, but rather a burned out and disillusioned activist (Communist, neo-Christian) who, when suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with death, is overcome with a sense of tired resignation. In life, she was unable to change history; and now, she will die outside of it. “I’m nobody, who are you? Are you a nobody, too?” (page 33; lower-case mine.)

We Who Are About To... is dark with a capital “D” – definitely not for everyone, as evidenced by the book’s polarized ratings on Amazon. I found it compulsively readable – kind of like Margaret Atwood’s dystopias (The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood), but minus her tentative sense of hope. I’m a newcomer to Joanna Russ – I think I accidentally stumbled upon this book via a BookMooch recommendation, perhaps because Atwood, Octavia Butler, and Ursula Le Guine are heavily represented on my list – and have already added most of the rest of her oeuvre to my wishlist. A must for fans of feminist science fiction.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2013/07/12/we-who-are-about-to-by-joanna-russ/ ( )
3 vote smiteme | Jul 4, 2013 |
ABout a third of the way in, and I have to admit, I'm having a really hard time parsing the narrative; the feminism is fascinating, but I would have been able to peg this as seventies fiction although I can't put my finger on why. I like a little less hallucination with my dystopias, maybe, or maybe I'm just too damn removed from the context in which it was written to really grasp the critiques. ( )
  cricketbats | Mar 30, 2013 |
In this dismal novella, seven adults and a petulant child crash-land on an unknown planet, far from civilization, and must face their rapidly-approaching fates. Neither cheery nor uplifting, this scenario could nonetheless be the starting point for a dramatic or moving adventure. Instead, 'We Who Are About To' reads as a cerebral exercise in the unraveling of social and psychological selves. The last third of the book dragged; for comparison, Ray Bradbury's short-story Kaleidoscope treats many of the same themes in a little over 3,000 words (but without female characters). Feminist concerns drive Russ' story, in a quite nuanced rather than politically correct way. I'm still not sure whether Russ intends us to sympathize with and defend the narrator, experience her choices as a cathartic tragedy, or simply view her as unhinged from relatively early on.

The introduction by Samuel R. Delany helpfully positions this book in the context of Russ' other fiction and nonfiction. ( )
  bezoar44 | Jun 8, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joanna Russprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Clute, JudithCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Delany, Samuel R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taylor, GeoffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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About to die. And so on. 
Quotations
Either you limit what you think about and who you think about (the commonest method) or you start raising a ruckus about being outside and wanting to get inside (then they try to kill you) or you say piously that God puts everybody on the inside (then they love you) or you become crazed in some way. Not insane but flawed deep down somehow, like a badly-fire pot that breaks when you take it out of the kiln and the cold air hits it. Desperate. (p.118, 1977 Dell paperback edition)
The neo-Christian theory of love is this:
There is little of it. Use it where it's effective.
It's a bore, a dreadful bore, being outside history.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
A multi-dimensional explosion hurls the starship's few passengers across the galaxies and onto an uncharted barren tundra. With no technical skills and scant supplies, the survivors face a bleak end in an alien world. One brave woman holds the daring answer, but it is the most desperate one possible. Elegant and electric, We Who Are About To... brings us face to face with our basic assumptions about our will to live. While most of the stranded tourists decide to defy the odds and insist on colonizing the planet and creating life, the narrator decides to practice the art of dying. When she is threatened with compulsory reproduction, she defends herself with lethal force. Originally published in 1977, this is one of the most subtle, complex, and exciting science fiction novels ever written about the attempt to survive a hostile alien environment. It is characteristic of Russ's genius that such a readable novel is also one of her most intellectually intricate.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0440194288, Paperback)

A multi-dimensional explosion hurls the starship's few passengers across the galaxies and onto an uncharted barren tundra. With no technical skills and scant supplies, the survivors face a bleak end in an alien world. One brave woman holds the daring answer, but it is the most desperate one possible.

Elegant and electric, We Who Are About To... brings us face to face with our basic assumptions about our will to live. While most of the stranded tourists decide to defy the odds and insist on colonizing the planet and creating life, the narrator decides to practice the art of dying. When she is threatened with compulsory reproduction, she defends herself with lethal force. Originally published in 1977, this is one of the most subtle, complex, and exciting science fiction novels ever written about the attempt to survive a hostile alien environment. It is characteristic of Russ's genius that such a readable novel is also one of her most intellectually intricate.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:21 -0400)

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