The Best of All Possible Worlds

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Overview

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY BUZZFEED

Karen Lord’s debut novel, the multiple-award-winning Redemption in Indigo, announced the appearance of a major new talent—a strong, brilliantly innovative voice fusing Caribbean storytelling traditions and speculative fiction with subversive wit and incisive intellect. Compared by critics to such heavyweights as Nalo Hopkinson, China Miéville, and Ursula K. ...

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Overview

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY BUZZFEED

Karen Lord’s debut novel, the multiple-award-winning Redemption in Indigo, announced the appearance of a major new talent—a strong, brilliantly innovative voice fusing Caribbean storytelling traditions and speculative fiction with subversive wit and incisive intellect. Compared by critics to such heavyweights as Nalo Hopkinson, China Miéville, and Ursula K. Le Guin, Lord does indeed belong in such select company—yet, like them, she boldly blazes her own trail.
 
Now Lord returns with a second novel that exceeds the promise of her first. The Best of All Possible Worlds is a stunning science fiction epic that is also a beautifully wrought, deeply moving love story.
 
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.

Praise for The Best of All Possible Worlds
 
“An engrossing picaresque quest, a love story, and a moving character study . . . [Karen] Lord is on a par with Ursula K. Le Guin.”The Guardian
 
“[A] fascinating and thoughtful science fiction novel that examines] adaptation, social change, and human relationships. I’ve not read anything quite like it, which makes it that rare beast: a true original.”—Kate Elliott, author of the Crown of Stars series and The Spiritwalker Trilogy
 
“Reads like smooth jazz comfort food, deceptively familiar and easy going down, but subtly subversive . . . [puts] me in mind of Junot Díaz’s brilliant novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”—Nalo Hopkinson, Los Angeles Review of Books
 
“If you want to see science fiction doing something new and fascinating . . . then you shouldn’t sleep on The Best of All Possible Worlds.”—io9
 
“Rewarding science fiction for emotional grown-ups.”—Mysterious Galaxy
 
“[A] marvelously formed universe.”—The A.V. Club
 
“A rewarding, touching and often funny exploration of the forms and functions of human culture.”SFX
 
The Best of All Possible Worlds . . . poses an interesting question: What parts of you do you fight to preserve when everything you know suddenly changes?”—Associated Press

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Karen Lord's award-winning debut novel Redemption in Indigo earned her comparisons with Ursula K. Le Guin and China Miéville. Now, in The Best of All Possible Worlds, she presents a story about a pair of seemingly incompatible lovers in a world where humanoids and aliens struggle to forge an alliance to survive. A science fiction novel with literary crossover appeal. [SCANNED.

Publishers Weekly
05/19/2014
Mythopoeic Award winner Lord (Redemption in Indigo) dives into SF romance and produces an entertaining, optimistic novel. Only a few of the aloof but psychically gifted Sadiri survive the destruction of their homeworld. A number of their men arrive on the melting pot planet Cygnus Beta, hoping to find homes and wives and start rebuilding their population. When Grace Delarua is assigned to help Sadiri Councillor Dllenahkh survey local populations with relic Sadiri DNA for possible matchmaking, romance develops between the two despite many obstacles thrown their way. The book consciously references Bradbury's Martian Chronicles but feels closer to Star Trek in spirit, with a cheerful polyglot culture welcoming a race of emotionally reserved intellectuals. Delarua is a pleasant narrator, irrepressible in the face of what seems like impossible personal and professional challenges. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
“An engrossing picaresque quest, a love story, and a moving character study . . . [Karen] Lord is on a par with Ursula K. Le Guin.”The Guardian
 
“[A] fascinating and thoughtful science fiction novel that examines] adaptation, social change, and human relationships. I’ve not read anything quite like it, which makes it that rare beast: a true original.”—Kate Elliott, author of the Crown of Stars series and The Spiritwalker Trilogy
 
“Reads like smooth jazz comfort food, deceptively familiar and easy going down, but subtly subversive . . . [puts] me in mind of Junot Díaz’s brilliant novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”—Nalo Hopkinson, Los Angeles Review of Books
 
“If you want to see science fiction doing something new and fascinating . . . then you shouldn’t sleep on The Best of All Possible Worlds.”—io9
 
“Rewarding science fiction for emotional grown-ups.”—Mysterious Galaxy
 
“[A] marvelously formed universe.”—The A.V. Club

“A rewarding, touching and often funny exploration of the forms and functions of human culture.”SFX
 
The Best of All Possible Worlds . . . poses an interesting question: What parts of you do you fight to preserve when everything you know suddenly changes?”—Associated Press

