In a distant future, humans have spread across the universe. Somewhere along the way, several different human races emerged including the Sadiri. The Sadiri are a disciplined race with sophisticated emotional control and reliance on rational thought and behavior (think of the Vulcans from Star Trek). The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord opens when the planet Sadira is destroyed by an unprovoked genocidal attack. The only Sadiri to survive are those individuals who were off-world at the time. More women were living on their home world during the destruction, so there is significant gender disparity among the survivors. Of those remaining, some are working to create a new home world, New Sadira, while others find refuge on the plant Cygnus-Beta. There, the Sadiri attempt to regroup after the massive loss. These survivors are also hoping to secure appropriate mates from the taSadiri race living on Cygnus-Beta. The taSadiri happen to be the most genetically compatible to the Sadiri because they are actually Sadiri descendents making them the most ideal candidates.
The story is told almost exclusively through the first-person account of civil servant, Grace Delarua, who is tasked with helping one of the Sadiri leaders, Dllenahkh, transition to the Sadiris’ new home on her planet. She eventually takes part in an assignment to help Dllenahkh and a few others (some officials from her world as well as Sadiri officials) seek possible genetic taSadiri matches. Yet, they are searching for more than just perfect genetic counterparts. Their primary interest lies with taSadiri societies that have maintained some of the Sadiri belief systems, rituals, and histories so that the Sadiri way of life will not be lost as they repopulate their numbers.
While this novel is categorized as a science fiction, it is basically a romance story set in a futuristic world. Don’t get me wrong, it does have some sci-fi elements like time travel, telepathy, mindships, and alternate universes but except for telepathy, these concepts aren’t described in any great detail. Still, I enjoyed the slow blooming love affair between Dllenahkh and Delarua. Their affection is clearly based on the mutual respect and caring that is fostered by the combined sharing of each other’s cultures.
Slow-moving at times, the novel does pick up once the love story takes shape. At the heart of this work is how two dissimilar groups establish relationships and gain understanding and acceptance as their races merge into one society. It is the familiar tale of how people come to realize that they have more in common with their neighbors than they originally believed.
However, this work has some issues. The entire planet of Sadira suffered this horrendous genocide and what’s left of its people are strewn across two worlds, New Sadira and Cygnus-Beta. Obviously, the author’s intent wasn’t to showcase the dark aftermath of genocide but considering half the characters in the book lost their home world, family, and friends less than a year prior, it felt as though it should have been more significant. At times, even Delarua almost forgets the pain the Sadiri must be suffering…but she is an outsider to this void and emptiness they must be feeling. Dllenahkh is the obvious choice to address these ideas, however, while Dllenahkh has a minor POV throughout, it is not large enough to gain the deeper insight needed. The author does deviate from the romance angle at times to deal with political and ethical issues but the transitions into these scenes are usually less than smooth and don’t feel central to the story. Still, I choose to concentrate on the story Lord was telling and reserve my judgment on that score.
The Best of All Possible Worlds is a solid read and enjoyable but it isn’t a novel I’d want read over and over again. Still I recommend it specifically to those individuals who enjoy their science fiction a tad more literary as in the style of Ursula K. Le Guin or those who enjoy romance set in fantastical worlds.