• mikeofthepalace

“A Half-Built Garden” by Ruthanna Emrys

This was, frankly, excellent. This is the kind of philosophical, big-idea science fiction novel that changes the way you look at the world, that could be read and remembered for generations.

This is a first-contact novel. It’s set in our near-future, in a world where the excesses of capitalism have been reined in and humanity is working towards repairing the damage done to the planet. There’s a long way to go - climate refugees, frequent storms, massive wildfires, and the Mississippi deciding to change course are all low-key things happening in the background - but carbon levels are starting to go down, pollutants in the waters are being reduced, frogs are multiplying, and strict pollution controls are in place (even if everyone assumes the remaining corporate entities are skirting those to whatever degree they can get away with).

The aliens, it turns out, are actually two different species who have formed a unified, space-based culture. They’re eager to welcome a third species to their ranks, and have come to invite humanity to join them in the partially-completed Dyson sphere they’ve been building for the last thousand years or so. They’re delighted and relieved to have made it in time, they tell humanity. Every other time they’ve detected signals (centuries old, due to lightspeed) from a technological civilization, they’ve gone to the planet in question and found nothing but dead cities and ruined climates. A technological civilization, they tell humanity, is fundamentally unsustainable on a planet, and for their species to survive they *must* evacuate.

Humanity, being humanity, is of mixed opinions on this. Those who have been working the hardest to save the planet (including the protagonist) are very much against the idea of abandoning Earth now that we’re just starting to get it right. The corporations, direct descendants of those who so thoroughly broke things in the first place, are eager to get the hell off of this rock and resume their old endless-growth model in an environment with orders of magnitude more room and no pesky regulations getting in their way. Others are in between, eager to get humanity to the stars and yet unwilling to give up on Earth entirely.

The aliens, meanwhile, are having their own debate. They had been expecting to meet a people desperate for rescue and grateful to get away from their dying home. They’re unsure what to do about this mixed response, and they are asking themselves if they can, in good conscience, let these innocent, naïve people stay on their doomed planet, even if that’s what they say they want.

This book is all about learning about each other; not just human vs alien, but human vs human (vs human vs human vs human vs human vs…). Who we are, what we want, what’s important to us, and how we want to get there are all critical questions in this book. It doesn’t provide answers, clearly, because these are unanswerable questions - or, at least, everyone’s answer will be unique. But this book got me thinking about them, and I doubt I’ll think about them in exactly the same way again.

Comes out July 26. Mark your calendars.