We Who Are About To… by Joanna Russ

Shoot a little girl in the back of the head…

I mentioned in my last post on Lafferty’s Okla Hannali, that it has been sometime since I have been disappointed in a book. Well, my streak is over.

I am not merely disappointed, but repelled. There are now two books in the science fiction world that cause my hackles to raise and bring a sour taste to my mouth. The first is Arthur C. Clark’s CHILDHOOD’S END, and, now, WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO… by Joanna Russ.

They have a similarity that I disdain in both. Cynical resignation. The people of Earth in CHILDHOOD’S END passively accept their fate of evolutionary extinction at the hands of the OVERLORDS and the OVERMIND through their instruments the children becoming cosmic minds that wipe out the entire Earth.

If there was ever a case for mass infanticide, Clark presented it. Or at least fight the Overlords – something! You can still lose in the end! I don’t demand riding off into the sunset, but, Christ, fight first!

Likewise in WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO… the main character never once even gives a thought to whether or not the group has any chance of surviving. No, from the start she resigns to fatalism. I dare say the character was suicidal (and homicidal) before these events.

Maybe they have no chance of starting a civilization. Perhaps all they could have eked out is a year or two of sustainability. Never in all my science fiction reading have I come across such a loser of a character.

Within the first twenty pages of the book I had already tired of the nasty anger of the narrator and the general tone of spite that the author brought to the entire book. Knowing nothing of the author I guessed that this was written by an angry lesbian feminist. Please, please, I don’t deserve any reward for being a super-slueth of character, the book screamed it from the top of its lungs. But I would have been at least somewhat impressed if my hunch had not been precisely on target. Perhaps if she had been a happy-go-lucky grandma who collected pictures of puppy dogs for her grandchildren or something.

I was intent to go along with the character until the scene after she had murdered everyone except the child Lori. Then she crept up behind the child and put a bullet through her head. Because you wanted the freedom to die.

You bitch.

You bitch, you could have simply killed yourself and done everyone else a favor. Oh, they wouldn’t let you? They came to find you? Kill yourself faster.

Ugg, what a hateful little book.

Now onto the blurbs on the back cover.

“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.”

Apparently space exploration is imperialist – even on a planet with no sentient life! We are not told what their voyage was in the first place. The hubris of humanity… I would require a bigger sample of humanity than a small handful of misfits and a little girl too young to be judged.

Aren’t necessary – to what? To whom? The imperative to keep reproducing is irrational – a self-loathing sentiment to be sure. But it only works in the confines of the book itself. Note: the people of this story have to be conveniently stranded on this supposed (because no one ever gets a chance to really explore this place) inhospitable planet for the argument to be even hinted at. And we are not even given that data! The plant life may be harmful, we are never told it is harmful. There is hardly any exploration of their surroundings before the blood begins to flow.

“A multi-dimensional explosion hurls the starship’s few passengers across the galaxies and onto a barren, unchartered planet. With no technical skills and scant supplies, the survivors face a bleak end in an alien world. One brave woman holds the daring answer, but it is the most desperate one possible. Originally published in 1977, this is one of the most subtle, complex, and exciting science fiction novels ever written about the attempt to survive a potentially lethal alien environment.”

No technical skills? This is poor science fiction. There is at least a pilot, right? No? Did he die? We are not told. From the information we are given the seven people who make up the crew weren’t qualified to run a donut shop let alone be trucking through space in a spaceship. The narrator and main character is a musicologist, another is a government paper pusher, one was to be a student, one is an ultra-rich mother (to the poor girl that got her head blown off) another is dying of heart failure. A ship full of people with no qualifications to run a spaceship. No mechanic? No engineer? Physicist? No one? What the hell kind of spaceship is this?

We are not given sufficient evidence that the survivors face a bleak end in an alien world. As I said before they barely explored any of it!

One brave woman? If that is a brave woman, the sniveling little murderous coward, I am He-Man Master of the Universe!

And here is the real head scratcher. If they face a bleak end, how is suicide a daring answer? Does this not imply that suicide is not a bleak end? I know we would like to make ourselves believe that this is so. Euthanize the old, abort the young. Dissatisfied with life? Kill yourself. It’s alright, doesn’t matter. Live until you think it sucks and blamo! You’re out.

Ah, such is the ruins of modern civilization.

I’ll skip the part about subtle and complex – it’s horseshit. This is like calling ATLAS SHRUGGED subtle and complex. A mallet to the face is neither.

“…ever written about the attempt to survive a potentially lethal alien environment.”

But that is exactly what the book is not about! The dead victims of the murderous coward had that in mind. She makes no attempt – none.

Happily though the next book on the roster was/is Lafferty’s SEPENT’S EGG. And after that is Robert Silverberg’s HAWKSBILL STATION which, if his THE WORLD INSIDE is any indication, should be a good read.

The introduction to WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO… is by Samuel R. Delany. This is a scary individual. He has the distinction of writing a completely unreadable novel (and thus, by that fact, literarily significant!) DHALGREN, a piece of obscenity HOGG, 30th Grandmaster of SFWA – and being a fan of NAMBLA.

Instead of honoring the guy, shouldn’t someone be investigating him? Or, at least, couldn’t SFWA offer him a counseling coupon? That last is a joke if you’re privy to the “institution” that is SFWA today.

One last observation about this book. It is not science fiction. It has the barest, tiniest, infinitesimal element of science fiction in the first page and a half. The rest could have taken place on a barren Gilligan’s Island. Or at least they could have shipwrecked the Minnow on a barren part of the island and then not bothered to fully check the island before murdering the rest of your shipmates. Oh, and get rid of the captain and the first mate and the professor. No skills admitted to this voyage!

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