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Mission Child

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  460 ratings  ·  51 reviews
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 sh
Paperback, 370 pages
Published November 9th 1999 by Eos (first published 1998)
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3.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  460 ratings  ·  51 reviews

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Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, scifi, gender
‘Mission Child’ is a thoughtful sci-fi novel by the same author as China Mountain Zhang, which I thought was brilliant. Despite a similar structure and themes, I didn’t find it quite as original and profound. China Mountain Zhang was McHugh’s first novel, impressively enough. ‘Mission Child’ also follows the struggles and dilemmas of daily life in a future world, rather than focusing on some grand world-saving plot. Rather than using multiple points of view, though, ‘Mission Child’ has just one: ...more
Oct 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.

Jul 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.

Edit to sa
Jun 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Tim Gray
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent example of what good science fiction can be; thought provoking, real, and offering insight into the human soul and condition.
Don't expect any spaceship battles or killer robots though (I like them to) this is not that kind of science fiction. It's gentle, clever and thought provoking. It reminded me slightly of some Japanese fiction I've read. Go ahead and immerse yourself in this familiar, yet alien, world.
Sep 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 01, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
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 rated it really liked it
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
"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 rated it really liked it
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
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 19, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
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.
Mar 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ralph Palm
Dec 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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.
Apr 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, 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.
Jamie Collins
Jun 18, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Fredrick Danysh
Jul 22, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
On an icy world when mankind has forgotten its history lives fourteen year old Janna. Then aliens from Earth land changing the way of life for the natives.
Charls Reyes
May 14, 2015 rated it liked it
The very first novel I finished. Can't say I like it because It took me more than two years to actually try and reread it again but fortunately I managed to finish the book and the rest is history...
Apr 14, 2008 rated it liked it
An interesting story of colonialism, mixed with cultural and gender identity.
Aug 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: f-sf
Surprisingly gripping for all the distance of the prose
Norman Howe
May 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
This SF novel is a scathing indictment of colonial policies.
May 08, 2010 rated it liked it
This author is really good at imagining complex and detailed worlds. Some of her plots are pretty aimless though, like this one.
Sep 09, 2008 rated it liked it
I continue to like her short stories much more than her novels. This one was ok, but kind of went nowhere and didn't have much point.
Nov 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
This book so reads like one of Ursula LeGuin's Hainish novels, that I wonder if that was intentional. As much as I enjoy LeGuin, and thus this book - it was just a little less original than I was expecting. But I suppose CHINA MOUNTAIN ZHANG and NEKROPOLIS set a pretty high standard.

The thing I most enjoyed was seeing the world through Janna's eyes, as she moves ever further from home and up the cultural ladder. With every new level she reaches, you see only what she sees as an outsider, and the
Mark Argent
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-read
i re-read Mission Child and i'm not really ready to talk about it. i'm not even sure there's that much to talk about. i had forgotten how deeply this book and its portrayals of gender and spirituality affected me as a young adult.

"Inside I didn't feel like a woman or a man, I only felt like myself." deeply traumatized and buffeted by events, Jan's struggles with gender and their calling, spiritual and otherwise, resonate strongly with me as a nonbinary trans person. readers hoping for a proactiv
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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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