In Jones’ debut sci-fi novel, a spacefaring Scout’s latest mission results in her capture on a planet where men brutally oppress women.
Karel and Mik are part of the Survey Corps of the interstellar Federation. While scouting a habitable planet, the two find a “Lost Starship,” one of 25 legendary craft that left Earth many generations ago. While Mik stays with the Scoutship, Karel heads toward a village to initiate friendly contact with the locals. But Sang, the first man she meets, takes her captive. At the village, Sang’s “first-wife,” Mari, explains to Karel that the human inhabitants of this planet, New Earth, once held women sacred. But a rebellion led to many men forcibly taking women, whom they call “shes,” as wives—although Mari assures Karel that Sang isn’t as cruel as other men are. As a Scout, Karel knows that she’s supposed to respect other cultures’ customs, but captivity is more than she can tolerate, and she searches for a way to escape. She soon finds unlikely allies in tiny, telepathic creatures that the locals call “curls.” Karel also learns of other communities, such as the female-dominated Termans, and about conflicts that will certainly lead to war. Jones aptly employs assorted dialects to differentiate the communities of New Earth, making the shifting perspectives in the story easier to track; the men in the initial village, for example, have a bizarre but distinctive manner of speech; one inhabitant tells Karel, “in the afterness to it I made going to Term and took the first of my shes.” Similarly, the curls call themselves “the People” and refer to the humans as “two-legs.” Although the story features little action, it offers a scathing view on how women in some societies are treated, as men fight violently to ensure that females remain submissive. Meanwhile, Karel’s valiant attempts to understand the different cultures result in welcome bits of humor, as when someone mistakes her friendly gesture for a marriage proposal.
A perceptive tale that astutely criticizes societal norms.