February 2013

An otherworldly romance

By Karen Lord
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Karen Lord’s new book, The Best of All Possible Worlds, is a strange creature. On one hand, it’s unmistakably a piece of science fiction. Lord has crafted a rich, coherent, consistent universe filled with off-world colonies, alien races and the bureaucracies that exist to serve them. There are fantastic abilities; mysterious, long-absent progenitors; and a crisis brought on by attempted genocide. Yet, if a genre work can be said to leave a specific taste in one’s mouth when finished, then The Best of All Possible Worlds also includes the flavor of romance.

Most of the book takes place on Cygnus Beta, a “galactic hinterland for pioneers and refugees” on which Grace Delarua, a self-professed language enthusiast, works as the second assistant to the chief biotechnician. Enter the Sadiri, the latest refugee population to come to Cygnus Beta. Facing the prospect of extinction—most of the remaining Sadiri are male—the stoic, mentally advanced race has sent a contingent, led by Dllenahkh, to gauge the genetic compatibility of groups of Sadiri-related settlers on the planet.

As Delarua, Dllenahkh and their team embark on an intra-planet tour of various outposts, Lord places the budding, subtle relationship between the two protagonists against the disparate backdrops of the places they visit—a story arc reminiscent of a condensed travel itinerary for the USS Enterprise and crew.

Usually, in a conflation of genres, one reigns supreme—this is especially true with science fiction and romance, two of the showier genres. Nonetheless, in The Best of All Possible Worlds, the two coexist in a harmony that’s unrelentingly understated. The result is a unique experience that’s equal parts Jane Austen and Ray Bradbury. Lord’s latest may not be the best of all possible works of sci-fi or romance to come out this year—but it’s more than satisfying.

Read an interview with Karen Lord about The Best of All Possible Worlds.

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