The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

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“The bowl slipped. he snatched at it, but only deflected it so that struck on the side of the water jug and broke just in time to entangle his chasing fingers.”

The Best of All Possible Worlds is a story about loss, mourning, discovery, love, a little ‘mytho-poetic’, with a sprinkling of humour and new beginnings. Lord’s second novel begins with the destruction of Sadira, the home planet of a human race known as the Sadiri. The few survivors are left with the burden of starting over. Led by Dillenahkh (a name I never want to have to say out loud), a small group of Sadiri become refugees on another human planet, Cygna Beta.

The problem is that the majority of the survivors are men and they need suitable women to provide them with offspring that will still have their ‘psionic’ abilities intact. And so, with the help with the local Government, particularly a snarky civil servant by the name of Grace Delaura (also the protagonist and narrator for most of the tale) they embark on an anthropological road trip across the landscape, looking for suitable Cygnian cultures with the right biological make up.

Despite the SF guise, you can flip to any international news channel and see stories of entire cultures under threat by either natural disasters or genocide. In her Acknowledgements and References section she directly references the tsunami in 2004 in the Indian Ocean. Stories of cultures fractured like the broken bowl. The victims can only try their best to pick up their cultural fragments and try to stick it all back together.

As they sift through Cygna Beta’s cultural melting pot, the Cygnian and Sadiri explorers begin to realise that they are not as different from one another as they thought. Delaura’s precociousness and kindheartedness begins to chip away at the Vulcan-like stoic nature of the Sadiri.

For me Lord is an important writer because she is Caribbean writer who writes SF that has depth. There aren’t many Caribbean SF writers out there. During this years’ Boca Lit Festival, the Peepal Tree Press founder said that Caribbean writers have predilection towards literary fiction, what wasn’t said was that genre fiction is often seen as shallow and unimportant.

However, she vindicates Ray Bradbury when he told the Paris Review in an interview that science fiction is a genre of ideas, and shows that SF has the potential to tackle real issues. Her narrative repeatedly crashes against the shore of culture and identity; eroding and reshaping to show its malleability.

While I liked how the story shifted from the third person to the first, I wasn’t always convinced by Delaura as a narrator, and sometimes just saw her a a viewfinder or narrative tool to tell me about the other cultures and other characters.

I also thought thought that Lord’s use of language was a little clumsy at times, and as result some of the significant plot points fell a little flat. I think her writing in her first novel, Redemption in Indigo was stronger and more convincing.

All in all, it was an interesting story and I look forward to reading the sequel; The Galaxy Game.

Kwame

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