Valerie's Reviews > Decision at Doona

Decision at Doona by Anne McCaffrey
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Jul 31, 12

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Ursula K LeGuin's works seldom fail to remind us that she comes from an anthropological background. McCaffery evidently did not.

For example, there's an assumption in this book that complex languages are inextricably related to advanced technology and 'civilized' societies. Anyone with a modicum of anthropological (or for that matter linguistic) training knows that many extremely complex languages are found in societies living a marginal life in hostile environments (tundra, deserts, etc.)

That said, it's an interesting story of the formation of peaceful alliances among people of different backgrounds, and well-written, to boot.

Rereading it, there are other problems. The assumption that no attempt would be made to save non-domesticated animals, for example. The assumption that only ruthless people would get government positions. The assumption that human(oid) populations would continue to grow unchecked. There's a pretty clear implication that McCaffery never sat down and actually READ anything by Darwin.

The attempt to create a biome for Doona/Rrala is interesting, but ultimately unrealistic. It would probably have paid McCaffery to read Haldane's essay 0n Being The Right Size. Spiders the size of 'dinner plates', for example, couldn't breathe properly, and would be subject to collapse of exoskeletal elements, unless there was some sort of reinforcement: but it's not possible to tell what those modifications might be, because they're never seen close to.

In general, it's very hard to develop a plausible biology for an alien world. Astrobiology is necessarily a difficult undertaking, because we have no real data. But there's too much tendency to assume that patterns on Earth would be duplicated in any world.

A good basic study would be to trace the effects of the formation of the Isthmus of Panama on the biological communities of South America. Although some South American animals moved north (the armadillo comes at once to mind), most movement was from north to south.

But why shouldn't Doona/Rrala have a lot of marsupials, for example? Placental mammals are generally regarded as superior, but there are problems with reproduction that marsupials are actually better at, truth be known.

As for other life (insects, amphibians, reptiles, etc), there's little evidence, and what there is I frankly don't believe. And what about oceanic life? Surely this planet is not without large bodies of water? I do think that there's a mistake in assuming that most large herbivores would be cervines: but it's a logical mistake for a contemporary European to make.

The story is generally a good one. I like the physical details of people who have never been subject to contact with large animals and physical exercise learning about sore muscles, sprains, lost toenails, etc. The botany is fairly interesting, as well. And most of the characters are well developed and likable.

One point that really wasn't developed was what kind of agriculture the Hrrubans use. It may be none, at present (there's no real discussion of how the humans learned agricultural practices, either). There's a discussion of an attempt to save husbanded animals, but no real discussion of attempts to preserve agricultural cultivars. The implication is that both societies have turned to algal and yeast-based foodstuffs, and no real discussion of how things like wheat were preserved.

I should say that I liked the recognition that crown forests have little or no undergrowth. The forest in question is a conifer-type forest, which raises another question. This generation of 'pampered' animals and plants won't go feral. But future generations might. What impact will this have on the native ecologies? It's argued that there have been extensive studies done, but the obvious gaps in the studies don't bode well. And plans to kill off apex predators are also ominous. If the surveyors didn't know of their existence, how can they adequately assess their importance to the ecosystems?
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Susan But I'm sure you saw her opera background? Less here than in many of her other books, but music and song (definately distinct in her worlds) are quite important to her.


message 2: by Valerie (new) - added it

Valerie I personally tend to distinguish quite firmly between music and song.

While I can stand (and even enjoy) some folk songs, etc, operatic songs are quite painful to me, and I tend to avoid them (as my mother is wont to say) like the purple plague.

With a few exceptions, that is, such as the Sesame Street versions, or Bugs Bunny. But those generally don't have as much of the screechingly high stuff.

Reminds me of a cartoon I sent a copy of to my mother. A woman shopping in a music store is looking in a section marked 'operatic highlights'. Right next to that is a section marked 'operatic draggy bits'.


Susan For some reason Elmer Fudd just pirouetted through my brain singing "I killed the rabbit" snicker


Catsalive Ummm. This is science FICTION, isn't it?


Susan Catsalive wrote: "Ummm. This is science FICTION, isn't it?"

More Science Fantasy, but yes... why? is it b/c Annie's background in music (esp opera) tends to bleed over into most of her fiction?


message 6: by Catsalive (last edited May 03, 2015 11:55PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Catsalive Susan wrote: "Catsalive wrote: "Ummm. This is science FICTION, isn't it?"

More Science Fantasy, but yes... why? is it b/c Annie's background in music (esp opera) tends to bleed over into most of her fiction?"

No. I was just commenting on the anthropological, astrobiological & Darwinian inaccuracies, in this entirely fictional world. In a universe that contains Hrrubans, it seems strange to want the spiders to be anatomically correct according to current earth standards.


message 7: by Valerie (new) - added it

Valerie It's true that life on Earth is an n of 1, since all living things on Earth are (as far as is known) of one lineage, although copiously branching, widening and narrowing--so that there is no linear relationship between (say) spiders and elephants.

But the standards we know are NOT 'current' only. Paleontology widens the scales significantly, as does exploration of what Cousteau called 'the third dimension(s)'.

But there is a distinction between contingent variation in an n of one and whether variations are plausible based on physical laws. For example, the notion that it's possible for there to be snakes big enough to swallow a horse is not only not consistent with life on Earth, it's also in violation of Haldane's essay 'On Being The Right Size'. There are PHYSICAL limitations on the possible size of various life forms--and if contradictions are introduced, it's necessary to EXPLAIN the variations.

By way of contrast, compare the 'strata beasts' in James White's Major Operation. The creatures are able to achieve large size by truly variant biologies.

Further, fiction is NOT independent of known reality. I understand Charlotte Bronte's protest 'We only suffer reality to SUGGEST, never to DICTATE." But there's a difference between introducing variations (not very strongly distinguished from northern hemisphere life on CONTEMPORARY Earth), and claiming (by implication, mostly) that such limited variations are universal.


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