Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life but come to discover that in order to preserve their culture, they may have to change it forever.
Now a man and a woman from these two clashing societies must work together to save this vanishing race—and end up uncovering ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. As their mission hangs in the balance, this unlikely team—one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive—just may find in each other their own destinies . . . and a force that transcends all.
Thoughts: Karen Lord’s anthropological sci-fi certainly seems to be very highly rated by reviewers, and for my part, I’m not completely sure why. The book isn’t a bad one by any strength of the imagination. It contains a lot of thought-provoking material, a few interesting characters, and has some interesting exploration of various cultures spread across an alien world. But it was also fairly slow-going, I felt distant from nearly all of the characters, and it largely seemed to lack a point or an end goal.
Open-ended cultural explorations can be a lot of fun, and the amateur anthropologist in me enjoyed the chance to look into the lives and cultures of so many different races of non-human, seeing how they interacted and what made them tick and how they thought and understood the world. Lord definitely shows some good imagination and an eye for detail where this was concerned. But the vast majority of the book can be summed up by jokingly saying, “Sorry, Mario, but your princess is in another castle.” Only replace Mario’s name with Dllenahkh, and the princess is compatible genetic material to keep the Sadiri race alive after their planet was destroyed. Very interesting premise, but the book was told in episodic leaps and bounds, jumping from one culture and place to another as the party seeks breeding partners for the last few Sadiri remaining, so that their lineage remains as pure as possible under the circumstances.
It felt similar, in many ways, to filler episodes in TV shows. But when over half the book felt like a succession of filler episodes, it seemed less like a cohesive story and more like a literary exploration of culture, a similar-themed collection of short stories where very little actually happens.
I can attribute the distant narrative tone to the role of the narrator herself. Grace, as an observer to the mission, recorded events with detachment, not getting too close to what her job had trained her to not get too close to. Accurate, and conveyed well, but it’s the sort of thing that worked better in hindsight than when actually sitting and reading the book. That style of narration and observation made it very difficult for me to connect to any of the characters, and while intellectually I could comprehend their urgency and distress, there was no empathy.
Provided you go into this book with certain expectations, The Best of All Possible Worlds might well be something that works for you. It fell short of my expectations, however, and while I can’t deny Lord’s talent with writing and her evident creativity, I ended up not really enjoying this book as much as I wanted, and found myself continually disappointed with it. Interesting as a literary experiment, not so great as a singular cohesive story.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)