Remnant Population, by Elizabeth Moon
Because science fiction reflects the time it was written as much or more than its predictions of the future, it’s interesting how the “whys” of moving out into space have changed over time in sci-fi universes. In this world created by Elizabeth Moon there are no parallels with Noah’s Ark or the Pilgrims. Humans haven’t landed on a new planet to expand an empire or for the simple joy of discovering the new. Forty years before a corporation sent indentures to a planet to farm a new planet in hopes of making a profit. Now the project is ending due to the project never reaching profitability. Those still living on the planet, including children born there, each have 30 days to gather 20 kilos of their belongings and prepare to be relocated. They’ll be leaving everything behind and will be transported in “cryo-sleep” on a ship that will take years to reach its destination.
All but for Ofelia. Around 70 Ofelia has spent most of her life on Colony 3245.12. She has given birth to and buried children there and has also buried a husband. Because of her age she learns that the corporation plans on separating her from her children and transporting her to a different location. Further, women her age are at high risk of dying in cryo-sleep before ever reaching the final destination. While others are being taken off the planet she hides in the woods until all signs of human life disappears and then begins making a solitary life for herself in the farm village. She has power, water, protection from the elements, healthy gardens, and food left by those who could only take their dearest possessions.
Ofelia’s life as a hermit offers her a level of freedom she hasn’t enjoyed for a long time. Because of her age she was already being marginalized by her one surviving son and other colonists. With the others gone she can live a life guided by her own choices.
But her solitude doesn’t last forever. She hears radio traffic from an attempt to colonize a different location on the planet but the first people landing are attacked and killed by what seems to be a native species capable of making explosives. It isn’t long afterwards that she meets the natives herself, saving several from one of the planet’s hurricanes. She begins a relationship with a new species on its own evolutionary cusp similar to the sudden change in perception and creativity when homo sapiens became a unique species. And when humans return to make sure human technology isn’t available to the first discovered non-human species she suddenly has to mediate between her species and one that, though apparently primitive, may have greater intelligence than humans.
Moon created a wonderful character in Ofelia. She’s perceptive, funny, and doing her best to deal with everything while really wanting to age and die on her own terms and in privacy. The, to her, alien creatures make themselves more and more a part of her life, even getting underfoot, until one called Blue Cloak changing Ofelia’s relationship from thinking of them as interesting pests to her becoming their protector and advocate.
It’s a quiet, well-paced book first published in 2003 and a great allegory about aging in a world that would rather make a profit, and about a women with wisdom and experience trying to get her own people to listen to her insights as the human knowing the most about the new race. It would be a great book club book. I’m even surprised someone hasn’t cast Meryl Streep in a movie version.