The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Unconquered Country: A Life History was written in 1982 after Geoff Ryman’s trip to Thailand and his secondhand observation of the genocide perpetrated in Kampuchea (then Cambodia) by the Pol Pot regime. The setting of Ryman’s book is an analogue to Kampuchea, with distinctive fantastic elements such as villages composed of living, loyal stilt houses and figures on advertising billboards that detach themselves at night to sing jingles to passersby.

Third Child lives in a village of the Unconquered People. The Neighbors, helped by the weapons of the Big Country, have conquered much of the Unconquered Country, but not Third Child’s rebel village. She lives a normal life in her village until the age of six. She has a talent for numbers, but only in relation to objects, such as yarrow stalks. The first phase of her cultural unmooring occurs when her teacher forces her to disassociate numbers from their objects and think of them as abstracts.

Third Child’s village is attacked by the Neighbors not long after her sixth birthday. The Neighbors use flying creatures called Sharks to destroy her village and slaughter most of the living houses. Many of her family members die, but Third Child’s mother manages to spirit her away to the city of Saprang Song.

Saprang Song is a dismal shantytown of cheaply made living houses. Specially created scavenger beasts scour the thoroughfares looking for the dead. In the shadows of this nightmarish setting, Third Child ekes out a meager existence selling her womb as an...

(The entire section is 637 words.)