An explosion hurls a space-folding starship's few passengers across the galaxies and onto an uncharted planet. Chances of being rescued, especially within a few decades, are slim. Most of the stranded decide to defy the odds and insist on colonizing the planet, even though this means living in the stone age …
The novel poses bold questions — should life go on at any cost? Or are there cases imaginable where it's just not worth it? When it's better to die with dignity? Can there be civilization without industrialization? And if not, are you ready to die for civilizing basics like gender equality and reproductive rights?
They say that
"any society is only three meals away from anomy."
In her novel, Russ examines the women's rights analogue of this claim. Are women's rights an artificial construct, given to us by men's grace, and just as easily taken away? Or, in slightly more positive words, are they a result of a long hard battle, a prize we'll lose the moment we let down our guard? (Like the Red Queen said,
"It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."
) Given how very young most of our rights — some established within our (or at least my) lifetime — are, given that they are hardly universal yet, the fear is always there, just below the surface. Or so it would seem, judging from the way the whole "mandatory brothel service
" urban legend got people's, especially women's, hackles up. (And honestly,
"it's a legal possibility, but it's not like anybody'd ever exercise that option"
is really a little too close for comfort, isn't it?) Some might indeed argue that as long as that fear exists (which it might for many generations, but most for those women who actually remember a time when they themselves didn't have these liberties), there can be no "true equality." Sure, that distinction is in many ways academic and we'll go for
"as good as we can achieve within our lifetime,"
but for those who ask,
"why do you keep on fighting, you've already got equality?"
, this is one of the reasons why. We don't, yet. We know that women's rights are as fragile, perhaps more fragile than the crumbling civil liberties. We guard them jealously.
As demonstrated by 28 days later
, the lamented mindset is still alive in some. Personally, I never quite understood what was so hot about the human so-called race that necessitated its continuation in all eternity (especially at the price of dignity and basic rights).
We who are about to
makes this question even less pertinent, as it's only the survival of a small group — rather than that of all humankind — that's at stake. It may be worthwile to review these issues in an attempt to find an answer that fits organically (ahem) into the concepts of eco-feminism
and/or deep ecology
. (This is your resident Poison Ivy
typing after all.)
To sum up, the first half of the book doesn't go much deeper than the questions posed above, and the actual
dying with dignity
bit seems almost trivial compared to Lars Gustafsson's stunning, touching death of a beekeeper
But as David Gerrold said, writing is about asking the right questions, the next
question. About making a difference
. The book may not be well-written, but I believe Joanna Russ made a difference. I know she did in my life, and I have no problem making a gesture of gratitude in response to that. The book
may not be worth the money in some people's eyes, but the difference
was in mine.