The Barnes & Noble Review

Karen Lord's first book, Redemption in Indigo, racked up several literary prizes, heightening expectations for her second novel. Indigo was pure magic realism of a mixed Afro-Caribbean parentage. In an assured griot's voice that harked to such predecessors as Gabriel García Márquez, Moacyr Scliar, Jorge Amado, and Nalo Hopkinson, Lord told an entertainingly digressive tale centered around a rebellious wife named Paama. Fleeing her foolish glutton of a husband for her native village of Makende, Paama is gifted with the "Chaos Stick" by immortal spirits known as djombi. Meanwhile, the Indigo Lord of the supernatural world wants his potent talisman back. But, wearing human form, he mistakenly fixates on Paama's sister, Neila. The resulting fairy tale, a mix of quest and farce, is a calypso Pilgrim's Progress, with flavors of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Lord's telling of this tale blends the uncanny and the quotidian with grace. Her language is sparse and bucolic, while still radiating craft and poetry. Her nested tales shine with wry and exuberant bardic passion, exhibiting a joie de vivre and love of pure storytelling. Lord's focus on pre-technological fantasy motifs betrayed itself with one bit of science-fictional language, when the Chaos Stick was described as "a type of focus or control for the quantum fluctuations that determine whether a situation is Go or No Go?" This dalliance with the language of science fiction was a pointer to her second book, a hardcore SF adventure and love story bearing the allusively multiversal title The Best of All Possible Worlds. Yet her sophomore novel does not actually feature hopping from one continuum to another but rather fits squarely and proudly into a lineage of "anthropological SF."

Pioneered in the 1960s and 1970s by Jack Vance, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Michael Bishop and then extended by such authors as Joan Slonczewski, Nicola Griffith, C. J. Cherryh, and Sheri Tepper, among many others, anthropological SF delights in the deep and dense portrayal of odd cultures — human, alien, or both — and the oft-violent misunderstandings and accommodations between mainstream and fringe populations. The Best of All Possible Worlds follows this template precisely, but with vigor and freshness.

Several centuries from now, a galactic civilization formed of several cultures exists, including Terra, as its most junior. Its various races, while exhibiting some important somatic differences, seem quite capable of interbreeding, sharing common ancestors who were manipulated by an enigmatic Elder Race known as the Caretakers. Our narrator, Grace Delarua, works on the multicultural planet Cygnus Beta, as liaison to a group of refugees called the Sadiri, survivors of a terrible genocide on their homeworld. She is charged with helping their leader, Dllenahkh, uncover enclaves of a related people on Cygnus Beta, whose culture (and genetic material) may help revive the Sadiri. As they encounter both delightful oddities — including a community that deliberately models itself on fictional elves and fairies — and dangerous trials, Grace and Dllenahkh find themselves falling in love.

This intimate, sensitive, convention-defying romance — rare in science fiction — is conveyed delightfully by Grace's assured, insightful narrative, with a full tragicomic spectrum of emotions colorfully and artfully displayed. The affair, replete with intellect and passion, glories and gaucheries, is interwoven so beautifully with the expedition's surprising events that each thread enhances the other.

Additionally, this novel might very well be the ultimate Star Trek romance scenario. I was pointed in this direction by the nature of the Sadiri, who are in all but name Vulcans of the Spock variety.

"Of all the humans of the galaxy, we Sadiri have developed the greatest mental capacity," Dllenahkh contended. "We have realized our potential through use of the disciplines, which enable us to control our thoughts, emotions, and urges and improve our ability to process data. Without the disciplines we might still be powerful, but we would be rudderless."
Old-school Campbellian riffs further tally with Vulcan powers. And the hops on Cygnus Beta from one culture to another become analogous to the successive planet hopping of the Enterprise. Finally, Grace, with her "cedar-brown skin," stands in for Uhura, Spock's paramour in a recent Star Trek film. I do not intend to reduce this enchanting, picaresque book — which captures with artfulness the growth of mature love — to mere fan fiction. Yet certain evergreen SF motifs are here given new flesh thanks to Lord's potent skills.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, andThe San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345534057
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/12/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Lord has been a physics teacher, a diplomat, a part-time soldier, and an academic at various times and in various countries. She is now a writer and research consultant in Barbados. Her debut novel, Redemption in Indigo, won the Frank Collymore Literary Award, the William L. Crawford Award, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature, and was nominated for the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.
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Read an Excerpt

The Best of All Possible Worlds

A Novel
By Karen Lord

Del Rey

Copyright © 2013 Karen Lord
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780345534057

Before

He always set aside twelve days of his annual retreat to finish reports and studies, and that left twelve more for everything else. In earlier times, he had foolishly tried retreats within comm reach of his workplace, and that was not at all helpful. There would always be some crisis, something for which his help would be required. As his salary and sense increased, he took his retreats farther and farther away, until at last he found himself going off-­planet to distant temples where the rule of silence and solitude could not be broken by convenient technologies.

