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Mission Child

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  391 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
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 br ...more
Hardcover, 385 pages
Published December 1st 1998 by Eos (first published 1998)
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Dec 18, 2012 Ryandake rated it it was amazing
this is the second or third time for me to read this book... each time i read it, it seems a little different to me.

the first time i read it, i was terribly frustrated by the apparent aimlessness of the protagonist, how she seemed rather spineless, unable to take her own fate into her hands.

this time... this time the book seems more like life.

sometimes i wonder if we of the west are not ruined by fiction. most fiction (especially since the odious notion of the perfection of the Hero's Tale struc
Jul 05, 2013 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my favorite, favorite, favorite kind of science fiction. Social SF, or sociological SF, as seen through the observations of a protagonist who does not have the whole picture. A world explored through the eyes of a single character, often limited by language or situation. This book belongs on my shelf with Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness and Nicola Griffith's Ammonite.
I got to talk with Maureen McHugh this past weekend. She said she wasn't a plotter. She preferred "gardener" as oppos
Jun 27, 2010 Martha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
McHugh's writing in Mission Child reminds me so much of Ursula LeGuin (which is high praise from me). Like much of LeGuin's writing, this novel is about social science - that it is set on a different planet is not the most important thing. What is important are the ways people interact with each other and how social norms and pressures inform those interactions. It is also a sensitive and intelligent portrayal of a transgendered character. If any of this interests you, I recommend Mission Child ...more
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 Althea Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stayed up way later than I should have finishing this!

It's not so much "what happened" - actually, the book is fairly low on "plot" - rather, it follows the (rather traumatic and itinerant) life of a woman from a primitive society on a colony planet, from the brink of womanhood to middle age, along the way dealing with issues of gender and sexuality, "appropriate technology," and finding a place to call home.
But the writing is just so good that it feels like a thriller!

I highly recommend it.
Jun 01, 2009 Megan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi-magic
The book included some standard elements of good sci-fi: future worlds, plague, sustainable technologies, off-world medicine. Also gender anormativity. But some things were a little too easy - the main character gets a chip implanted in her ear that allows her to hibernate and be extra strong. Very convenient. China Mtn. Zhang is much more clever.
Jamie Collins
Jun 18, 2012 Jamie Collins rated it did not like it
Shelves: science-fiction
I gave up on this one after about 100 pages. It isn't terrible, but it wasn't holding my interest at all. The writing is very plain, which I know is probably a deliberate attempt to set a certain atmosphere, but it didn't help.

A disappointment, because I very much enjoyed McHugh's novel China Mountain Zhang.
Oct 12, 2013 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An epic masterpiece!

Mothers & Other Monsters excepted, I’ve read the entirety of Maureen McHugh’s oeuvre. (“Devoured” is more like it; after stumbling upon her latest release, After the Apocalypse, I requested every McHugh title my local library owned - including any scifi anthologies containing her short stories - and consumed them all within the space of just a few months. She’s the greatest thing since Margaret Atwood, yo!) Mission Child is far and away my favorite of the bunch.

I had completely forgotten that the short-story collection "Mothers and Other Monsters," which I'd read this summer, was by the same author. So it was a surprise to begin reading this and think..."Hey, this seems awfully familiar." Apparently, this book had its start in one of the short stories--though I forget the title--with only a few slight differences that I could see. It was nice, to see where this character I'd met, briefly, months ago, would go and what she would become. Though I can see ...more
Eleanor R
Dec 24, 2011 Eleanor R rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just spent the day reading this, and while it's not tightly plotted, there was obviously something about it that compelled me to keep reading. McHugh's worlds feel real, as do the people in them, and the characters in Mission Child are no exception. The world is like the opposite of a Planet of Hats, in that McHugh remembers that even characters from similar cultural backgrounds might not speak the same language, and Jan/Janna passes through a number of other locations that are as alien to her ...more
Apr 03, 2010 Andreas rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scifi
First of all: This book is not scifi. Any elements about the future, science, etc. don't influence the story _at all_. You could put the same story in medieval england, nothing would change.

Second: This book is not about a spiritual odyssee. It's rather about a lost person who's not too smart and doesn't know what to do with his/her life. Nothing spiritual about that.

Third: This book is not about a stirring adventure. The main character never shows any initiative, it's like watching a ball in th
"I can't," I said, but I let him make up my mind for me.

So, that happens on like the second page of the book, and it shows you where Janna starts off as a person - but where does she end up? Well that's the fun part. "Fun" is relative.

I think I get what McHugh is interested in, now (or what she was interested in in the early 90s) - and I dig it. But if you didn't dig it, I wonder if you might find her books a bit redundant. There is a lot of similarity with China Mountain Zhang here, and I found
Jul 27, 2011 Juggleandhope rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Developing an already powerful short story from "Mothers ..." this novel made me feel some of the disorientation and lostness of refugees and indigenous people who have suffered huge trauma. The gender re-orientations (familiar from McHugh) serve as a second major plot thread to the refugee survival theme.

McHugh's focus on social justice stories, the lived experience of her diverse characters, and gender plus her perceptiveness and clear writing seem to me to make her a welcome addition to Ursu
Sep 17, 2016 Emile rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First a heads up: this is a pretty intense book; lots of really grim war death and destruction and accompanying sexual and emotional violence, with a point of view character one doesn't usually get in books covering those sort of events. It reminds me of the best anthropological writing I have read ("The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" for instance) in its ability to put you in the position of someone with a radically different view of the world.
Jul 17, 2015 Sandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved the writing style, which is deceptively simple: short sentences, clear narration of events in Janna/Jan's life. Jan doesn't exactly use the same language we do, but seems to be gender-queer: neither man nor woman, and both man and woman. Jan sometimes lives as a man, and sometimes lives as a woman, traveling through different cultures on their planet, trying to survive and find a place to fit in. Here is a portrait of someone on the margins of society, who sees things so clearly.
Steven Cole
I bought this book as it was one of the novels nominated for the 2000 Nebula awards.

