Restoree is the tale of Sara, a girl escaping the drudgery of country life in order to study in New York, who gets swept up in a mass alien abduction by a race intent on, essentially, restocking their larder. She witnesses all sorts of horrific sights in what amounts to a human abattoir which sends her into deep shock. When she recovers her sense of self, she finds herself on what she knows to be an alien (albeit populated with very human humanoid aliens) world in a skin that is not the one she remembers. She is one of a number of pretty female attendants in a strange asylum whose job it is to care for catatonically insane men. She quickly realises that her charge, a man named Harlan, has been drugged into this state and uses her wits to free him. Harlan was the Regent for the underage Warlord (and also his nephew) of the planet, Lothar, which is frequently attacked by the same aliens who kidnapped Sara- the Mil. What follows is a race to have Harlan restored as Regent in order to save the Warlord and Lothar from the machinations and greed of the usurper before his actions destroy them all.
This was Anne McCaffrey’s first book, first published in 1967, and it is well known amongst McCaffrey fans that she intended the book as a ‘jab’ against the way women were portrayed in 1960s sci-fi.
I have read this, and many other McCaffrey books many many times. My mother first introduced me to Anne McCaffrey when I was around 11 or 12 and Restoree has always been one of my favourites. It has a good premise, is an easy well-paced read, has elements of sci-fi, adventure, romance, horror and definitely fulfils the notion of a book taking you away to somewhere new. For the younger me it was exciting and adventurous; the main character had been almost as bookish as I was and yet she ended up having an incredible adventure and was an active participant in a world- changing event! It was pure escapist fun, and had the added bonus of clearly being an example of a strong independent heroine- Anne McCaffrey had said so.
Which is where it falls down a bit upon rereading as an older and wiser 30-something. McCaffrey may have meant the book to be an indictment on the portrayal on women in science fiction as passive swooning crying bystanders to the action but actually, that’s kind of what Sara is. Yes, she uses her wits to free Harlan from his drugs, she sails and runs with him, she provides valuable information and is a key part of the political manoeuvres that follow, but digging a little deeper, her character is an example of the very thing McCaffrey was trying to protest against and she does actually swoon quite a lot! As the story continues, she becomes increasingly passive and spends a lot of time being reassured, patronised and used as a political tool by the men in the story. The only other female character of note is also conspicuous in her lack of real contribution to the story. Lothar is a society where women are ‘claimed’ and all the important political and military decisions are made by men. Women aren’t even considered for anything outside of traditional occupations, looking pretty and bearing children for the good of Lothar.
So, older me is slightly disappointed. Yes, it’s still adventurous, and yes, I would still dearly have loved there to be a sequel, and yes, it’s still a pretty decent read… but it isn’t what it claims to be.
Younger me gives Restoree an emphatic 5 bites and wants it to remain on record as one of her favourite books, opening the doors to more and more sci-fi reading.
Older me gives Restoree 2.5 bites and despairs ever so slightly at how women were viewed in the 1960s.
I think averages out to 3.75 bites which is a little too specific! So….