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The Undefeated

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The Undefeated follows Monica, an adventurer who made part of her fame and fortune by marrying a famous writer and part of it by becoming a journalist, as she goes back to the planet where she was born. The story is partially told through flashbacks to Monica’s childhood, which illuminate just why she was so interested in documenting the situation in conflict-torn areas. The Commonwealth was determined to annex other planets, forcing them into instability and then swooping in to “assist”, taking control and absorbing them into the Commonwealth. Monica’s home suffered just such an annexation, and in the process — well, I won’t give spoilers!

In addition to the theme of the Commonwealth’s aggressive annexations, there’s the issue of the jenjer: genetically modified people whose expensive modifications are paid for by people who then own them. Monica’s been surrounded by jenjer all her privileged life, and even travels with one now, but there’s something unsettling going on. Something coming.

I found the story a little slow, in that at times it was just a précis of Monica’s life — not so much showing us what happened as describing it at a remove. It would have had to be a whole novel to cover all the interesting stuff in Monica’s life, yes, but it did feel a little like we were skimming past stuff without really getting a chance to absorb it. ‘This happened, it meant this to Monica, then another thing happened.’

There are some great bits — the parts about Monica’s childhood work well, and her slow dawning of comprehension re: the jenjer. It was certainly an interesting read — I was never bored, or even frustrated exactly, but I felt like it could’ve been a lot more immediate and thus impactful.
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Published by on May 14, 2019

The Undefeated is a novella that imagines a future form of slavery and its consequences to those who feel entitled to enslave others. The story is largely a character study that hints at, but fails to explore fully, a couple of larger issues.

Monica Greatorex, a woman of inherited means, has at the age of 60 decided to return to Sienna, the world where she was born. Most people are fleeing the periphery, hoping that the core worlds will remain secure in an impending war, but she finds a ship that will take her, along with her jenjer, Gale. The prevailing fear is that “the enemy” is coming soon, seeking justice.

What is a jenjer? Who is the enemy? The two questions are not immediately answered, but characters drop hints suggesting that the questions are related. In the beginning, we know only that Monica’s companion Gale is a jenjer, that Gale is “high functioning,” and that he requires medication, the details of which Monica has never bothered to learn. At about the midway point, the reader will begin to discern at least partial answers to the two key questions. The reader also learns why the jenjer need medication. Una McCormack leaves it to the reader to fill in a wealth of other details, which is a bit troubling in science fiction, given that details are  central to the reader’s willingness to suspend disbelief.

The story flashes back to Monica’s childhood, when she saw a jenjer behaving as a free citizen — and the first time she saw how well an armed jenjer could defend herself. She also realizes for the first time “what it means to be alive because of another person’s whim” — a sensation with which jenjer live every day.

At some point after becoming an adult, Monica learns the truth about an incident that occurred in her childhood. The truth gives rise to realizations about larger truths concerning the desire for retribution that might be sparked by unfair treatment. Whether those lessons are good lessons — that is, whether retribution can really be equated with justice — is largely left unexplored.

The tone of The Undefeated is melancholy. Monica has seen a lot, was once famous for the reports she filed on the impact of the Commonwealth expansion on the poor and their children. In the beginning, it is not clear whether she will find a way off Sienna, now largely deserted, nor is it clear that she cares.

Monica is one of very few characters and the story is very personal, but as a lengthy character sketch, The Undefeated isn’t entirely satisfying. Monica is explored in some depth, but perhaps not in sufficient depth to make the reader care about the decision she makes as the story reaches its resolution.

The larger social issues surrounding that decision are underdeveloped. It is a bit late in the day to write science fiction with the theme of "slavery is bad" or "treating people unfairly will come back to bite you in the ass" unless those themes are developed in ways that readers haven't seen countless times. McCormack’s prose is polished and the novel’s background is interesting, but story would have benefitted from a stronger attempt at worldbuilding. I usually complain that writers should cut unnecessary words from their books, but this one would have been improved by adding enough words to give the story the substance it is missing.

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Aw dang, I got approved really close to the publication date and I wasn't able to finish this before it was archived. I really enjoyed what I read, though!
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This thought provoking novella addresses the consequences of slavery in a far future universe. The Interstellar Commonwealth is built on the backs of bonded jenjer, engineered for longevity - the expensive medication needed to support it eked out in return for their service.

