I really enjoyed this story, mainly for its concept but I also liked that it’s a book about relationships as much as it is science fiction.
The concept: The Sadiri are a super-intelligent race whose planet is destroyed by an enemy race and their population nearly destroyed. To rebuild, the Sadiri travel to Cygnus Beta, a planet described as “a galactic hinterland for pioneers and refugees.” The Sadiri want to reach out to a species called the taSadiri, who are their closest genetic and cultural match, to marry and begin rebuilding their population.
Everyone felt sorry for the Sadiri in those early days, and maybe we were all a little bit overproud of ourselves for hosting them. Cygnus Beta isn’t a rich colony by any means, but we understand fleeing disaster and war and disease and struggling to find a place where you’re wanted. A lot of people act like misfortune is contagious. They don’t want to be exposed to it for too long. They’ll take you in and make all the right gestures and noises, but when the months wear on and you’re still in their house or their town or their world, the welcome wears a bit thin.
Dllenahkh of the Sadiri teams up with government biotechnician Grace Delarua to plan this mission. What results is sort of a road trip around the planet, with bonds of friendship gradually formed between the Cygnians and the Sadiri. The Sadiri are rational and non-emotional (think Vulcans). The populations on Cygnus Beta are a mix of Terran, Ntshune and Zhinuvian. Delarua is Terran and part Ntshune, which means she can sense other people’s emotions. Significantly, she can understand the subtle emotions of the Sadiri, where everyone else just thinks they have no emotions.
If this sounds a lot like Star Trek, the whole book really reminded me of Star Trek, and not in a bad way (despite some obvious concept stealing). It focuses a lot more on the relationships among different races than it does on space or science. It deals with ideas about the ethical use of different abilities. While the races differ on things like how they handle emotion, love, and intellect, they are genetically related enough to form a semi-cohesive society. Lastly, it had a very Star Trek feel because it’s written as a sort of travelogue, with Dllenahkh and Delarua roaming the planet to explore new cultures.
Even though this is a book about a planet’s destruction and the rebirth of a population, what I liked about it was its everyday feel. Delarua struggles with work, family, personal growth – and then occasionally she’ll stop and realize the hugeness of what she and Dllenahkh are trying to do. And while the Sadiri speak very formally, her language is much more commonplace. That made her much more relatable. (As an aside, I find her occasional use of phrases like “load of crap” a little TOO informal, but that’s me.)
Lord says her book is inspired by the work of Ray Bradbury, and I think that’s in concept rather than writing style. She raises interesting ideas about oppression, thought and individuality – and like Bradbury (and Star Trek) puts science fiction in very much of a political/sociological context. Since Lord is African-American, you can see the influence of race, culture and gender in this book but it doesn’t overwhelm the story, just adds to it.
She also notes that her book was inspired by the tsunami in the Phillipines that wiped out most of the female population because while the men were out working, the women were closer to home and therefore more vulnerable in the disaster. I don’t even recall that being discussed in the news, but apparently the gender imbalance had some serious repercussions.
There’s an odd Jane Eyre reference and maybe others here and there, although I can’t say I saw the relevance of that in this book. However, like a good Austen novel (since I’m not a Bronte fan), what this book does best is the slow building of a friendship between its two main characters, with all of the conflicts and fears that relationships bring. It’s not action-packed, but there are plenty of dangers and interesting encounters, and the book is a quick read.
If you don’t mind your science fiction a little slower, a little more about personal and political relationships, and a little more thought than action, you will appreciate this book, as I did.