Joanna Russ Gerald Jonas - Essay

Gerald Jonas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In her previous novels, "Picnic on Paradise" and "The Female Man," Joanna Russ used science fiction as a vehicle for the most intelligent, hard-minded commentary on feminism that you are likely to find anywhere. Her premise seemed to be this: If the war between the sexes is really a war, women are never going to win (or even hold their own) unless they are willing to mobilize their minds and bodies. People who declare war when they are unready to fight deserve the disaster that awaits them. Russ's women are ready to fight.

The unnamed heroine of "We Who Are About To …" will fight when pressed, but, as she tells us, she prefers to "keep a low profile."… After the spaceship on which she is traveling has an accident, she and seven other passengers—five men and three women in all—are stranded on an uninhabited planet in an uncharted part of the galaxy….

The book is told as a diary, spoken into a battery-operated "pocket vocoder" by the heroine, although she is quite sure no one will ever discover it. When the other castaways realize that she will not play their game, they get nasty. Her defection is an antisocial act they cannot countenance. She does what she must to assert her autonomy. The seven-to-one odds don't bother her; she is the smartest, toughest, and by far the best equipped of the group—a fact that only gradually becomes apparent to the other seven but which is finally driven home with...

(The entire section is 453 words.)