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The Best of All Possible Worlds
by Karen Lord

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 23, 2018
Edits on August 11, 2023

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The Best of All Possible Worlds could be classified as a science fiction romance, but radically different than any other romance I can think of. It is a novel, but also a collection of vignettes, many of which could have been expanded to novel length themselves, or at least novellas. It postulates that there are at least four separate human species in the galaxy, capable of interbreeding, but consciously remaining separate for the most part. The oldest species is the Sadiri, native to the planet Sadira, possessing great strength of body and tight control on their emotions, due to the fact they are highly telepathic. Intense concentration and meditation is required to retain privacy of thought, and physical touch is reserved for only the most intimate of relationships. In direct contrast, the Ntshune are highly emotional and demonstrative, while Zhinuvians relish the physical body in all its sensuality. Then there are Terrans, possessing a bit of all of those traits, as well as a penchant for speculation, exploration, adventure. In anticipation of other books set within this milieu, I have recently re-read this first book in what the author calls the "Cygnus Beta" sequence, and have made a few edits to my comments below. I initially thought I would combine them all on one page with Cygnus Beta in the URL, but decided not to. The second book does start on that planet, but then moves on to several others, and it presents a different main character.

The four different groups also colonized other worlds, so the destruction of Sadira did not obliterate the race completely. It did send many into fits of depression when they realized many more females persished than males, and repopulating would be a problem. There are those known as taSadiri on other planets, possibly the result of interbreeding between Sadiri and others. A group of Sadiri elders have come to the Ntshune world of Cygnus Beta since there are several taSadiri settlements there, as well as a few populated by those of pure Sadiri blood. The intent is to survey those people and do genetic testing, to determine whether there might be females that would be compatible with and open to relationships with Sadiri men. Several Cygnian government officials are assigned to assist them in that task. Grace Delarua is a biologist/geneticist who proves valuable in helping the Sadiri interact with the various settlements. Some welcome the opportunity to join with the Sadiri, others choose to remain separate as they are. Slowly but surely, Grace develops a close bond with the Sadiri Councilor Dllenahkh, which is surprising since the two have diametrically opposed personalities.

Each chapter has its own title, and most recount the mission's experiences in different taSadiri towns. Some of the groups exhibit telepathic abilities similar to the Sadiri; some had turned those abilities more toward psychic coercion rather than cooperation. Some of the chapters end abruptly, moving on to another location, another group to study, without a resolution to the plot presented. In one of the most puzzling of these, Grace is determined to keep up with the Sadiri, even though they have the ability to work for very long periods without sleep. Her Cygnian superior gives her several stimulant patches to use, Grace remarking they were similar to ones she used while at university. Either they contained drugs unlike what she was used to, or she used them too frequently, but she eventually collapses and experiences wild hallucinations. The others claim she is suffering from amnesia, losing the memory of several days. What drugs were in those patches? Did her superior have an ulterior motive in giving them to her? If there was a resolution to that I missed it. They were on to another settlement, with other problems to contend with, and nothing was said about it later.

Another chapter introduced some of Grace's family, hinting at her past, but there was a lot that I'd like to have more information about. Her sister is married to a man who had once been Grace's fiancÚ, whom she left because she felt he was too manipulative. It seems he was still in love with Grace, or at least thought he was, and her sister knew it. Turns out he had a strong ability for psychic coercion, which he utilized during Grace's visit to keep her there longer than she had intended, and of driving a wedge between Grace and her sister. It's another segment of the story that cried out for more development, especially of how his influence had possibly shaped Grace's life of seclusion and social awkwardness. Dllenahkh is able to help her come to terms with this, teaching her Sadiri techniques of meditation and self-actualization. He shows her how to contain and channel her emotions; she guides him in opening up more emotionally. To outside observers, their relationship seemed a foregone conclusion, but it took them a long time to realize they wanted to pursue it. Somehow they are able to overcome the obstacles to find true love, although neither of them are sure they know what love truly is. They are committed to many years together to find out, although not as many years as Dllenahkh would like. Sadiri are longer lived than the other species.

The only award consideration for The Best of All Possible Worlds was for a Locus, but it deserved much more recognition that that. I can only conclude not enough people had read it, but that may change now with the reissue. Next up will be The Galaxy Game, originally published two years later, but both have been reissued by Del Rey Books in anticipation of the publication of the third novel, The Blue, Beautiful World. The strongest theme is the necessity for cooperation, to be open to change and compromise. The Sadiri had the reputation of feeling superior to everyone else, but their salvation will be the acceptance of their weaknesses. Grace is not the only Cygnian woman to encourage changes in their chosen partners. They are ready to build a stonger future together.


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Karen Lord

February 12, 2013

Locus finalist

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