The tale is told by influential investigative journalist, Monica Greatorex, from an aristocratic background on the planet Sienna. She moves back and forth between events in her childhood and the present day when she is in her 60s, and a wave of jenjer is moving closer, an unstoppable slave revolt.

This thought provoking novella, a kind of literary SF, will not be to everyone's taste, but I found it worth the read.
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The Undefeated is a novella, following war journalist Monica Greatorex. The story itself does not concern her time on the front lines, but begins when she’s in her 60s, visiting the near-abandoned planet of her youth. The defining moment of her life is revealed through her memories, as well as her struggle to reconcile how her privileged life contributed to the threat now heading towards humanity and its many colonized worlds. 
Despite the amount of backstory required to understand the universe Monica exists in, the novel does not dump exposition on us. In fact, we are given choice details about humanity’s place in the universe and the “jenjer” slave class as the story progresses. The way the information is parceled out is quite fun with a few interesting reveals. 

Despite being quite short, the novella packs in some interesting takes on outer world expansionism and the class effects of such. The reclamation of old abandoned earth by the wealthy was an intriguing detail. 

Yet, while I appreciated the non-heavy-handed, or at least roundabout, rumination on slavery, the jenjer situation required more explanation. How did a modern government allow for this? We’re given no indication how such treatment of human beings could pass legislation, especially given humanity’s history with slavery. Then again, certain rights you would think should be set in stone today are still contested in parts of the first world, let alone the rest of it. The slavery aspect would have been more poignant had we been given a history of how the jenjer’s rights were taken away or never created.

It was a beautifully written short novel. Monica was an interesting, rather sympathetic character despite her place of privilege. I enjoyed the way the novella interwove the themes and stories from the present to the past. It was well-executed and enthralling.
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The Undefeated 
by Una McCormack 
Sci Fi & Fantasy
Monica Greatorex, sixty years old, is rich without having tried to earn it, reporting on the world. From the planet Sienna, she travels the Commonwealth with Gale, one of the jenjer. Now she's retired, and she has returned to Sienna with Gale. Sienna is in ruins. The jenjer are coming. 

The jenjer, to live, had to have a medicine that kept them alive, However, one by one, the jenjer have acquired independence from this medicine and have liberating themselves and are returning for revenge and retribution.

Monica doesn't play much of a role except as passive observer. Maybe she represents the rich who benefited from slavery but now deserve to die. Strangely, despite this conviction, she hasn't given up Gale.

Because of her passive role and the conflict not being with her since she's decided to give it all up, she's not terribly dynamic and the opening is, therefore, sluggish.  If this description sounds intriguing and you don't slowness, start on chapter 1. If it's intriguing but you're balking at sluggishness, start on chapter 2. If you're unsure, start at the last scene in chapter 2 and read on. You can always return to the beginning if you like what you read.
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The Undefeated by Una McCormack is an interesting study on human nature, and the way we process the world around us. This was my first foray into Una McCormack’s writing, but I have to say that I’m impressed with her writing style.
	The Undefeated is a scientific novella, but one that explores so much more than the science at hand. It’s beautifully written, and manages to tell a lot in such a short amount of time.
The novella follows retired journalist Monica on her journey to the outer reaches of explored and habituated space. There’s a reason for her journey, even if she doesn’t fully understand the reason herself. But her compulsion to head out is strong, even as everyone else around her flees inward.
	Warnings: The Undefeated is a science fiction novel that covers both hardcore science fiction elements, as well as some very human elements. There’s mention of domestic abuse, but the details are fairly limited thankfully. There is an android race in the series as well, but they are owned and dependent on bonds and drugs to survive. It’s actually quite horrific if you think about it. 
	The Undefeated was a fascinating read. It was beautifully written, with a delicate understanding and an even more delicate way of handling the plot and prose. The tale seemed to just flow along as I read, and while it explored some very real and heavy subjects, it felt oddly relaxing.
	I really enjoyed this novella and Monica’s exploration into her past. It was not written in a way I would have expected, but I think that just made me like it all the more. Part of the reason I say this is because it doesn’t immediately start out looking like a deep dive into a person’s past. 
	Monica is an interesting character, with a very interesting past. She’s made some strange (and some would say selfish) decisions along the way, but she’s also done a lot of good in her time. The most interesting plot point, and really focus of the novella itself, was Monica’s childhood. 
	The novella explores misconceptions and buried memories that come with childhood. Using these elements as a way of obfuscating the full story, everything unfolded in a sort of organic manner. It was fascinating, and gave us a chance to know Monica even as we unraveled the truth that was happening around her.
	And of course then there was the whole jenjyr plot. It’s impossible not to be curious – and a bit horrified – by their nature. And when I say horrified I of course mean about the situation they’ve been put into. It’s a trope we’ve seen again and again in science fiction, yet this one felt oddly human. I really enjoyed the newer perspective.
	I really enjoyed The Undefeated, and can honestly say that I’m looking forward to seeing what the next story from Una McCormack will be.
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Takes a while to discover who the  jenjer are and how they work into the story.  This is a interesting novella that gives a both backstory and world building.  The ending might be a surprise.
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This is going to be a short review, since it is a short book. I mean goodness, I don't want to tell you everything, right? Right. So I am basically going to break it into two parts: The World, and The Characters. Because one was mostly a hit and one was rather a miss, and that sums up my feelings on this one. Let's do it! 

The World:

The world was really interesting, and I was eager to learn more about it. Our main character, Monica, is trying to get back to her childhood home at basically the end of humanity. An enemy is coming, threatening to wipe out whatever is left of humans. And apparently, they have the chops to do it. The concept of the jenjer, the modified humans who are enslaved and treated as "less than" is intriguing and I do wish we got more of their story. If I have one complaint about the world, it's that I'd want a bit more of it, but perhaps that's an unfair complaint for a novella, though it's more to say, I enjoyed this aspect.

The Characters:

I just felt nothing for Monica, and that basically is my biggest issue with this story. I wanted to understand where she's coming from, but to me she read rather unlikable. And that is okay I suppose, except when she is one of the only characters we encounter, it makes it hard to actually care if she survives the end of the human race. She doesn't seem to have a lot of sympathy for the jenjer, even though one is currently her companion. To be fair though, she doesn't seem to have much sympathy for anything, and seems quite apathetic about the end of humanity, too. 

Bottom Line: Certainly a cool world and concept, perhaps needing a bit more emotional pull to feel fully immersive.
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This sci-fi fantasy novel was a slow burn that reads like a diary. It is an enjoyable read, I just expected a different type of novel based on the publisher's blurb. I would definitely pick up book 2 if the tale continues as the foreboding over what comes next still lingers for me.
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The Undefeated is a novel that fails to live up to an interesting premise. I was excited to read about a “warrior of words” and “no holds barred” journalist – the blurb mentions front-line war zones, courageous exposés on corruption, scandal, et cetera. I came in expecting a thrilling space opera with excitement and action.

Unfortunately, that’s not the book I found myself reading. If you’re looking for a book that’s a bit slower and reads similarly to a succinct memoir, this might be a good choice. Personally, it didn’t scratch my itch for space opera, nor did I find it to be particularly engaging. Monica, the narrator, simply did not particularly interest me as a person – or least not as she was portrayed. The portions of her life which did intrigue me were given very little screen time.

While it’s not a bad book, per se, it’s nothing new or insightful. It’s merely a bit… bland. If we take a step away from the blurb and examine the content of the book itself, this would be a better description:

Humanity has both colonized the universe under the mantle of the Commonwealth government and discovered a way to give humans extra strength and longevity, but only with expensive medicine. This treatment is used on convicts to create a slave class, called the jenjer. The jenjer are essentially just normal humans narratively speaking, as we never actually see them use any of their abilities. Entirely off-screen, the jenjer have figured out a way to avoid the need for medicine and have formed an uprising. There are no jenjer point of view characters. The narrator, along with her jenjer slave, have traveled to her homeworld, where her slave leaves her and she decides she will wait there for the war to come. They do not do anything on Torello other than look at abandoned town she grew up in. There are no scenes whatsoever from the war itself, and she is certainly not on the “front lines” of anything.

Although ostensibly this is a book set in a time of war, this premise seems divorced from the primary plot arc. The main character, who is not a jenjer, only has her young life detailed out. We learn some about her adult life, but all of the genuinely interesting parts are glossed over. There are only a few short sentences about her career as a war zone journalist writing exposés on corruption and poverty. Mostly, we see the mundane aspects of her life. She’s not particularly sympathetic – when her mother was dying, she was mostly antsy to get away again. We don’t get to see many of her emotions, it’s very impersonal, and simply… not engaging. There is a bit of information regarding the process the Commonwealth used to destabilize existing worlds and take control of their governments, which I did enjoy in all fairness. However, toxic colonization is nothing new, and it was not a clever or new take on the subject.

