Protagonist Musicians in SF, pt. 1

TITLE: We Who Are About To…
AUTHOR: Joanna Russ
YEAR: 1975

The protagonist is a musicologist who just happens to be female.  Due to an accident to the faster-than-light-speed drive, a ship is forced to land on an uninhabited planet millions of light years from anywhere. Protagonist suggests that doom is inevitable, while other passengers suggest attempting ‘colonization’. Protagonist is on the side of pragmatism: though things seem OK for now, air, water, plants could be partially poisonous—-days are too long, weather too dry for cultivation, etc. Among the other passengers are a family with a teenage daughter (Lori), a jock, a ‘professor of ideas’, and two younger women, one of whom is en route to military training.  Add to that, the protagonist hordes pharmaceuticals and micro-weaponry, and goes to great lengths to conceal these, so that even when she is found out and thoroughly searched some of her stash remains undiscovered. This, along with some ‘code-speak’ she attempts with the trainee, suggests that she might be an undercover agent of some sort. Without  totally giving it away, let’s just say her viewpoint prevails in the end (for those who have read this book, please note the irony…)

YES! Protagonist claims to be a scholar of John Dowland in particular and Late Renaissance/Early Baroque in general. In the early parts of the book she sings songs (including some by Dowland) around the camp-fire, to help calm the child etc.

Protagonist spends much time in a dark and secluded cave, so obviously a musician would be be able to handle that duty… Protagonist is also equipped with a voice-activated recorder, enabling her to archive the plight. Additionally she often speaks derogatorily to the professor of ideas, contrasting her own practical approach with his idealistic approach, which is actually a quite remarkable statement regarding the study of music (which itself is often considered a-practical).  Additionally, she is also well-rounded, often quoting poetry and history, making her an ideal archivist for the group.  Also typically for a trained musician, she shows the requisite amount of disdain. Oddly enough when Lori says she wants to be a composer, the protagonist does not jump at this opportunity to teach or encourage, probably because of her pragmatism regarding the living situation.  The protagonist’s relationship with Lori is one of the few quasi-connective relationships she has with any of the group.

All in all, the Protagonist is a musician inasmuch as she is the archetypal Storyteller, sharing songs and shaping histories about the current group and others long gone. She is also the one person in the group able to read celestial/solar activity in terms of day lengths and seasonal transitions.

YES—Good read, lots to chew on… and on…

© 2014 Peter J. Evans, theorist

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