Remnant Population
Elizabeth Moon
Shortlisted for 1997 Hugo Award.

Cover In many ways this is a superb book, but it is also let down in a number of places. I can see why it was nominated for a Hugo award and I can see why it didn't win.

The book is set in the distant future where humans are setting up colonies on hundreds of different planets. The main character, Ofelia, is an old woman living in a new colony. She was one of the founders of the colony. The colony hasn't been doing terribly well and doesn't look like surviving. The company that sponsored the colony has decided to pack them all up and shift them to another planet. Ofelia doesn't want to go. She hides out in the scrub for a couple of days so she is left behind on the planet.

A few years pass contentedly for her and then a new ship full of colonists arrive. They set up on a different part of the planet where they think it will be more hospitable. They are promptly slaughtered by the native inhabitants, which Ofelia's group never even knew existed on the planet.

Once aware of the humans the natives remember the other time they saw similar lights of landing spacecraft far away. A group of them sets out to investigate what happened over there. They meet Ofelia and the real story begins.

Most of what I've said above is on the back cover of the book so I haven't spoilt the story. The book is, in essence, a first contact story. In some respects this is one of its drawbacks. Too long is spent in the initial setup of the story.

However the setting up is very good in and of itself, but has only marginal relevance to the rest of the story. It is reminiscent of Robinson Crusoe, in it's narrative style. Ofelia is all only on the planet and going about the essential business of life in such circumstances. Fortunately Elizabeth Moon is no-where near as pedantic and tedious as Defoe.

When the natives and Ofelia meet and another ship full of humans turns up the story completely changes style. The first part is narrative, and has to be as Ofelia has no-one to talk to, while the second part concentrates on the interactions and dialogue of the characters. The change in style is quite noticeable, and I found it a little disconcerting. I was used to a certain level of detail and insight into Ofelia's thought's through the narrative part and this virtually dries up in the second section.

I feel the thing that annoyed me most in the book was the contradictory nature of Ofelia's attitudes and actions in the last third of the book. She wants to be treated in a certain way by the other characters. Her internal reflection shows she knows and understands how this can be achieved. She then goes and performs actions that she knows will produce the opposite result. And then she complains to herself when she's treated according to her actions. Ofelia's character had seemed reasonably intelligent and consistent up until this point. it's not only inconsistent to the character as developed in the start of the book, but logically inconsistent, period.

The aliens (technically natives, the humans being aliens to their world) are excellent. They have a complexity and uniqueness that is often missing from a lot of SF nowadays. Don't be put off by the cover art, I almost was, the aliens within the book are nothing like the ones depicted on the cover, in as much as they aren't humans with owl heads. Hopefully a later edition might rectify this anomaly