Sunday, September 26, 2010

Judith Moffett's Pennterra: Going Native

Pennterra During my one year as an acquiring editor for Fantastic Books, two of my acquired titles saw publication: Judith Moffett's long-out-of-print first novel Pennterra, and gonzo novel Fuzzy Dice by Paul Di Filippo, which had been previously published only as a limited edition by a British small press.

Recently Pennterra was reviewed by a British print magazine, H&E Naturist. Since the review is not available online, I've taken the liberty of entering the full review below for your reading pleasure.  I'm posting this review on More Red Ink because the author is currently involved in writing a memoir, to which she is devoting all of her writing time; thus her blog and website have not been updated for quite some time. If you don't know who Judith Moffett is, or you are curious what she has to write a memoir about, you may want to check out her Wikipedia entry: Judy is not your typical SF/F genre writer! You can also read my previous blog post about Judy's published work entitled "Aliens Have Entered Mainstream's Orbit."

Before posting the review, I would first like to reiterate the quote from Nebula Award-winning author Michael Bishop that appears on the cover (pictured above) of this reprint edition of Pennterra: "Stunning... the best first novel I have read in at least a decade... dangerous and breathtaking to behold."

by Judith Moffett

Science fiction offers many tales of a human colony on a remote planet; Judith Moffett's stands out for being quite unlike others I have read. In Pennterra Quaker settlers find intelligent life which welcomes them, but demands strict limits on the colony's activities and use of technology. The immigrants accept the constraints, which make life harsh and difficult

I was expecting that the struggle to keep the colony healthy, housed and fed would be the main issue of the book, but Moffett addresses deeper concerns -- and demonstrates that the needs of mind and spirit can be at least as important as those of the body.

The story covers the period before and after the arrival of a second and much larger spaceship. This main body of colonists has no time for Quaker notions of "spirituality in action," preferring plain action. The newcomers' attitude is that if the natives don't like human settlement, that's tough. They argue that land, water and atmosphere are abundant, so arbitrary restrictions on technology and agriculture are nonsense. While they give due consideration and respect to native life, they feel it is much more important that the human colony thrives and expands.

The contests between beliefs, and between the Pennterran and Terran biological ecosystems, make for an unusual story of struggle, if only because the various contestants do not want to fight

Moffett is skilled at developing a situation through slow and measured steps, each logical and apparently reasonable, to arrive at a result which can appall or shock. One such thread concerns the sexual activity of children, with scenes and dialogue which some readers may find disturbing, upsetting or outrageous.

Applying logic and pragmatism to the whole gamut of the Pennterrans' situation has many mundane results. For the Quakers, clothing becomes almost purely functional. They have little interest in adornment, and none in status symbols, so they make garments solely for protection against weather and injury -- purposeless artifacts have no place in their lives. Similarly, bathing is communal for efficient use of water and heating, with no segregation by sex or age. Leisure is too scarce for sunbathing, but swimming is a necessary skill as well as an occasional source of enjoyment, and everyone swims nude.

The Pennterran Quakers are not nudists, but have decided much conventional clothing is a luxury, a waste of resources. Whatever one thinks of Pennterran attitudes, this is close to a naturist philosophy.

Even though Moffett's treatment of social nudity is limited, I am happy to recommend this thought-provoking book, and think it deserves to be better known. It seems I am not alone, as it has been republished fairly recently -- I hope this brings it to a wider audience.

— Tim Forcer, H&E Naturist1, August 2010

Pennterra is published in paperback by Fantastic Books, ISBN 978-1604597295.

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1 Before you click on that H&E Naturist link: I've included the link as a professional courtesy for the magazine from which I have posted this full review. However, if you don't know what "naturism" means, I suggest you look it up first; the H&E Naturist website could be construed as containing adult-oriented material, specifically photographs. I take no responsibility for the website and its contents, or for the readers of this blog who choose to click on that link. You've been duly advised. (Of course, now that I've posted this advisory, you're just itching to click on that link, aren't you?)

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