A Half-Built Garden

- Ruthanna Emrys

Goodreads Book Blurb:

On a warm March night in 2083, Judy Wallach-Stevens wakes to a warning of unknown pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay. She heads out to check what she expects to be a false alarm–and stumbles upon the first alien visitors to Earth. These aliens have crossed the galaxy to save humanity, convinced that the people of Earth must leave their ecologically-ravaged planet behind and join them among the stars. And if humanity doesn’t agree, they may need to be saved by force.

The watershed networks aren’t ready to give up on Earth. Decades ago, they rose up to exile the last corporations to a few artificial islands, escape the dominance of nation-states, and reorganize humanity around the hope of keeping their world liveable. By sharing the burden of decision-making, they’ve started to heal the wounded planet.

But now corporations, nation-states, and networks all vie to represent humanity to these powerful new beings, and if any one accepts the aliens’ offer, Earth may be lost. With everyone’s eyes turned skyward, everything hinges on the success of Judy’s effort to create understanding, both within and beyond her own species.


My Review:

***Thanks to NetGalley and Tordotcom for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.

I haven’t read many (or maybe any?) first encounter books, so I was very excited to receive the eARC of A Half-Built Garden, especially with such a gorgeous cover.

That night I paced the Chesapeake threads: useless habit, given my current expertise ratings, even if the algorithms had been doing their jobs. But I still wanted that kinesthetic sense of the watershed as a whole. It felt like a hike or a prayer, but deeper: knowing in my brain and belly and bones the rivers flowing silty with stormwater, every particle that washed from land into ocean, the health of the air that filled our lungs and the seagrass that held the bay in place. I wanted to work with the planet, to understand everything she told me. My mesh picked up on those desires, or my trend toward holistic processing, and shifted from text and numbers to graphics and textures, impressionist topography that felt more detailed than the details.

The technology here is more than believable – being constantly hooked into a community-style social media that reads information about your surroundings, allowing people to comment in real-time sounds both incredible and terrifying. The part that’s not explained well is how everyone is reading and commenting and making notes and sharing, all while still interacting with people in real life – there must be so many pauses and stopping and starting conversations. The connection in person would be so difficult. Although I guess you’re connecting in real life while you’re connecting via the network, so it’s all meta and complicated and slightly distanced. This could explain the large communities/families to allow for deeper connections. I find it hard to believe that while this is the future, it’s still the near future, and I doubt humans have evolved to be better at multitasking in such a short period of time.

It had been the same with Carol: first seeking out the conversations, longer and more often, and then discovering that I'd made a place in my head to model her body, imagining more and more detail until I wanted desperately to replace imagination with observation. With touch. It had made me shy and slow then, and did the same now.

I am all for polyamorous relationships. Sexuality is fluid, and it takes a village to raise a child, and everything here makes me so happy, but I’m sorry – jumping into a sexual encounter with an alien that is described (at first) as a giant spider does not. make. sense. One step too far for me, Emrys. Maybe two.

Judy’s tendency to be so in her own head forced a disconnect with me. I could only read so much before it triggered my own anxiety, and I needed a break. Overthinking everything is exhausting, even if it’s secondhand. I appreciated her ability to step out of the moment and drill down to innate goals and values, but that seems so foreign to me and the world I know that it affected the believability of the narrative. If I ever attend extensive therapy, I might be able to reread A Half-Built Garden to truly get everything out of this story.

A Half-Built Garden was operating at a higher level than I was while reading it. As a thought experiment on the future (dealing with climate change, holding corporations responsible, treating others with dignity and respect and living in true communities) and on first encounters, I would highly recommend this book. A Half-Built Garden is beautifully and thoughtfully written with true skill and artistry; I just struggled to connect to the narrative.

We should tell them that no matter what you do to us, we survive. And we remember who we are.

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