This was probably the weirdest sci-fi book I've ever read. Not weird, like, Whoa, this shit is WEIRD. Weird like, I have never seen sci-fi done like this before. Because of that weirdness, parts of it were really interesting and fun. Unfortunately, while I liked what Karen Lord was doing in theory, in practice, most of it of fell flat for me.
The Best of All Possible Worlds takes place in the distant future (I'm not sure exactly how distant -- far enough so that humans have had space travel for generations, but not far enough that Casablanca isn't still around, albeit as a sort of ancient film text). I'm not entirely sure if the future is our future, or an alternate future (the world-building on that was a little bit unclear), but this is a universe where Earth (now called Terra, its inhabitants Terrans) has been abandoned, and other offshoots of humanity also roam the stars (again, it's unclear whether all human-like races in the galaxy had a similar place of origin or not). The inciting incident of the book is the destruction of the home planet for one of the alternate human races, the Sadiri. The majority of the Sadiri population is decimated, leaving only a comparative handful of survivors, most of them men. The Sadiri refugees settle on Cygnus Beta, a kind of hybrid planet that is a kind of melting pot for all the different races, and home of our female protagonist, Grace Delarua.Delarua, a kind of social scientist, is soon assigned to the team that is designated with finding Sadiri descendants and other Sadiri-like cultures thriving on Cygnus Beta, and using that information to recruit mates for the mateless Sadiri, with the intention of preserving the species. For a year, she and a special team will travel the planet mapping the remnants of Sadiri culture.
The book mainly comprises of the team's travels from Grace's point of view, as she gets to know the Sadiri in general, and one Sadiri in particular (in a weird cerebral, pseudo-psychic romance). There is no plot arc, only an emotional one, and Lord flits between from incident to incident, speeding through the year in just over 300 pages.
I would say this is more of a character drama than anything, but maybe it's even more accurate to say that it's a sociological examination of cross-species interaction, or maybe a heightened meditation on human interaction across cultural boundaries (the heightened part being the aliens and the psychic powers). It's actually all of that, and I found all of it interesting. My issue is that I don't think Lord spent enough time on any of it. She just zooms through the 'narrative' and before you know it, the book is over. This made for a fast read, but also a less engaging one.
I liked this enough to read other works by Karen Lord in the future, but had too many issues with this one to completely enjoy it.