Saturday, 29 October 2016

Book-dowsing: Restoree by Anne McCaffrey


The blurb:
There was a sudden stench of a dead sea creature. There was the sudden horror of a huge black shape closing over her. There was nothing...
 Then there were pieces of memory, isolated fragments that were so horrible her mind refused to accept them. Intense heat and shivering cold; excruciating pain; dismembered pieces of the human body. Sawn bones and searing screams.
And when she awoke she found she was in a world that was not Earth, and with a face and body that were not her own. She had become a Restoree...

Published in 1967, this is one of Anne McCaffrey’s earlier books. It’s a science fiction and a one-off, not connected to the other worlds she wrote several books in.

The narrator of this story is Sara, a woman from Earth who finds herself transported to another planet in a gruesome manner. She pieces together memories of pain and terror trying to find an answer to how she is where she is – and how her body is no longer the one she remembers. Her skin is now a fine honeyed shade and she is beautiful with a perfect nose. Don’t think I’m being flippant with the nose comment – she refers to her new nose a lot! She finds herself on a world that is paradoxically more advanced than Earth in some respects (advanced ability for space travel being one) but also backwards in others (they use slates rather than paper). When she surfaces from her shock and is able to function fully, she realises she is in an asylum of some sort assigned to care for a man who exists in the same stupoured state as the other inmates. She quickly determines that Harlan is being drugged and in order to escape the situation she is in she takes him off the medication. When he recovers a sense of himself, the two of them are bound together for the duration of the book. They escape the asylum and navigate their way to those who will be willing to help Harlan whose high flying political career was brought to an end by his apparent insanity. Sara learns that the state is being undermined by the power hungry Gleto who is intent on controlling everything that he can, even if that means assassinating the man he is sworn to protect. Hanging over this is the threat of the Mil, an alien race who harvest and butcher people en masse.

Sara’s storyline is dual. On a personal level, she wants to find out how she has came to be in this new world and what it means for her future. In the wider scheme of this new world, she also wants to help Harlan and his allies. The man behind the asylum and her own recreation is a dangerous figure and though she tries to escape his notice he is soon eager to have her back at his facility for further study. No Restoree has ever made a recovery like she has – this in a world where the practice of restoration is vilified and those who have gone through the process are likely to be put to death. Then there's the Mil...

Sara is very pointy-toed in this cover interpretation

I first read this book when I was 13. My memory insists I read it more than once but having picked it up again after a break of over two decades so much of it is unfamiliar to me that I think my memory is flawed. Reading this book as an adult with knowledge of the women’s rights movement means I have a different perspective on it than my child self did. There are elements of this book that have not aged well. The world might be different but the societal structure in which Sara finds herself is very much influenced by the world as it was in the 1960s. The council on this new world are all men. The military leaders – men. Those who can inherit power – men. Aside from a servant and a quick view of Harlan’s ex, there aren’t really any female characters beyond Sara. In the asylum, those who work there (all men again) regularly grope and fondle the female nurses like Sara. When Harlan begins to suspect that she is a Restoree, he strips her and gives her a thorough examination and she is mute through it all, not once telling him to sod off as I would expect a more modern heroine to do. Later on when Sara has been ‘claimed’ by Harlan, it is the role of the men about to make manly jokes and innuendo – it is Sara’s job to blush becomingly. There’s also the fact that Sara is given a full physical makeover and has suddenly become desirable with her lovely skin, beautiful face and small nose. That was one of the bits I remembered very clearly from my first reading of that book, when I think the idea of magically waking up in a new perfect body was something that I could empathise with at that age.  

These comments aside, I did enjoy this book. Sara is a resourcful character and able to act on her own initiative. She iss also keen on being regularly fed, something which I do myself and which fictional characters rarely do so I approved of that piece of characterisation. I like the idea of the world Anne McCaffrey created here and it’s interaction with neighbouring worlds and races. Harlan could easily be played by your typical square jawed action hero type in a film version and though he does have some dimension his main role is to be the manly hero. I’d forgotten the tense battle at the end of the story and found that a page turner. 

It was good to pick up this book again and be reminded of that younger self who voraciously ate her way through whatever sci-fi she could lay her hands on. Would I recommend it to others? If they like their sci-fi old-style then yes but there are other books by Anne McCaffrey that are better than this one.

6 out of 10 Restorees

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