BY NICO VREELAND
Author: Karen Lord
2013, Ballantine Books
Filed under: Sci-fi
I think my sci-fi kick is officially over. I started reading this book after seeing a gushing post about it at io9, a preeminent sci-fi website. The post was titled “If you want to see what science fiction is capable of in 2013, you ought to pick up this book.” There are other bold claims in the piece (like “it’s a quick, fun read”), but the title is heart of the matter. If this is all science fiction is capable of these days, I don’t want any part of it.
In The Best of All Possible Worlds, there are four races of humans in the galaxy: Terrans, Ntshune, Sadiri, and Zhinuvians. The Sadiri are long-lived telepaths who have explored the universe with their “mindships”—they’re basically halfway between Vulcans and Elves. In fact, one Sadiri clan actually calls themselves Elves. It’s almost stupefyingly derivative, and the world-building is by far the best part of the novel.
The Terrans are humans as we think of them, the Zhinuvians or performers are something, and the Ntshune are… I don’t even know. Partially that’s because the utterly dry and life-devoid prose put me to sleep every time I started to read this book, and partially it’s because it doesn’t matter what the Ntshune are, because they have nothing to do with anything.
The inciting incident of the novel (I actually hesitate to call it a novel, more on that shortly), is a horrible act of genocide, committed by the Ainya against the Sadiri. Specifically, the Ainya blew up Sadira altogether. Which seems to have been a stupid decision, because the Sadiri and their semi-allies the Zhinuvians are the only ones with ships that can reach the Ain. So the Ainya are stranded wherever that planet is, and they literally don’t factor into the novel again, ever. Continue reading