Ofelia is a woman in her 70s, living with her tiresome son and his tiresome wife on a planet chosen for colonization by a soulless company. When the company decides the colony isn’t thriving (after 40 years), they decide to pull the plug, put everybody into cryo, and send them to another planet to try again. After 70 years of dancing to other people’s tunes, Ofelia decides enough is enough, and all she wants to do is work in her garden and be in charge of her own self. So she hides when the evacuation shuttles come, and then has a whole planet to herself. She cooks and eats what she wants, when she wants. She doesn’t plant the vegetables she doesn’t like. She throws all her shoes into the waste recycler. She monitors the livestock and the power plant all on her own, making sure she’ll have water and power as long as she needs. She is living her best life.
However, like the brilliant Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last,” things can’t go on so blissfully. Over the radio, Ofelia hears shuttles landing hundreds of miles away, trying to colonize another section of the planet. There are screams about attacking aliens (or “indigenes,” since the humans are really the aliens), people begging to be rescued, officers in the orbiting ship explaining that a rescue isn’t feasible, and then a horrifying end. Ofelia knows people will come to investigate, and her days of solitude are numbered. But she also knows she’s not alone on the planet, and that there are dangerous creatures out there.
I don’t want to give too much away, but Ofelia meeting the indigenes and working to preserve her own way of life as well as theirs is a treat to read. This book is slow – lots of descriptions of gardening, lots of day-to-day details – but Ofelia is such a joy I never minded. Ofelia’s new inner voice tells her to stand up and do what’s right, even as her old inner voice tells her to be smaller, that she’s nothing. Those two voices cause some internal conflict for Ofelia, but when the oh-so-sure-of-themselves scientists and military land, the new voice refuses to be put back in the box. I cheered when she told off one of the scientists:
You did not like my answers before; you told me I didn’t understand. Should I tell you the truth I know, or try to guess the untruth you want?”
Ofelia was a delight, the indigenes were interesting and understandable, and I will definitely be tracking down more Elizabeth Moon. Science fiction from a different, but still very human perspective.