Saturday, August 4, 2012

"Uncharted Territory" by Connie Willis

(cover image from

Bickering constantly, the famous explorers Findriddy and Carson survey an alien planet, along with a native scout of indeterminate gender, a sexy assistant, and Evelyn, the 'loaner.'

Uncharted Territory (1994) is a romantic comedy by an author who does this sort of thing very, very well. I loved the book the first time I read it. On a re-read, when I already know what's going on, it's still fun. (But note that you really need to avoid spoilers with this one.)

And it's a very short book - an easy evening read, less than one-third the length of To Say Nothing of the Dog. Of course, I loved that book, too, but there's something to be said for brevity (not that you'd know that here, huh?).

Besides romance, there's a great deal of humor about being 'politically correct.' That seems to be a favorite topic for Connie Willis. I suppose she encounters that sort of thing more often than I do. Here in Nebraska, 'politically correct' is just what bigots call anyone who objects to their racism, sexism, or homophobia.

But sure, like everything else, 'PC' can be taken too far. I have no problem laughing at it, then. Besides, in this case, as funny as it is, just think of the alternative...

The Earth government is very concerned they might oppress the primitive inhabitants of this planet, destroy the ecosystem, endanger local cultures - you know, like we've always done on Earth. Of course, the government goes overboard, so it's funny. But the alternative wouldn't be funny at all.

The natives aren't stupid, just primitive. (Note that we only see one of them, so I can't assume too much.) So, learning about all the rules the explorers must follow, their native scout makes money by fining them for pretty much everything - then using that money to buy Earth items off the Internet.

It really is pretty funny. But you might wonder why the Earth is mapping their planet in the first place, especially since this is a geological survey. Well, human nature hasn't changed, and the desire to do what's right still struggles against ordinary human greed.

But this isn't an especially serious book. It's a comedy. It's a quick, light-weight read, lots of fun. I recommend it.

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