12 November 2014

Something New: A Review of The Best Of All Possible Worlds, Karen Lord

I read something new, something that I have yet to discover in science fiction, something that has left me befuddled. Never quite smitten with the labels which books are slotted into, even finding the nuances of genres somewhat intrusive, even arrogant, I try to minimize my review descriptors.  Who am I to proclaim something speculative, historical, militant, dystopian? The Best of All Possible Worlds does not quite fit into any science fiction type albeit being very sci-fi. How should I approach this review when so many words inaccurately describe it's uniqueness?

Karen Lord's second novel is difficult. A love story, encased within a tragic space operatic genocide staged all upon the homestead planet of Cygnus Beta. The book is reminiscent to an anthology, almost a therapeutical diary of one women's journey to love but at the very same time something much more. It dances upon the very idea of what a science fiction book should be. 

I can only speculate that having written your first book to high-acclaim, an author might struggle with their second novel, despairing somewhat in doubt and fear that all that was said about the first is a merely a one-hit-wonder. So could be the case with Redemption in Indigo, a raving success for this new author. And while I have not read Karen Lord's first book, nor in any way sure that she had such doubts, I feel it is unsuitable to compare the first book to her second, especially since it appears that the second is so very sci-fi and the first so very fantasy. 

I realize I am being vague but there is a subtle art to reviewing without divulging too much and jumping into the spoilers lake of doom. Reviews that are primarily plot synopses provide little pleasure and indeed, have me moving on not bothering to discover the opinion of the reviewer. Reviews that are plot-centric are for the eighth grade. And while I am thankfully, no longer locked in the despair of teenage junior drama, a little revelation is the perfect persuasive tool. I want you to not only read The Best of All Possible Worlds but draw conclusions, contribute to the debate and discover why I find it a frustratingly fascinating SF novel.

As mentioned, the drama plays out on the world of Cygnus Beta, an immigrant world, open to all looking for a planet to call home. The protagonist, Grace Delarue, is an assistant biotechnician assigned to work with a team of Sadiri, commissioned over a span of year to genetically trace their roots. The novel opens to the near genocide of the Sadiri and the complete destruction of their home planet. The Sadiri, a race of intellectuals who having mastered their psi abilities and manipulability of time and space are portrayed as the the altruistic political leaders of humanity. With the Sadiri reduced to mere 100s, their status in the universe is questioned with they themselves trying to maintain not just their cultural identity, but their very survival. Finding suitable partners to continue the species becomes an all important mission with Cygnus Beta being a mecca for ta'Sadiri, the genetically and hopefully sociologically compatible future mates who immigrated decades, even centuries in the past to this very planet.

There is a claim the novel is nothing more than a love story amongst bureaucrats. The Best of All Possible Worlds is far from that, delving into deep issues of immigration, of war, and of survival. Because the viewpoint is through the first-person narrative, it can appear simplified. This is not a fast-paced space drama. The story begins with the annihilation of a planet. Instead of concentrating on the sensationalism of that dramatic event, the story is the minutiae of daily life. I find this extremely interesting while tedious to read. I grew weary of Grace's world-view, wanting to pull away from her mundanity, wanting to explore the larger political theatre that was purposely veiled.  

Science Fiction loves the large scope. Maybe it takes a new author on the scene to shock us out of what is expected from a sci-fi novel, someone who reminds us what it really means to read science fiction. I want a book that will push the parameters of the genre, testing and questioning how I perceive humanity. The Best of All Possible Worlds is not a complete success, parts left me waning but it is worth your read. You wouldn't want to miss the next big thing would you?