Elizabeth Moon has been writing both Science Fiction and Fantasy since the mid-80s. Many of her novels draw on her military experience (three years of active duty in the US Marine Corps) and her degrees in biology and cultural anthropology. She has been nominated for a number of top Sci-Fi awards including the Hugos and Arthur C Clarke Awards, and has won the Nebula and Robert A. Heinlein Awards.
I first discovered Elizabeth Moon in the 90s when I was given a copy of her stand-alone novel Remnant Population as part of a book exchange. It follows the fate of Ofelia, an elderly woman who decides to remain behind by herself when her small group of colonists is forcibly relocated to another planet. She enjoys her self-sufficiency and independence, but when the native inhabitants of the planet come to investigate, Ofelia finds herself at the forefront of a First Contact scenario. Although the SMSA library doesn’t have this particular book, it is a fantastic and absorbing read and was nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel in 1997.
I then went on to read Moon’s Serrano (AKA Familias Regnant) and Vatta’s War series. These are both Space Operas that feature strong women protagonists — not in the ‘sexy catsuit-wearing martial arts expert in space’ sense, mind you, but as complex and fully-realised characters who have been thrown into hostile situations for which they are totally unprepared.
For instance, in Trading in Danger, the first book in the Vatta’s War series, Kylara Vatta returns home in disgrace after being expelled from military academy. Ky’s wealthy family run Vatta Enterprises, a shipping company, and to keep her out of trouble Ky is given what should be an easy task: to captain a decrepit freight ship on its final journey to the scrap heap. On the way, however, her ship is captured and boarded by what appear to be pirates. Not only that, but the ansible network for long-distance space communication is down, and Ky finds her ship and crew stuck in the middle of a fierce interstellar war. Moving Target (AKA Marque & Reprisal), Engaging the Enemy, Command Decision and Victory Conditions continue the series, with the final volume Cold Welcome due out in 2017.
Although the Library doesn’t have the first few volumes of the Serrano series with Heris Serrano as the main character, don’t fear! The latter books, Once A Hero, Rules of Engagement (both also in the omnibus The Serrano Connection), Change of Command and Against the Odds can be enjoyed without reading the previous volumes in the series. These novels follow Esmay Suiza, a young Lieutenant who must face the career-breaking consequences of leading a necessary mutiny against her traitorous Captain — in the middle of a decisive space battle, no less.
Moon, however, is a versatile author, and is equally at home with Fantasy as she is with Space Opera.
Moon’s first fantasy novels (Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, Divided Allegiance and Oath of Gold) are brought together in the omnibus collection The Deed of Paksenarrion that covers the adventures and misadventures of Paks, a farmer’s daughter who runs away from an arranged marriage to become a warrior. In the prologue, we learn that Paks’ achievements are remembered in song. Her estranged family reacts with a curious mixture of pride and regret when they are presented with Paks’ sword, a weapon that seems to glow in certain lights. Although this might seem like very standard Sword and Sorcery fare, don’t be fooled. Paks’ story is enthralling and Moon imbues the heroic narrative arc with originality and warmth.
If you can’t get enough of Paks’ world after reading this series, look out for the Legacy of Gird omnibus containing two prequel novels () and the Paladin’s Legacy series which follows on from the events in Oath of Gold. The Library has one only book in this series thus far: Kings of the North.
Lastly, I need to give a special mention to Speed of Dark, a highly original stand-alone novel set in the near future. The entire book is written from the perspective of Lou Arrendale, a man on the autism spectrum (Moon’s research into the experience of being autistic involved extensive involvement with the ‘Autie’ community, both online and in person). Lou’s job as a bioinformation specialist requires highly-developed pattern recognition skills, and the company he works for employs a number of other autistic people in the same role, incorporating visual, audio, tactile and kinesthetic accommodations in the workplace. This changes, however, when the company attempts to force its employees to undergo an experimental treatment to “cure” their autism. One by one, Lou’s friends give in to the pressure to become neurotypical, and he is left questioning what it would mean to lose how he perceives the world, and would he be still be himself if he did. Speed of Dark examines this controversial topic concerning disability, identity and medical ethics with sensitivity and intelligence. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 2003.
Whether you are a Fantasy lover or a Sci Fi fan, Elizabeth Moon’s writing is gripping and richly imagined. You won’t regret picking up one of her books.