We Who Are About to Hardcover – Jan 1977
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“Perhaps the most subtle, complex, and exciting science fiction novel ever written about the attempt to survive a hostile alien environment. It is characteristic of Russ’s genius that her most sheerly readable novel is also one of her most intellectually intricate.” (Carl Freedman, author of Critical Theory and Science Fiction)
“We Who Are About To… is a seminal work that punctures many science fiction myths; it is about the hubris of humanity and the imperialist mission. It reminds us that maybe we aren’t necessary, that the imperative to keep reproducing is irrational.” (Farah Mendlesohn, editor of Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
A cruise vessel of the future manages to miss the point in space that it was attempting to fold to, spinning amazingly far off course and crashing into a planet that is in no way guaranteed not to kill the survivors. A politician, an upper class family, a "jock", a young sex object, a washed up waitress, a supposed tactical expert, and a musician (our heroine) all help make an ensemble from Hell. Nothing goes according to protocol, and chaos ensues as the musician experiments liberally with her psychoactive drugs.
While in a science-fiction setting, Ms. Russ manages to maintain a surprising lack of the technological; the underlying concept of the story being Gilligan's Island on Acid. As Social Darwinism takes its course, the value of life itself is called into question.
This is not a book for those who are set in their ideas of God and living; this is for those who remain unsure as to what lies in store for them, and what may be the meaning of life.
I will say, though, that the way it was written, especially in the begining, was really frustrating. The main character is making a recording of happenings, and the book is written like those recordings. The punctuation was wierd, with periods in the middle of sentences sometimes, and the whole mess was very choppy. There were side comments or sarcastic remarks in parenthesis. It got better later on, but at the start of the book, really annoying, hard to understand at times, and unnecessary. I subtracted one star for that. I really don't like to read stories that are "told" like diary entires. I want a story, not a dictation.
Spoilers are below . . .
A group of people crash land on a planet, with earth like gravity and air. There are four women, one of which is 13 or so, and three men. The social structure reverts to a male dominated one. The main female point of view, is that of the odd person out. Everyone is all geared up for survival and colonization. None of them have survival skills, the only real tool they have is a water purifyer, they have only a very basic, and minimal med kit, with a few antibiotics and such, and they have no way of testing food or water for poisons.
There is one woman who is smart and has the best survival instincts. She takes charge of finding water, after a pair of men say they are going to and then don't. Upon her return, she chastizes one of the said men for waisting bath water on the ground when it could have been recycled. He physically attackes her and beats her up. He orders her to treat him with more respect. The woman allows this man to take charge, and she actually support him after that, they kind of tag team the leadership, but she pretty much goes along with what he wants. When he elects himself chairman of their group, everyone but our female protagonist supports him.
The female protagonist doesn't think that wasting energy and time on survival and colonization is worthwhile. She gives a big speech in the begining regarding all the things that can kill them, child birth, food poisoning, ect . . . which pretty much ostrisizes her from the rest of the group. No one wants to hear it and shun her. Her posessions are forciably convescated. The group, meaning the men, and one woman that I could see, decide to build shelter and start having babies. The men decide who will have sex with who, in what order, without input from the women. Our protagonist wants no part of it. They argue they have to continue civilization, and she says, quite rightly, that civilization is doing just fine somewhere else. She says she won't do it, they tell her she has to, she tries to leave, they physically prevent her. Now, remember, the chairmen has already physically attacked one of the women for asserting her authority over him. Our protagonist is a petite woman much smaller than the others. She lies, she pretends to go alone, she hides part of her possessions (those not stolen by the group) and steals other supplied. She runs away, but the group follows, attacks her. Along the way, she lets one man dies, kills three in self defense, is forced at gun point to give over medication so another can commit suicide. She does out right murder the last, the 13 year old, and by that point, I finally saw definate madness. But, though I won't argue that she was predisposed to madness, I feel she was clearly driven to it by the situation and the rest of the group.
Afterwards, we have a complete descent into madness. There is starvation, and hallucinations. She goes through guilt, self doubt, self justification, self dillusions and self hatred. She doesn't try to eat any of the indiginous plant life and she doesn't go back to the original camp to get more food. She goes through many thoughts that would plague any woman. Woman are raised to be self deprecating, serving, accomidating and dedicated to the well being of others. There is this whole struggle in her hallucinations of conflict between these sterotypical female traits, and the preservation of the group, and the preservation of herself, both body and mind.
What I got from this book, was the sttuggle between supporting the whole however the whole decides it should be supported with no consideration to individuals right to choose, and the actualization and preservation of self. What would I do in a similar situation? When my personal liberties are violated and my right to choose for myself is forciably denied? What legnths would I go to? At the begining of the book, I would have said - not murder - without question - not that. But, if I was under threat of personal violence, rape and forced pregnancy? In a inhospitable world with little to no chance of survival let alone rescue? I wouldn't want to have children in that environment, and I shouldn't have to, and I certainly feel I shouldn't be forced to. The human civilization in the book is moving along just fine elsewhere. I found myself sympathizing with the protagonist a great deal. She wasn't a thoughtless, blood thirsty, despicable person. Did she have to cross the line she did? No. Did she have valid reasons for doing so? I feel she did. Would I have done the same? I'm no longer sure I wouldn't. What would a man have done if he were asked to sacrifice his leg so the group could live? Prevented from refusing? Hunted down and dragged back if he runs away? Tied to a tree and forced to in an environment without medical care? He could die from blood loss or infection. Anyone think this isn't the same thing at all? I read an article that 25% of birthings were fatal to the mothers before modern medicine. So, the danger to the mother is obvious. Our protagonist didn't want to perticipate, for many reasons, some of which were the danger to herself, but also the baby and the futility of attempting to start a colony with no skills, no supplies and so few people. When backed into a corner, and threatened, she fought back.
This story brought up very interesting questions of group versus self that many of us don't want to consider. And the thought of a woman willing to abandon the group and kill to protect her individual self is shocking to some. But, it is a damatized expression of what many women have to go through every day, what every person has to go through in some form or another really. The question becomes, where will we each draw the line? Where should is be drawn? Who will try to tell us where to draw it? Does anyone else have the right to redraw it for us or remove it all together? If our line is crossed, what will we do? What should we do?