Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

Rating: WARTY!

I don't normally review covers, because they have zero to do with the author (unless they self-publish), and my blog is all about writing, not pretty wrapping and pretension. The problem with this cover though, was glaring. There is a white woman on the front (actually, half a woman) and a half a white man on the back, yet the indication from the text, in the case of the "aliens" is completely unambiguous: they're brown. It was less obvious with the woman, whose only description (in the portion of this I could stand to read) was that she had brown eyes, but given the author, I took a leap here and guessed that the woman was also brown, yet the cover depicts her as white.

A review I read (the only one I saw which actually mentioned skin color) indicated that the text later confirms that she isn't white, so this is yet another in a huge and depressing list of books where the cover artist didn't even bother to read the novel. How pathetic is this? This is why I refuse to run with Big Publishing™. They're so profligate, and if that means I never have a publishing career, then so be it. It's a price I'm perfectly prepared to pay. This cover is racist, period. In some ways I wanted to ditch the novel right there, but then again, as I said, the author has nothing to do with the cover.

This author's debut novel won some literary award or other and that should have warned me off this book, but I didn't know that until I already had it home from the library! The blurb had made it sound like it might be interesting, which means only that the blurb did the job it was supposed to do, and lured me in. Congratulations to the blurb writer. You fooled me again. You should have won the award!

The problem is that this kind of writing is a bit suspect for something so prestigious as a literary award in my amateur opinion.
It's a sci-fi novel about a threatened culture, and it's told (unfortunately in first person, the weakest voice in all of literature) by character Grace Delarua, who is a liaison with a guy from the culture that's at risk of becoming extinct. The author admits how weak her voice is when she finds herself forced into third person at one or more points elsewhere in the story beyond the twenty-five percent that I read. For goodness sake find the courage to admit to how pretentious and useless first person is, and have the good sense to write in third person! Enough with this I2 crap!

I could not tell from the writing if these threatened people were actual aliens, as in space aliens, or merely a distant branch of the human tree; that's how bad the writing was, and for someone who seems to have the aim of integration, the author sure spends a heck of a lot of time talking about how divided everyone is. The blurb describes them as aliens and if that's the case, then the 'romance" is doomed from the off because there's no way in hell they could even reproduce - which is Grace's purpose, as she's frequently reminded. This author may garner literary awards but she'd never earn a common-sense science award; however, to be fair, she's not alone among sci-fi writers in that regard. On the other hand if the term 'alien' is being used merely to mean estranged humans, then reproduction is a possibility.

The next problem was that this novel was really a romance novel with a gossamer-thin veneer of sci-fi sprayed on it. It's not really a sci-fi novel at all. Exactly same tale could have been told of two travelers in the American West right around the time that the natives were starting to become forcibly extinct. Even were we to grant that it might conceivably be allowed under the wire as a sci-fi story, the sci-fi is of such generic trope quality that it really doesn't count. There's nothing new or inventive here.

Where, exactly, did this cliché of calling people from Earth "Terrans" arise? It's never used in our language today so where would it evolve from? I know it ultimately comes from Latin, but no one uses it except in the form of terra firma, so I don't get the rationale for its appearance in so many sci-fi novels. It's like everyone blindly signed on for it without a second thought. I think I'd rather read about Earthlings than Terrans which sounds like some species of aquatic reptile! 'Earthlings' is of course as awful as it is antiquated. I don't know who conjured that one up, either. Earthites isn't any better, although perhaps technically more accurate, and Earthens sounds like some sort of pottery. I don't get why sci-fi writers don't simply use the word Human to describe people from Earth. It's not exactly rocket science.

A second trope is absurd spellings and pronunciation for alien names. This problem also extends into fantasy stories. Unless the aliens use the same alphabet we English speakers do, then what's with the spelling of the alien's name: Dllenahkh? We're told it has a Zulu 'dl' to start with and a throaty, hacking 'ch' at the end, but since I don't speak Zulu, I have no idea what a Zulu 'dl' sounds like! Maybe 'tl'? If that's the case, then spell the fricking name starting with a 'Tl'! Seriously. Could we not simply have a phonetic spelling with a bit of plain English tosse din to help with the sound?

The trope aliens are called Sadiri, but they're really Vulcans from Star Trek under a different name, so this was simply sad. The tyranny of trope and cliché continues, but not here. I cannot recommend this novel based on what I read of it. It was boring, plainly and simply. Which means it's probably due for a literary award of some sort.

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