This season, he had chosen Gharvi, a place with small wooden buildings scattered around a huge temple of stone, all set within the rain shadow of a mountain range. An endless ocean, both vista and inspiration, ran parallel to the mountains, and a beach between the two offered long walks to nowhere on either side. A place of two deserts, some said, for sea and land were bleak together—­one boundless, one narrow, and both thirsty.

There was a place at home very like it, and that had probably influenced his choice, but the sky was unique. The atmosphere was the cloudy bluish lavender of a recently bioformed planet, and the sun was scorching bright. It was so unlike the cool, strong blues and gentle sunlight of his home world that for the first few days he kept his head down and his door closed till nightfall.

On the twelfth day, he took his handheld, replete with work well completed, and put it in the box outside his hermitage door. He cooked and ate his evening lentils, slept soundly through the night, and rose to prepare his morning porridge. There was a little water left over from the day before (he was ever frugal), but to have enough for washing he had to fetch the new day’s supply from the box. The young acolytes of the temple always put sufficient water and food into each hermit’s box before dawn. It was enough to stay clean, to fill the solar pot with porridge or pottage, and to sip and slake the constant thirst that was the natural consequence of dry air and silence. The acolytes would also take away his handheld and safely transmit its contents to his workplace.

But his handheld was still there.

He paused, confused by this disconnect in the seamless order of the temple’s routine. He stared at the untouched box. He looked up and frowned in puzzlement at the squat shape of the temple, vaguely visible through a haze of heat, blown sand, and sea spray.

Then he shrugged and went on with his day, a little dustier, a little thirstier, but convinced that an explanation would eventually be made manifest.

The following morning, well before dawn, the sound of the box lid closing woke him from a sleep made restless by dreams of dryness. He waited a bit, then went to bring in the supplies and drink deeply of the water. His handheld was gone, and a double ration of food sat in its place. He did not even peer into the darkness to catch sight of the tardy acolyte. Order had been restored.

“Dllenahkh, with your level of sensitivity and strength, you must go on retreat regularly.” So he had been told long ago by the guestmaster of his monastery. “You are constantly looking to set things to rights, even within yourself. A retreat will teach you again and again that you are neither indispensable nor self-sufficient.”

Put bluntly, learn to stop meddling. Commitment is important, detachment equally so. He congratulated himself on his developing ability to keep curiosity in check and spent the next few days in undisturbed meditation and reflection.

One day, after a long morning meditation, he felt thirsty and decided to get more water from his supply box. He stepped out with his glass drinking bowl in hand and set it on the edge of the box while he tilted the half lid and reached inside. His hands were steady as he poured water smoothly from the heavy, narrow-necked jug. Moving slowly, he straightened and took a moment of blissful idleness, the jug left uncovered near his feet, to squint at the sun glare on the desert beach and the desert ocean and to feel the coolness of the water creeping into his palms as he held the bowl and waited to drink. It was a child’s game, to hold a bowl of water and mark the increase of thirst with masochistic pleasure, but he did it sometimes.

He brought the bowl to his mouth and had a perfect instant of pale blue ocean, bright blue glass, and clear water in his vision before he blinked, sipped, and swallowed.

Many times afterward, when he tried to recall, his mind would stop at that vivid memory—­the neatly nested colors, the soothing coolness of the glass—­and not wish to go any further. It was not long after that, not very long at all, that the day became horribly disordered.

A man walked out of the ocean, his head darkly bright with seawater and sunlight. He wore a pilot’s suit—­iridescent, sleek, and permeable—­that would dry as swiftly as bare skin in the hot breeze, but his hair he gathered up in his hands as he approached, wringing water out from the great length of it and wrapping it high on the crown of his head with a band from his wrist.

Recognition came to Dllenahkh gradually. At first, when the figure appeared, it was a pilot; then, as it began to walk, it was a familiar pilot; and finally, with that added movement of hands in hair, it was Naraldi, a man well known to him but not so well known as to excuse the early breaking of a retreat. He opened his mouth to chide him. Six more days, Naraldi! Could anything be so important that you could not wait six more days? That was what he intended to say, but another thought came to him. Even for a small planet with no docking station in orbit, it was highly uncommon for a mindship to splash down so close to land that a pilot could swim to shore. Although he knew Naraldi, they were not so close as to warrant a visit at this time and in this place.

The pilot slowed his step and looked uncertainly at him with eyes that streamed from the irritation of salt water.

“Something terrible has happened,” Dllenahkh said simply.

Naraldi wiped at his wet face and gave no reply.

“My mother?” Dllenahkh prompted to break the silence, dread growing cold and heavy in his stomach.

“Yes, your mother,” Naraldi confirmed abruptly. “Your mother, and my mother, and . . . everyone. Our home is no more. Our world is—­”

“No.” Dllenahkh shook his head, incredulous rather than upset at the bitterness and haste of Naraldi’s words. “What are you saying?”

