Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Best of All Possible Worlds - Karen Lord

Before I begin this review, I want to post what the back of the book synopsis had to say.

A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life but come to discover that in order to preserve their culture, they may have to change it forever.

Now a man and a woman from these two clashing societies must work together to save this vanishing race -- and end up uncovering ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. As their mission hangs in the balance, this unlikely team -- one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive -- just may find in each other their own destines … and a force that transcends all.

Doesn't that book sound awesome? Just like a good, ole' fashioned science fiction wonder. However, I feel whoever wrote that synopsis must also try their hand at selling cars because, while I can see (mostly) what each sentence is referring to, I would not call that a true representation of the book.

Worlds starts with the completely unpronounceable Dllenakh, who I will now refer to as D, a Sadiri (read Vulcan) on meditation vacation when he finds out that his planet was wiped out and only people who were off planet survived. Fast forward to a few months later and we're in first person for the rest of the book, the narrative force of Grace Delarua pulling us forward as D and some other men of his come to live on her colony. She ends up working with D and go on a scientific mission together (with others, of course) to find more people for them to repopulate with. They fall in love along the way.

I honestly don't even know where to start with this. I feel like it's not even a narrative so much as a group of short stories that have been laced together with a thin veil of a purpose. They don't even discover anything midway that could grow into a real driving reveal or that ancient mystery the synopsis promised me. Granted, I really enjoyed the ideas behind some of the short stories (the one where Grace kept losing days, her trip to see her sister) that I would have loved to be explored more but due to the nature of the narrative, they got wrapped up quickly and moved on from.

To be honest, for the first fifty or so pages, I had no idea Delarua was a woman. Since it's in first person, there aren't really any gender-specific terms involved and it's not until a Sadiri announces she's female that I even realized that. I think this speaks a little bit to what this book clearly kind of is: Abram's Star Trek fiction. Does that make it bad? Not necessarily. It did make it a bit hard to distinguish characteristics, however, since it kind of assumes you will follow along yourself. I felt like I never had a very clear idea of who D was. Grace talked a bit too much and D a bit too little.

The other thing that bugged me a bit was that Lord would cop out a bit with things she clearly didn't want to write. She'd just have Delarua wink and say "but you can read about what happened yourself" or something like that and ignore something that might have been important. I've used that cop out before so I recognize it when I see it. It's always disappointing.

This story is definitely more of a romance than a science fiction story. It focuses more on characters than plot but not in a good way. Lord had a lot of great ideas that she touched on and then lost focus with, from the possibility of domestic abuse through telepathy (interesting idea! explore it!) to a really fun and original creation myth that is just kind of tagged on at the end and moved on from. I want a story in this universe that really explores some of the interesting ideas and plays around with them, giving us the speculative side of this fiction.

The Best of All Possible Worlds is indeed a very interesting world, just unfortunately filled with boring people on boring trips.

The Best of All Possible Worlds is out now from Random House.

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