Book Review: We Who Are About To…, Joanna Russ (1975)

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Womb Raider

five out of five stars

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!

(More below the fold…)