Essentially, this is the story of a woman's journey from roughly teen age to late adulthood, exploring the definitions of self and home.

Unfortunately, this isn't the kind of story that gets me interested. Disaster after disaster strikes the main character, and then, right at the end, she has a bit of personal growth. Bah. Not my cup of tea.
Wait, I read this. Within the past ... two years? But it's not on here? And I can't even remember when I read it? I'm getting senile.

Social justice scifi, colonialism, gender fluidity, poverty, industrialization: Ms. McHugh knows how to hit all my buttons at once. Though China Mountain Zhang remains far and away my favorite of hers.
Jan 19, 2013 Phil rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quick read and worthwhile. Janna survives war, the loss of a child and husband. Will she find peace and solace again? Her wanderings teach her new things about herself and the world she lives in. Naturally as a woman alone, she dresses as a man and then comes to find she likes herself that way. While the (happy?) ending was a bit subtle for me the richness of the main character and the world makes up for any lack.
Dec 21, 2012 Ralph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Elegant. Flawed. Moving. Fun. Like a cover version of THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, but more naturalistic and personal. A bit thin in places though, especially the latter sections. McHugh is a great writer and I wish she would publish more, but this is not her best work. It was good enough, though, to inspire me to re-read her other novels--to give you an idea of the scale I'm grading on.
Joe Slavinsky
Glowing reviews on the jacket, but I was less than impressed. The details and descriptions had me feeling like I was right in the novel. The plot line was weak, however. Two-thirds of the way through the book, I was bored, because the protagonist had just wandered aimlessly, following the course of least resistance. The book ended without any real resolution of the main character's ambiguity.
Jan 25, 2011 Alexandra marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Could not connect to or care about the characters. The action was too slow to make up for this, and the world was not an especially interesting one either. I flicked to the end and can see that McHugh was doing interesting things, especially with notions of gender, but the story just didn't work for me.
Apr 08, 2010 Fred rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book does some interesting things, but that's not to say it does all of them well, or that they're all exciting things. At nearly 400 pages, the book feels much too long and a little too episodic, even by Maureen McHugh's standards. (I'm a big fan, but this was easily my least favorite of her novels.)
Big Shell
Jan 16, 2012 Big Shell rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It has some intersting world building, but ultimately was let down by that the author seemed to think that she both could write decent characters and she has substantial understanding of Chinese language, culture and what it's like to be a new comer. she knew none of that. it shows.

it's a proof that I can finish any books if I were sick enough and bored enough. Never again.
Mar 10, 2015 Craig rated it really liked it
This is a very challenging, thought-provoking novel. It's a science fiction book, but the sf trappings don't have any real impact on the story. It's a sociological exploration, much more slowly paced than McHugh's other novels, without a strong protagonist. It's quite different from the kind of thing I usually search for, but is well worth picking up.
Jul 28, 2013 martha rated it really liked it
Shelves: genre, 2013
I thought this was a book about scifi but it turned out to be a book about international development and colonialism which was awesome because THAT'S MY OTHER FAVORITE THING to read about. Also had some great/interesting treatment of gender issues.

Kelly, the first third of this book felt like the short story, but then it switched and felt a LOT like China Mountain Zhang thematically.
Apr 21, 2015 Becky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
4.5 stars really. McHugh has such a gift for telling naturalistic, character-driven stories that are nevertheless intense and dramatic. Her books teach me so much about how to write SF.

Jan(na)'s story of loss and self-discovery on a colony world doesn't have a tidy plot or global stakes, but it is so memorable and rewarding—a study of character and culture in the tradition of Ursula K. Le Guin.
Annie Tucker
Frankly, a disappointment. I am a huge fan of McHugh, but the format of the book, which changed settings every couple of chapters, made the narrative feel unsatisfying, merely shifting rather than growing more complex or resolving. I read an earlier version of the same story in a short story collection; what she did there was better.
May 23, 2007 Zab rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most science fiction doesn't really deal with the messiness, power dynamics, and personal loss as well as excitement that are likely to happen when one culture interacts with another one (depite the many examples we have of that happening in real life). This book does, with quietly powerful prose. It's like escapism grew up, majored in anthropology, and wrote a plaintative tell-all memoir.
Felt like a The Clan of the Cave Bear-wannabe. Weaker main character than Ayla, though. I could not relate to her nor sympathize with her decisions.
May 02, 2011 Ally rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This isn't McHugh's best book, but it's still head-and-shoulders above everything, and ought to be taught in high school. McHugh is so amazing, even on her off days, she's scribing classics of literature.
Jul 29, 2015 Fran rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this book years ago and think of it every so often. Haunting for its exploration of an average person exposed to one upheaval after another. A well told story with the parts that are left out being just as important as events and feelings that are called out.
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Maureen F. McHugh (born 1959) is a science fiction and fantasy writer.

Her first published story appeared in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine in 1989. Since then, she has written four novels and over twenty short stories. Her first novel, China Mountain Zhang (1992), was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula Award, and won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. In 1996 she won a Hugo Award for h
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