Reading Journal Entry: Mission Child by Maureen McHugh

Mission Child started by surprising me. The beginning of Mission Child was adapted into (or from, I'm not sure) a story in the Mchugh anthology I reviewed last month, Mothers and Other Monsters. That story was about a 'mission' among people on another planet colonized by Earth centuries before. The residents had lost their technology when rediscovered. The mission is run by believers in 'appropriate technology adoption' trying to teach and support a community in a wintery area where residents depend on hunting and herding engineered renndeer for food. Janna is a 'native' teenage girl living at the mission when a visit by itinerant young men goes horribly wrong. In the short story, she is charged with the safety of another young woman, a recently arrived off-worlder.

The visitors become drunk, and then violent. They kill most of the residents of the mission, including Janna's parents and younger sister. Janna survives by hiding; she is given an implant with the ability to send a distress signal and another that permits her to hibernate. The title of the short story is "The Cost To Be Wise", and it was one of the stories in Mothers that I had to walk away from. Janna and her new friend survive and are rescued. But her longing for the 'forbidden' offworld technology gives the story a terrible sting.

In the book, Janna is alone. She is not rescued and whisked away. She and her boyfriend are among the few survivors of the mission community; they must struggle to survive together, finding brief respite in a new community before encountering violence again. Janna finds herself a refugee and alone. She dresses herself in a man's clothing and begins to call herself Jan - it is easier to be a man than a woman in her circumstances. Eventually her circumstances change, but she does not. She is unable to let go of the male identity even though she assummed it under duress.

Jan's flights are multiple; from the very beginning until almost the end of the book she runs from one situation to another, desperately trying to avoid putting down roots or explaining herself to anyone. The English she learned growing up in the mission puts her into contact with the off-worlders again and again. She never really seems to grow up or recover from her first traumas. But eventually she finds some people she can call family. Ultimately this is a very sad book.

No comments: