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.
By Una McCormack
NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.