He remembered that he was still thirsty and tried to raise the bowl again, but in the meantime his hands had gone chilled and numb. The bowl slipped. He snatched at it but only deflected it so that it struck hard on the side of the water jug and broke just in time to entangle his chasing fingers.

“Oh,” was all he said. The cut was so clean, he felt nothing. “I’m sorry. Let me . . .” He crouched and tried to collect the larger fragments but found himself toppling sideways to rest on one knee.

Naraldi rushed forward. He grasped Dllenahkh’s bleeding right hand, yanked the band from his hair, and folded Dlle­nahkh’s fist around the wad of fabric. “Hold tight,” he ordered, guiding Dllenahkh’s left hand to clamp onto his wrist. “Don’t let go. I’ll get help.”

He ran off down the beach toward the temple. Dllenahkh sat down carefully, away from the broken bits of glass, and obediently held tight. His head was spinning, but there was one small consolation. For at least the length of time it took Naraldi to return, he would remember the words of the guestmaster: he would not be curious, he would not seek to know, and he would not worry about how to right the tumbled world.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord Copyright © 2013 by Karen Lord. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 13, 2013

    A science fiction romance is so hard to find that it¿s nice to s

    A science fiction romance is so hard to find that it’s nice to see one published that’s also lyrical and funny. Several of the chapters begin/end a little jumpy and you end up blinking to catch the rhythm again. Grace and her reserved Sadiri counterpart have lots of adventures with plenty of time for their admiration and connection to grow. It ends the way you’d think but there are enough comical missteps to keep it interesting. A worthwhile endeavor and highly recommended. Received free copy for review.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Book Review - The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord The

    Book Review - The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

    The Best of All Possible Worlds 
    Karen Lord 
    Trade Paperback 
    Publisher: Del Rey 
    Publication Date: February 12, 2013 
    ISBN-13: 978-0345534057 
    320 pages 
    Advance Reader’s Copy

         The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord is, in my opinion, everything that’s right and good with Science Fiction today. It contains mind-powered space flight, reminiscent of Dune but without the religious/spice-drug aspects. Some of the main characters are humanoid “aliens” like every non-human race in Gene Rodenberry’s alternate Star Trek universe (i.e. Klingons, Vulcans, Romulans, etc.). There is one very dead planet destroyed by a hostile enemy similar to what happens in Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, among others. And, there is futurism but not in a dystopian Brave New World or Hunger Games way but more like Asimov’s Foundation series where science remains one of the more crucial element to the survival of the human race rather than its downfall. But, more importantly than all these other fascinating tropes is that The Best of All Possible Worlds contains social Science Fiction mingled expertly with human interaction, the bonds of friendship and love through difference, and a very modern feel for a style that used to be called classic. There is good reason why I mention some of the greatest contributions and novelists of Science Fiction in the descriptions above and that’s because The Best of All Possible Worlds belongs categorized with them. Now, more than ever, we need successors to the hard Science Fiction mentalities of the past fifty years that have disappeared with the passing of the great Science-Fiction writers of the Golden Age. Karen Lord is an obvious front-runner.

         A powerful, technologically-minded race of humanoid “aliens,” the Sadiri, suddenly find themselves homeless after their world has been completely destroyed by a planet-busting weapon. In an attempt to integrate themselves into a new society a small group of traveling male survivors seek refuge on the colony planet of Cygnus Beta and are challenged to rebuild their race by locating suitable DNA matches from the women that currently live there. Grace, a Cygnus Betan and a scientist trained in linguistics is assigned as liaison between the local politicians and the Sadiri to help aide them in their search for acceptable female counterparts and to build new settlements to ease their integration into society. Her Sadiri counterpart, Dllenahkh, together, with a small team of representatives from both cultures set off on an expedition across the newly colonized planet. Along the way their close friendship becomes something more than either expected. But with advanced humanoids from the stars what exactly does that mean? And where might it take them?

         The Best of All Possible Worlds is a fascinating science-fiction novel that I'd recommend to readers who enjoy character driven stories with a bit of technology, some biology, mystery, alien psychology, and light, non-conventional romantic elements. Lord’s style is both elegant and subtle, her world-building spectacular, and she spends very little time telling the reader the story but rather showing it by engaging our imaginations with her concise and often poetic prose. There is a new, powerful, and creative voice in the realm of Science Fiction. Her name is Karen Lord.

         File with: Jack McDevitt, mind-bending space travel, Dune, technology, Star Trek, alien culture, Gene Rodenberry, light Romance, Science Fiction, Kurt Vonnegut, Peter F. Hamilton, planet killers, and futurism.

    4 out of 5 stars

    The Alternative 
    Southeast Wisconsin

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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