The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
Publisher: Del Rey
Date: February 12, 2013
Genre: Science Fiction / Romance
Rating: Outstanding Adventure
I did not imagine that The Best of All Possible Worlds would be one I couldn’t put down, but it was practically glued to my fingers for as long as it took me to finish it.
The story opens with the cataclysmic destruction of an alien planet, and is moved by the people’s search for a future and for the preservation/survival of their race and culture.
A group of Sadiri settlers (all male) arrive on Cygnus Beta, a planet made up of a hodgepodge of different humanoid species, a true mixing bowl. Sadiri are infamous for their sense of superiority (they have mastered using a greater percentage of their brains than any other species), and the potential for serious clashes between the two cultures arises. The mission of the Sadiri men is to find compatible females – namely, taSadiri – who are genetically linked to the Sadiri, with which to mate/marry/rebuild.
Dllenahkh is a Sadiri councillor who leads the search. He is partnered with a low-level government biotechnician named Grace Delarua, who narrates most of the story. They, along with a small team of experts, travel the world for a year to locate and present their plans for intercultural blending to various groups of taSadiri who have settled on Cygnus Beta in the past.
Dllenahkh is reserved, controlled, and intellectual, while Delarua is bubbly, funny, and energetic. I found her outlook on life incredibly captivating and often hilarious. In fact, I think one of the things that drew me in most was Delarua’s personality and narrative style.
One of the things the author does extraordinarily well is apply extremely diverse prose styles to Delarua’s and Dllenahkh’s narration. Each character is given a distinct, vivid voice, which is aptly portrayed in tone, pacing, and vocabulary.
I loved the slow build of the romance between the two main characters. Wow. It is so subtle and complete, and I loved that the courtship so exactly matched their personalities. As they navigate their cultural and personality differences, it becomes a true, affectionate and respectful, strong bonding based on understanding and consent.
But that’s not all! Two other things I want to highlight: The Universe, and the Anthropological approach.
Some may not appreciate the slow-moving, relatively uneventful plot. I was so engaged in the story and the characters and the cultures, I didn’t even notice. I loved discovering each colony that the main characters visited, and their different cultures and ways of living. None are perfect, some are strange, and some are bigoted. Each has a different social norm. The novel raises questions of boundaries, cultural incompatibilities, different moral compasses, and outside influence. When is it okay to intervene?
The Universe. Wow. I won’t go into detail, because it’s one of those things a reader should discover for him- or herself. It’s integral to the way the story just unfolded like an origami figure. However. I will say that I believe the novel may not actually be set in the future, time travel and space travel notwithstanding. For Earth is embargoed, and at one point the situation is explained to Delarua in such a way that it seems as though Terrans are not ready for interspecies interaction. Fascinating! I have so many questions about this, I would like to see them answered in another novel set in the same universe.
This book is about differences. It’s about survival. And it’s about the harmony that can result from a mix of peoples, cultures, and personalities. Of course, it’s also about travel (time, space, and planetary), adventure, and love.
Highly, highly recommended.
For a different approach to cultural and biological clashes, negotiations, and relationships, I would recommend C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series. Intense, thrilling, and laden with danger, a human negotiator manages interspecies relations with a culture based on assassination and retribution.
For a lighter take on interstellar cultural interactions (and manners!), definitely try Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden novels, beginning with The Dragon Variation. This series is also great for Austen lovers.