Wednesday, January 6

Uncharted Territory – Connie Willis

Explorers Finriddy, our narrator, and Carson are surveying Boohte, a scrubby and inhospitable planet. Their only human companions are loaners – annoying newbies who rotate in and out, causing more trouble than they’re worth – and CJ, a blonde bombshell who stays at base camp channeling footage and audio back to earth while trying in vain to get the loaners to name something after her. However, in response to the imperialist colonisations of the past, the explorers’ actions are heavily regulated – they must use indigenous terms for flora, fauna and natural features, and where the indigenes have no terms they may only use descriptives. There are also heavy fines for actions that impact on the planet or the indigenous inhabitants, fines allocated and collected by Bult, their native scout, who’s adept at creating fines out of almost every action Fin and Carson take.
When loaner Evelyn, a socioexozoologist specialising in sex and mating behaviour, joins the explorers he changes the tenor of group dynamics, and reveals that the pairs’ exploits are the subject of a popular pop-up (3D video) series back home.
A slender volume in comparison with Willis’s more well known novels, Uncharted Territory is correspondingly more straight forward and less densely plotted, but thoroughly accessible and sprinkled with deft humorous touches, predominantly relating to Bult and fine giving, and human interactions, all framed by mating behaviour, human and animal. - Alex

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