|Author:||Maureen F. McHugh|
Young Janna has lived her fourteen years on the icy northern plains of a world that has forgotten its history. Now the arrival of Earthers—descendants of the humans who first settled the planet many centuries before—has violently upset the fragile balance of a developing civilization. The offworlders’ advanced technologies and cruel indifference to local life have brought despair and destruction to janna’s home, robbing her of family, husband, child, and self. Haunted by a dead past—mysteriously altered by the gift of three alien artifacts—Janna must now redefine herself on a devastated planet she no longer recognizes, as she embarks upon a remarkable, transcendant journey into an uncertain future; moving steadily through this strange new world toward a startling realization about her role in the great cosmic order.
Mission Child is an expansion of Maureen McHugh’s “The Cost to Be Wise,” a fascinating novella from the original anthology Starlight 1.
Janna’s world was colonized long ago by Earth and then left on its own for centuries. When “offworlders” return, their superior technology upsets the balance of a developing civilization. Mission Child follows the journeys of Janna after she and her young partner escape marauders who attack their hometown. The girl, fast becoming mature beyond her years, sets off across the planet on an odyssey of adventure, poverty, hard work, war, famine, and rebirth. Janna uses her meager skills to eke out a living in a changing world; she gains and loses a husband, a child, friends, jobs, and more.
McHugh weaves together anthropology, sociology, psychology, and gender relations in this wondrous journey. Janna assumes the guise of a boy for protection, but eventually becomes “Jan” to herself as well as others. Reminiscent of Ursula K. Le Guin’s insightful works set in the Hainish universe, Mission Child will doubtless be nominated for a Tiptree Award for its exploration of Janna’s gender identity. —Bonnie Bouman