Sunday, June 30, 2013

35. We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ

Writer:  Joanna Russ

First Publication:  Galaxy SF Magazine, January and February 1976

In keeping with an unofficial theme for this month, I have been reading authors or stories I originally read in the seventies.  I first read Joanna Russ’ “We Who Are About To…” when it was serialized in Galaxy when it was edited by Jim Baen.  Baen's  tenure produced one of my favorite science fiction magazines.  

The first part of the story (January 1976) had a Rick Sternbach cover for an essay by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.  They explained some of the process of “Building The Mote in God’s Eye”.  The second half of the serial appeared in the February issue.  Once again Larry Niven was featured on the cover for the novelette “Down and Out”.  “Down and Out” was later incorporated into the novel “A World Out of Time”.  

Russ’ novel stood out at the time.  The main character was a woman.  At that time it was still the exception to have a female lead character.  I have not read it anywhere but I believe the story was inspired by Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”.  At the start of the story, we find out that she is on a small vessel that is damaged and has to land on a different planet.  No other ships are close to them and none would be able to make it in time to pick them up.  They are basically doomed to die on a planet without the resources to survive.  The comparison to theme of “The Cold Equations” is only to the basic idea of there being no way to beat the odds.  As you can tell by that short description, it is not a happy go lucky, feel good story.  

This is truly an exploration of the Kobayashi Maru from Star Trek.  It is the famous no win test that Kirk was able to beat (he cheated).  Fortunately, as was common at the time it was written, “We Who Are About To…” is a short novel.  If it appeared today as a 500+ page novel, I don’t know if I would have finished it.  As it is, it makes a powerful story that has stuck with me since the first time I read it.  It is not a book that I would say I enjoyed but it is a somewhat more realistic take on the classic science fiction story about explorers crash landing on an alien planet.  

If you are interested in a different type of story, read it.  But if you are looking for a light-hearted escapist book, avoid at all costs.

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