The Best of All Possible Worlds is Karen Lord’s second novel and her first science fiction novel. Her debut, the fantasy novel Redemption in Indigo, was nominated for the World Fantasy Award and received the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature, the William L. Crawford Award, and the Frank Collymore Literary Award. The Galaxy Game, her third novel and a sequel to The Best of All Possible Worlds, is scheduled for release in March 2014.
With only six days left before returning home from his annual retreat, Dllenahkh learns the news that he no longer has a home to return to. The planet Sadira was destroyed, and the only survivors are those who were off-planet at the time like Dllenahkh—mostly men, presenting a challenge to the continuation of the Sadiri people who do remain.
Dllenahkh and other Sadiri seek a new beginning on the planet Cygnus Beta, home to a mix of people including the taSadiri, descendants of those who left Sadira long ago, and others descended from those with psionic abilities like the Sadiri. While opinion is divided on how to proceed after the near extinction of their people, some Sadiri believe that finding taSadiri with a high percentage of their genes and marrying some of the women is a good option. When it is decided that there should be a team sent to specific regions to look for taSadiri and see if there is any potential for joining with them, Dllenahkh arranges to have Delarua, a biotechnician he was been working with since arriving on Cygnus Beta with an impressive knowledge of languages and an insightful mind, accompany them on their mission. A team comprised of both Sadiri and some locals from Cygnus Beta set out on a search for the taSadiri.
The Best of All Possible Worlds is a unique book: even though it starts with the destruction of a planet and most of its people, the novel is not about conflict between the two peoples or getting vengeance against the aggressors. In fact, the aggressors are hardly mentioned at all other than some brief speculation on why they targeted the Sadiri and a brief discussion about the consequences of their actions toward the beginning of the story. The Best of All Possible Worlds is a novel focused the aftermath of the attack—how the Sadiri move forward and the people brought together on Cygnus Beta in pursuit of the common goal of helping the Sadiri to do just this.
While it is largely about moving forward—visiting settlements to find taSadiri who still had a high percentage of Sadiri genetics—that’s not to say it ignores the emotional turmoil of the situation for the Sadiri. The Sadiri are not a people given to being open about their emotions, but as Delarua observes they do have them contrary to what many may believe about such reserved people, and there are some heartbreaking discussions about what the destruction of most of their people means for the Sadiri. I particularly appreciated how Lord showed the difficulty of the situation they were in. The practical side of repopulating the universe with Sadiri could seem rather callous for those involved, but at the same time, it’s easy to understand that the Sadiri are facing near extinction and want to do all they can to survive as a people. For instance, this is Delarua’s response when Dllenahkh informs her that the Science Council of New Sadira is making it a priority to breed females who may become future wives to the long-lived Sadiri:
But how distressing and strange to spend decades on some kind of genetic backroom shelf waiting one’s turn to clinically contribute to the species!
I said something of the sort to Dllenahkh. He let me know my views were inappropriate. I shut up. [pp. 17]
In this instance, I understood where both Delarua and Dllenahkh were coming from, and I always appreciate being able to understand why two characters who view things differently hold the perspectives they do.
It is a heartwrenching subject and there are certainly emotionally charged discussions and scenes. However, I do not want to give the impression that The Best of All Possible Worlds is a gloomy and depressing book because that is not the case at all! In fact, it’s often quite an uplifting book, mainly because of Delarua’s narrative voice. There are a few brief scenes told from the third person point of view of Dllenahkh, but most of the book is relayed directly through Delarua’s eyes and she is a boisterous, joyful person is a lot of FUN, both for the other characters to be around and for me as a reader being told her story firsthand. Unlike the Sadiri, she is outwardly emotional, and she is outspoken (as can be seen from the quoted passage above where she blurts out exactly what she’s thinking!). It’s so delightful to get to be in on her adventures, her career, and her relationships. Viewing events from her perspective, such as a festival at one settlement and encounters with the “Faerie Queen” at another matriarchal settlement, is purely entertaining. Delarua is just a great, likable character: she’s a compassionate and intelligent woman who faces some interesting developments over the course of the novel, such as her own empathic capabilities and an ethical dilemma as a biotechnician. I also enjoyed the love story that gradually unfolded for her. It’s not filled with angst and pathos but is a mature relationship that grows from a foundation of friendship and respect.
Despite the novel’s short length, there is a lot to take in with learning about the Sadiri and their culture, Cygnus Beta, the different human groups, psionic abilities and more, and Lord weaves it in without infodumping. Over the course of the book, more is also revealed about the universe and the origins of the four human groups that populate it (the Terrans, the Sadiri, the Ntshune, and the Zhinuvians). The Caretakers are said to have brought various people to Cygnus Beta, and I really hope the sequel builds on this and explores more about the Caretakers and the universe in general.
While I appreciated the fact that there was so much packed into this book, I did think it often passed over things and moved on a little too quickly. There is much to explore here, and it keeps going without stopping for reflection. There is so much here that is interesting that I’d love to know more about. Each taSadiri settlement got very little page time, and I really would have liked to learn more about each than what was shown instead of watching the characters jump from place to place. Yet the way it kept moving did mean that I was never once at any point bored!
The Best of All Possible Worlds is both entertaining and thoughtful. I admired how it showed the complexity of the situation the Sadiri were in, and I loved the character relationships and the slowly developing, relatively drama-free romance. The possibilities for the universe Lord has created are also quite intriguing, and I look forward to learning more about it in The Galaxy Game!
My Rating: 8/10
Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.