Excerpt: We Who Are About To… by Joanna Russ

We are here to share some pretty sweet news with regards to Joanna Russ!

On May 8, Open Road Media published the ebook editions of The Female Man, And Chaos Died, and Picnic on Paradise—all of which were finalists for the Nebula Award—as well as The Two of Them and We Who Are About To…. making this the first time the fiction of radical feminist writer and academic Joanna Russ is available digitally!

And the covers are looking great too!

To celebrate the news, we are hosting an exclusive excerpt from We Who Are About To…, introduced by The Portalist:

The works of the late feminist sci-fi author Joanna Russ are now more accessible than ever before.

On May 8, Open Road Integrated Media published the first-ever digital editions of five novels by the feminist sci-fi writer, including The Female Man, Picnic on Paradise, And Chaos Died, The Two of Them, and We Who Are About To….

The latter novel, 1977’s We Who Are About To…, is a disarming work that displays Russ’ subversion of sexist sci-fi tropes. In her 1972 essay “What Can a Heroine Do? Or Why Women Can’t Write,” Russ criticized stories in which women “exist only in relation to the [male] protagonist,” and are not three-dimensional characters in their own right but rather “fantasies about what men want, hate or fear.”

But the woman at the center of We Who Are About To… isn’t an idealized creature created to compliment a male character’s development. Unlike many ‘lost in space’ adventure stories of the time, We Who Are About To… has a female protagonist — one who isn’t interested in trying to build a life on the extraterrestrial planet where she’s been wrecked.

Read an exclusive excerpt from the new digital edition below.

We Who Are About To…

About to die. And so on.

We’re all going to die.

The Sahara is your back yard, so’s the Pacific trench; die there and you won’t be lonely. On Earth you are never more than 13,000 miles from anywhere, which as the man said is a tough commute, but the rays of light from the scene of your death take little more than a tenth of a second to go … anywhere!

We’re nowhere.

We’ll die alone.

This is space travel. Imagine a flat world, a piece of paper, say, with two spots on it but very far apart. If you were a two-dimensional triangle, how would you get from one spot to the other? Walk? Too far. But fold the paper through the third dimension (ours) so that the spots match exactly—if you were a triangle you couldn’t see or feel this, of course—and you are at the proper place. We do this in the fourth. Don’t ask me how. Only you must be very, very careful, when you fold spacetime, not to sloosh the paper around or let it slide: then you end up not on the spot you wanted but God knows where, maybe entirely out of our galaxy, which is that dust you see in the sky on clear nights when you’re away from cities. The glittering breath of angels. Far, far from home. The light of our dying may not reach you for a thousand million years. That ordinary sun up there, a little hazy now at noon, that smeary spot.

We do not know where we are.

At dawn there was an intensely brilliant flash far, far under the horizon, and about an hour later the noise of the thing; I figured the way you do for thunderstorms, the lag between light and sound: one-hippopotamus, two-hippopotamus, three-hippopotamus, four-hippopotamus, five-hippopotamus—there’s your mile. Seven hundred miles. That’s over a thousand kilometers. In the event of mechanical dysfunction, the ship’s computer goes for the nearest “tagged” planet, i.e. where human life is supposed to be possible, then ejects the passenger compartment separately. Lays an egg, you might say. We won’t be visited without a distress call, however, now the colonization fever’s died down (didn’t take long, divide five billion people by twenty and the remainders start getting clubby again).

Goodbye ship, goodbye crew, goodbye medicine, goodbye books, goodbye freight, goodbye baggage, goodbye computer that could have sent back an instantaneous distress call along the coordinates we came through (provided it had. them, which I doubt), goodbye plodding laser signal, no faster than other light, that might have reached somewhere, sometime, this time, next time, never. You’ll get around to us in a couple of thousand years.

We’re a handful of persons in a metal bungalow: five women, three men, bedding, chemical toilet, simple tools, an even simpler pocket laboratory, freeze-dried food for six months, and a water-distiller with its own sealed powerpack, good for six months (and cast as a unit, unusable for anything else).

Goodbye, everybody.

At dawn I held hands with the other passengers, we all huddled together under that brilliant flash, although I hate them.

O God, I miss my music.

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