18. The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord
The Galaxy Game is a grittier, faster-paced, and even more fun sequel to 2013’s The Best of All Possible Worlds. The novel opens with Grace Delarua’s nephew Rafi in an institution for rogue psionically-gifted adolescents. Rafi still suppresses his abilities and struggles with his father’s abusive legacy. His friends Ntenman and Serendipity are each drawn to him for their own reasons, and soon the three will set forth from the school to forge their own destinies.
Lest the previous sentence confuse you, this is not exactly a sci-fi Harry Potter. The concerns of this book are galactic, and the stakes are high, but there’s no one Dark Lord to be defeated, nor do these three form the closeness of the fantastical trio. Instead, each of their destinies is separate, but their choices will intertwine throughout their lives, and each will contribute to a new galactic order.
In this book, we finally get off planet, and learn more about other societies, particularly the Ntshune. Grace and her husband Dllenahkh are characters and have a side story of their own, but the focus is on Rafi. Tensions between planets and within societies heat up, and conflict takes up the heart of the action, rather than the aftermath of the conflict, as in the last book. Though the aftermath of that conflict is still of paramount importance here, with these societies in the midst of important changes. We learn that Terra is still in play here, and rather than a post-Earth society, Cygnus Beta may actually co-exist with our own timeline. It’s not really clear, but the opening is there, as it’s explained that the humans on Cygnus Beta were spirited away and re-settled not of their own volition, but by some founding alien civilization.
The most intriguing part to me was, again, Lord’s presentation of what a society might look like if all or some of its members possessed overt abilities of emotional and social influence. The Ntshune are the race from which most of these abilities come (the Sadiri also possess them, but more in a mind-meld or even hive-mind kind of way), and their society reflects this. The Galaxy Game of the title at first appears familiar to anyone who’s been to summer camp. The members of each team must work together so that each member of their team climbs over a wall before the members of the other team. However, the more subtle component of the game is that each team is bound through a ‘nexus,’ or a person of extreme charismatic abilities. In this way, the team works together more effectively than if they were not so bound. Nexi (I’m making up this plural), of course, are found not only in the game, but in various parts of society, including corporations and transportation systems. Furthermore, there are two types of credit in Ntshune society: financial credit and social credit. Guess which is more important.
I love the way Lord is able to literalize and pin down certain social components of our society that are unnoticed by many, either because they don’t know to look for it, or because they don’t have to. One feels that if our society were organized the way Ntshune’s is, it would almost be more honest, though perhaps not more liberating.
Like its predecessor, this is not a perfect book. It’s rough in places, and I think it’s often more confusing than it has to be. However, I enjoy the characters and especially the concepts, and will continue to seek out Lord’s books.
Highly recommended to science fiction fans, especially fans of Star Trek.