T’Pol’s Book Club #5: Best of All Possible Worlds

Cover of The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen LordHave you ever read an original novel and thought: Hey, that sounds like fanfiction – and meant it as a genuine compliment?

If so, you may have been reading a little too much fanfiction (or not enough). Either way, this is how I felt about The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord. Written in 2014, it’s a story about a mysterious, telepathic, emotionally controlled species called the Sadiri, who, after losing their planet to a genocidal attack, seek refuge on Cygnus Beta, a melting-pot world inspired by the author’s native Barbados. Cygnian government official Grace Delarua and her Sadiri counterpart Dllenakh work together to help the survivors settle into their new home, but trauma and culture shock don’t make it easy. Also, since most of the survivors are men, there’s the matter of finding women to live with them (not just wives, but sisters, mothers, grandmothers, etc.) so that their new society will be gender-balanced. How different is too different to live together peacefully? How much Sadiri “purity” is worth compromising to preserve their species? How do you move on from unimaginable loss? And on a personal level, will oblivious Grace and cautious Dllenakh ever figure out their feelings for each other?

If this reminds you of the Romulan supernova story arc that began with Kelvin timeline movies and continued into Star Trek: Picard, that’s what I thought too. Karen Lord starts with a similar premise, but she goes into all the details of everyday life that Star Trek, with its episodic, front-line-action format doesn’t always have time for. Grace and Dllenakh are not heroes capable of saving the galaxy from disaster; they are ordinary people rebuilding it after the disaster has happened. Lord’s writing, while in the spirit of Star Trek, is both timeless and refreshingly original, and I highly recommend it – speaking of which, here are my episode recommendations:

Star Trek (2009)

Kirk and Spock talk in Star Trek 2009 after Vulcan is destroyed

“I am now a member of an endangered species,” says Spock, holding on to his Vulcan discipline by a thread after seeing his mother die and his homeworld explode. It’s a loss on a scale most of us cannot even imagine, so rather than face his grief, he doubles down on what he can control: himself, his crew, and the stowaway Kirk. Similarly, the Sadiri refuse to hold a memorial ceremony in the first year after losing their home, or to let their young men leave their compound to start families elsewhere. But just as Kirk provokes Spock into expressing his pain and admitting he needs help, Grace challenges Dllenakh to let go of his preconceptions about what the new Sadira should be: “If you think you can colonize Cygnus Beta,” she warns, “Centuries later all you’ll have is a slight tendency to shiny hair and pedantic speech.” When something terrible happens, control and isolation may feel safer in the short term, but as the Vulcans and Sadiri both learn, in the long term, you cannot survive without accepting help and being open to new ways of thinking.

TOS s02e15: “Journey to Babel”

Sarek and Amanda touch fingers in "Journey to Babel"

Relationships between people of different cultures take hard work and compromise, as we can see with Spock and his parents, Vulcan Sarek and human Amanda. With her husband and son estranged from each other, Amanda works tirelessly to appeal to their suppressed emotions and remind them of what they have in common: “You’re showing almost human pride in your son,” she tells Sarek. When diplomatic and medical crises combine to get Sarek and Spock in the same room, the first thing they can agree on is how “emotional” Amanda is: “Why did you marry her?” … “At the time, it seemed the logical thing to do.” This quietly ironic exchange is their Vulcan way of showing affection, just as Amanda’s outburst (“I’m sick to death of logic!”) is her human way of letting out her worries about her husband’s health. As different as they are, they still make the effort to understand each other. Grace and Dllenakh’s conversation about what love means to them is one I can imagine Sarek and Amanda having in their early courtship as well. He gives her a very scientific explanation, which she translates into: “So you like the way I think, you like the way I smell, and you like to hang out with me?” Where some people might have been put off by such an unromantic speech, she appreciates hearing exactly why he loves her. In both cases, falling in love really is the logical thing to do.

DSC s02e11: “Perpetual Infinity”

Gabrielle Burnham testing her time travelling suit

The Best of All Possible Worlds includes a time travel subplot, which I’m not going to describe in detail, because of spoilers. However, this is the episode it reminds me of most. Astrophysicist Gabrielle Burnham was building a prototype of a time-traveling suit when Klingons raided her home and killed her husband while their young daughter Michael was hiding. Gabrielle tried to use the suit to travel back in time and prevent the attack, but instead it pulled her 950 years forward into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. While fighting to prevent these tragedies, with no help and no one to confide in, Gabrielle becomes both literally and metaphorically lost: she cannot stay in one place and time for more than a few minutes, and is so focused on “the bigger picture” that she cannot enjoy her reunion with her adult daughter, who has missed her for years. Only by letting go of the time-traveling suit and the burdens that go with it can Gabrielle finally learn to live in the present.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Vulcans and Romulans share a common ancestry; so do the Sadiri and the Ainya, who destroyed their planet. Why is it so often the closest neighbors who become enemies?
  2. What differences between you and your partner/friend/family do you cherish the most?
  3. If you could travel in time and change any event from your personal or national history, would you? Why or why not?

Destruction of Vulcan in Star Trek (2009)

Further Watching:

DSC s03e07 “Unification III”, DS9 s04e03 “The Visitor”, VOY s07e14 “Prophecy”, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Trek: Beyond

The Best of All Possible Worlds was published in February 2014 in trade paperback. It is available online through bookshop.org or your preferred independent retailer.

*This post contains an affiliate link to bookshop.org, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through that link, at no additional cost to you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *