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Category: Books and Stories

Review of A Half-Built Garden, by Ruthanna Emrys

I don't think of myself as a big sci fi reader or fan. Occasionally I'll pick something up that has elements that sound appealing to me, but I don't seek out sci fi on purpose. I picked up A Half Built Garden because the theme of attempting to bring Earth back from the human caused brink of destruction appealed to me, but somehow the description I read failed to mention that there were aliens in this book. I might have steered clear if I had known, but then I would have missed a delightful surprise of a book. Judy Wallach-Stevens is an ecologist with the Chesapeake watershed, in a world which has reorganized itself into networks of watersheds, communities that monitor and tend their local bodies of water and their ecosystems. Decisions are made by technologically assisted consensus, where people share their knowledge to be able to come to decisions that treat humans as part of the ecosystem, but not more important than the ecosystem. The story begins when Judy is making her customary rounds one night and receives an alert that there is a disturbance. When she investigates, she finds an alien ship has landed...and the story takes off from there.

A Half-Built Garden has a fully imagined world, where family structure, gender, uses of technology, politics, diplomacy, and ethos with regard to the natural world are addressed. However, you learn about how all of these things work as you watch Judy Wallach-Stevens deal with the repercussions of finding an alien spaceship in her watershed, rather than by being told about them explicitly. Ruthanna Emrys immerses her readers in her world skillfully, so that you enjoy the sensation of finding out about child rearing practices in this new world rather than feeling like you're groping around in an unfamiliar place.

Without giving anything more away about the plot, I will also say that this novel also deals with issues of consent, and of people coming in as rescuers when the supposed rescuees don't think they need to and don't want to be rescued. I *really* liked the way Emrys handled this topic.

Summary: I wouldn't have picked this book if I had really known what it was, but I was surprised all the way through by how much I liked it.

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