Books

The Blue, Beautiful World by Karen Lord review: Otherworldly sci-fi

Karen Lord's latest novel tells the story of a rock star tasked with co-ordinating the human response to alien life

Cover of The Blue, Beautiful World by Karen Lord

The Blue, Beautiful World by Karen Lord is out on August 31 (Gollancz, £20)

At its best, speculative fiction takes narrative risks free from the constraints of the ordinary world. Barbadian author Karen Lord has previously dabbled in both fantasy and science fiction. The Blue, Beautiful World is set in the same science fictional galaxy as two of her previous novels, but can definitely be read as a standalone.

The book is technically a first-contact novel, set on a near-future Earth, though it is very unlike the standard alien encounters portrayed in movies and television.

We start in the company of Owen, an extraordinarily popular rock star, touring the world to acclaim and hysteria. An attempt on Owen’s manager’s life lets the plot unfurl, and Lord gradually lets the reader know that Owen is not of this Earth – indeed, there have been all sorts of aliens embedded in human society for a long time.

When the announcement of aliens among us happens, the book then becomes about how humanity chooses to react to that. Owen is tasked with trying to coordinate a unified response, an attempt for humans to grow up and take a seat at a galactic council, despite the worldwide shock.

This storyline is infused with a kind of forward-thinking empathy and respect – Lord is interested in use and abuse of power, and her confused humans are slowly shown that connection and communion are better and more effective than coercive control. The author also has a lot to say about post-colonialism, though she plays with those ideas in a subtle and open-hearted fashion. Her prose is simple and effective, the narrative voice shot through with a wry humour, to make a truly thought-provoking and original read.

Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist.

The Blue, Beautiful World book cover

The Blue, Beautiful World by Karen Lord is out on 31 August (Gollancz, £20). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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