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The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Novel Hardcover – February 12, 2013
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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Captain Kirk and I explored the final frontier when I was young, so I guess futuristic science fiction is a naturally-favored genre of mine. Add in time-travel twists, mysterious Caretakers who reach in and meddle at opportune, species-saving moments and yes, The Best of All Possible Worlds is aptly titled.
Is it a love story? Definitely, especially if readers expand their previous conceptions of love story to include ones that begin in the mind--curiosity and respect meet and meld as the two protagonists journey together. Two hands touch, and the world opens up.
Is it a science-fiction, adventure story? Yes. Grace is a linguist, chosen to work side-by-side with Dllenahkh, one of the few survivors of a terrible tragedy, one that wiped out most of his race, the Sadiri. Counselor Dllenahkh works with Grace and the rest of the team to find a pathway for the Sadiri to continue, somehow. Their journey across the planet, identifying other groups with bloodlines similar to his own, reveals much about the peoples they discover and the team themselves. Anthropology meets sci-fi, along with a hefty dose of mind powers that include telekenesis, emotional projection, mind reading and the like. What's not to like?
It is also a World Mythology, hinting answers to the age-old questions about higher beings who craft a future, paternalistic beings who reach out a helping hand--followed by a memory-wipe chaser.
Karen Lord's background as a Physics teacher is evident, not only in various teacher-student scenarios, but also in her scientific descriptions and reliance on math. One might assume, given the genre and the writer, that the science is heavy-handed, but that is not the case. Instead, her prose crafts images, even as she uses scientific terminology and practices that might otherwise overwhelm.
At moments, particularly when Grace addresses her audience directly--Dear Reader--this novel reminded me somewhat of Frankenstein, A Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelly. After all, each of the four human races--Sadiri, Ntshune, Zhinu and Terrans, each has been given different gifts to help the human race survive. Each race has the same creator, and in various ways, the races reveal the journey of self-discovery common to the Creature in Shelly's classic novel.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the story was the element of language. The Sadiri have ten ways to say "the right thing to do" and throughout the story I felt as if Ms. Lord was doing the same thing. We have Grace who effusively tells us, the Reader, everything in a manner similar to a bubbly friend. Then we have Dllenahkh who say things obliquely, shrouded in science, and who without saying the words showcases his love for Grace by simply living it. Language weaves, tells stories, and plays with point of view, so-- Whose story is this?
The foremost voice is Grace's, and so it is natural to assume that this is her story. But, it is not--at least not entirely. Time is noted before Dllenahkh's entries, always as "Zero hour plus...," indicating the importance of the end of Dllenahkh's world as he knew it--Zero Hour. And yes, the best of all possible worlds is the one the two of them discover, with each other, as they become best friends--soul mates if you wish. He finds his best possible world, as does she, and together they find it for the Sadiri. After all, the best possible world is the one we create for ourselves, letting go of presumption and assumption, to find what is "ours"--not just "yours" and "mine."
Reviews have made comparisons to Ursula K. LeGuinn, another author I love. I see the similarities in Karen Lord's exploration of different cultures and in the relatability of her characters. I absolutely loved Dllenahkh and Grace Delarua, the protagonist. Delarua's irreverent, down-to-earth personality sparkles throughout the book. Despite the driving tragedy of the destruction of the Sadiri homeworld and most of the population, the plot focuses on healing and moving forward, making it particularly uplifting.
Another reviewer compared this book to the works of Jane Austen, which was what ultimately made me press the Buy button. The similarity to Austen is in the delicacy of Dllenahkh's and Delarua's courtship. It's a delight reading about two very different people getting to know, respect and value each other. There's certainly an undercurrent of physical attraction, but it takes a back seat to the personal aspects of the relationship. I was tickled by Lord's nods to classic writers like Austen and Charlotte Bronte. Those were fun little Easter eggs to discover.
While the Sadiri borrow heavily from Star Trek's Vulcans (logical, telepathic, long-lived, physically stronger than ordinary humans), Delarua's empathic experience of them gives them much more depth and humanity. Though they express it little, the emotional lives of the Sadiri are as complex as any other human's.
If I have any complaint, it is only that I wish Lord had described the physical aspects of the characters earlier in the book. When Dllenahkh and Delarua are described more then halfway through and even at the very end, it was such a surprise that I went back to see if they'd been described earlier. They hadn't.
It's a fairly minor issue, but I have to add that the formatting of the Kindle version was nicely done. Often traditional publishers treat their e-books as an afterthought, the formatting blah at best and unreadable at worst. Someone took some care with this book.
The Best of All Possible Worlds might be a little bit of a genre-bender. Hardcore SF fans might be put off by the romantic aspect and romance readers might be unsatisfied with the low-key romance. But for me, the book was almost perfect, one for my "favorites" shelf.
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