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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Review: A half-Built Garden

 A Half-Built Garden is science fiction, but in the rarest sub-genre, political science fiction. It's also a first contact story. It's also an optimistic vision of the future, where the world (or at least, the United States) is governed not by political entities or by corporations with lots of money, but by watershed communities that govern by AI-assisted consensus, where the social network has been organized to help communities make decisions and achieve consensus rather than to stir up fear and sell advertising.

The first contact is with two alien species which have already achieved unity and symbiosis, and by luck, the protagonist (Judy Wallach-Stevens) and her wife (Carol) show up with their baby when the first contact happens. Luck, because it turns out that the alien species expects people to bring children to negotiations as a form of mutual hostage taking.

What follows gets incredibly political as the governments and corporations want to get involved as well, and of course, the corporations do the evil thing and try to sabotage the social networks the watersheds use for consensus making. How our protagonist and her society achieve their goals and avoid getting gaslit by the corporations involved forms a large part of the story.

This is not a great novel --- some of the plot gets resolved through deus ex machinas. When the other factions on the aliens' side gets involved, we never get a great understanding of how their society works. It seems a bit too pat that there's great biosophere compatibility between all the species involved. Free-market enthusiasts will likely complain about the book being too "woke," with obsessions about pronouns and the author introducing yet more pronouns for various nuances of corporate presentations.

Nevertheless, it's an unusual read and chock full of ideas. That makes it very much worth your time. And yes, that it's an optimistic view of the future doesn't hurt it at all. Recommended.


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