Similarly, the novel doesn’t have a particularly interesting take on slavery. The narrator seems mostly okay with the jenjer being slaves, albeit with a few pangs of empathy – which is kind of screwed up. She’s quick to pat herself on the back for feeling even a little bad for their situation, but she’s certainly not harkening back to her early days and speaking out against the injustice she sees occurring or campaigning for jenjer emancipation.

“She saw few jenjer, of course, and was curious to see how people managed with that support absent. . . Gale [Monica’s jenjer slave] had also noticed their glaring absence and had attracted some thinly veiled hostility: sharp angry glances; the occasional muttered curse. On the surface he was unruffled, but she promised herself that they would not remain here very long, and even felt a little proud of her sensitivity.”

We don’t get to see the true day to day life of the jenjer pre-rebellion – but couldn’t we at least get some interesting points of view within the rebellion itself now that it’s happening? Or at least more information on the actual threat and how they’re organized? A little more information on how it built up? It was unsatisfying how little we knew about what is ostensibly the premise of the book and primary threat to the established government.

The writing style is clipped and distant. While this is an effective stylistic choice given that the narrator is a journalist, it’s not personally my cup of tea. It caused a novel that was already low on emotion and impact to become even moreso. The prose is minimal and doesn’t waste any words or time – if you enjoy reading NPR for the prose, this may be more up your alley. 

The Undefeated is a short novel at only 112 pages. I think that if this had been fleshed out to a 300-400 page book, it would have worked better. Including more detail about the main character’s career as a journalist (or better yet, having her act as a journalist during the upcoming jenjer war!), adding a jenjer point of view, and providing more information on the rebellion would have made this a more compelling story. As it is, the novel simply lacks both soul and substance.
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The Undefeated is smart, insightful storytelling, following a writer in her later years as she returns to her childhood home on a planet soon to be invaded. What starts as a bit of fond reminiscence becomes a story of oppression, detailing the everyday acceptance of slavery in the shared universal culture. We see how prejudices become deep-seated, how young children grow up believing in other people as property because that’s how it has always been. The cycle continues through generations until someone finally breaks it. McCormack shows us the last few moments before the storm, giving us the perspective of a woman who has spent her years reporting in the face of danger, telling the truth freely and admirably.

This is a deeply personal piece, showing us every part of the protagonist’s life, from good times to bad. We see her as a child, surrounded by wealth and privilege without understanding what that means. We see her as a young woman setting out on a wild adventure across the universe. We see her as a middle aged woman, traveling to the fight, writing with her heart and soul to tell the truth about the horrors of war. In the end, she’s right back where she started, sitting in a rusted lounge chair by a drained, crumbling pool, imaging what the end will be like. It’s a fascinating trajectory that’s so much more than a remarkable woman’s life story.

The book is a tragic, though brilliantly rendered, insight into how institutionalized oppression becomes the norm. The sight of a freed slave walking along the boardwalk and renting a hotel room is enough for the town to panic and send their boogeymen to take care of her. They can’t imagine a way of life where there are no slaves, where humans don’t hold the lives of the jenjer people in their hands. It’s a horrifying system that is on the verge of annihilation. There is no sadness to the impending overthrow of the galaxy by the oppressed. Our protagonist is excited to see the revolution begin, to witness freedom for those who should never have lost it. She remains the vigilant reporter until the very end.

I was also impressed by the commentary on pop society and the prevalence of fake, on-the-surface living. This is a wealthy woman who wants for nothing and she’s bored out of her mind at the absurdities found across most of the Commonwealth planets. Trillions of people mill about, working their little jobs, living their little lives, never experiencing anything beyond the creature comforts of their little corners. She’s an outsider in search of what’s real, making her the perfect protagonist at the end of the world.

Overall, The Undefeated is a brilliant read filled with enough insight to fuel days of discussions. You’ll find yourself admiring this powerful woman and yearning for the next bit of the story as the jenjer return to take what is rightfully theirs.

Review to be published on 5/15:
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The Undefeated is the story of Monica Greatorex, a famed journalist in a galaxy on the brink. As humanity flees to the Commonwealth and the Core, Monica goes against the tide. She finds herself on Sienna, the planet of her youth. In her hometown Monica delves deep into the past, dredging up memories and unearthing events she failed to understand as a child. They're coming, and Monica is prepared to bear witness.

This novella was short and sweet. The writing is brilliant, perfectly clipped and almost conversational. You get the very accurate sense of an old woman contemplating her past, her people, and the world as she thought she knew it. As Monica explores Torello, her empty hometown, we're treated to a flashback of her life there as a girl of twelve, to events that shake the world in ways she can't yet comprehend. But this understanding doesn't seem to change Monica. She isn't resigned or remorseful, so much as curious. A war is coming and Monica chooses to linger and watch its advance. 
The book is very layered in this way. It gives you a lot to think about. The world is purposefully vague and cryptic, reading exactly as if you were sitting to listen to a real person ponder their life and their choices. I enjoyed it a lot and I honestly think it would make a terrific audiobook!
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The Undefeated es una novela corta de ciencia ficción con una protagonista absoluta que en el ocaso de su vida vuelve a visitar los lugares de su infancia. Pero no es una historia sentimental y de hecho tiene un trasfondo reivindicativo que por desgracia se pierde por la languidez de los hechos narrados.

El viaje de la protagonista se aleja del centro de la Commonwealth, una confederación de planetas que parece estar bajo la amenaza de un enemigo poco claro. Al ir en contra de las mareas migratorias que buscan la seguridad de los mundos interiores, puede reflexionar sobre su pasado y su vida. Podría ser interesante saber qué le ha ocurrido a esta periodista y escritora, pero la verdad es que su relato tiene pocos alicientes, solo ver lo bien que se lo ha ido pasando de viaje en viaje disfrutando del privilegio de su fortuna heredada. 
La autora crea un tipo de personaje denominados jenjer que no define demasiado en un principio, pero que serán importantes en el desarrollos de la historia. El paralelismo de estos seres con los esclavos es tan evidente como un tanto zafio. Unidos a los humanos por contrato y dependientes de estos para conseguir las medicinas que les permiten seguir vivos, se consideran propiedad del humano correspondiente.
Y esto es prácticamente todo, porque el libro no da para más. Está escrito con una prosa fluida y es tan breve que se puede leer prácticamente de un tirón, pero realmente aporta muy poco al lector. Quizá si las reflexiones sobre la esclavitud hubieran estado un poco más afiladas o si la acción hubiera resultado más interesante el libro mejoraría, pero está lejos de ser una lectura recomendable. Me temo que pasará al olvido con gran velocidad por su poca sustancia.
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Una McCormack's science fiction novella was a thought-provoking surprise. Monica Greatorex, a famous journalist, is contemplating the six decades of her life, the condition of the world she grew up in, the changes that have taken place, the politics of the known worlds...and their repercussions.

She's traveled widely, reporting on wars, migration, and suffering, and now she is returning to the almost abandoned world that sheltered and cosseted her until she was twelve. 

As millions of refugees are fleeing to the Commonwealth and the Core, Monica heads the other way, despite knowing that "they are coming." She is accompanied by her jenjer Gale, a genetically modified human being, Monica has a one-way ticket to Sienna, and from there, she will go to Torello, her small hometown.

The jenjer are mentioned, but not truly explained. They are indentured servants, taken for granted, reliant on medication. Until the conclusion, they are kept quite vague. The technique works well--I was immediately curious, wanting more information, and subtly prepared for what would come. 

On Monica's arrival to her childhood planet and small hometown, her memories immediately surface, giving her more clarity, more detail of past circumstances, and more understanding of how the Commonwealth insured its own decline. The reflection on her childhood understanding of events has had a subconscious effect on her life that she only confronts and clearly comprehends at sixty. 

McCormack's understated approach to Monica's life refuses to give an overly emotional account of what will be the end of the worlds as Monica has known them. Monica the journalist is in action, not writing and recording, but prepared to bear witness.

The beginning is slow and cryptic, but as soon as Monica and Gale arrive in Torello, the story takes a curious and more intriguing turn as we view events through the eyes of twelve-year-old Monnie. 

I definitely want more of Una McCormack. 

Science Fiction/Contemporary relevance. May 14, 2019. Print length: 112 pages
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