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A Half-Built Garden, by Ruthanna Emrys

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also the author is a long-time friend, as you will find out if you read the acknowledgments and discover that my name is in there.

The corporations that plagued Earth for so long have been forced out of dominance a generation ago and corralled into artificial islands–aislands–where their influence can be limited. The collectives who organize themselves around the watersheds have set about the hard work of making Earth inhabitable in the long-term–keeping the worst of climate change from harrowing its inhabitants farther than they already, by 2083, have suffered.

And then, one spring night, Judy Wallach-Stevens, a Chesapeake Bay area water chemist, wakes to a warning of unknown pollutants. Because she’s the nearest responsible party to investigate what turns out to be…aliens, dumping waste from their broken spaceship in the water table. Two symbiotic species of aliens, in fact! They come in peace, and they’re very excited to meet us! Very excited. So excited, in fact, that they’ve come with all sorts of assumptions about what we’re going to want to do when we meet them.


Judy and her wife Carol start first contact off on an unexpectedly right foot by having their baby with them in a sling, which to these aliens is just good manners. Almost everything else about their response is not what the Ringers expected from the first intelligence they meet outside their own solar system. Their two species agreed to break down their planets for parts, and surely when humans have the same opportunity they will follow suit. Universally. Without question. And immediately.

When have humans ever agreed to anything universally, without question, and immediately?

The two kinds of aliens, of course, didn’t either, in their own past, but that was enough generations ago for myth-building and daydreaming to build up. Judy and Carol and their family have to figure out what kind of diplomacy is called for to get the entire process to slow down to a rate everyone can cope with, before relationships with the first other sentient species humanity ever encounters are broken for good–or shaped by the worst humanity has to offer.

This is so lovely. It’s got complicated families, in which meaning well and doing well are not always the same thing–in multiple species. It’s got very crunchy real considerations of disability, cultural difference, historical weight, and watersheds. It’s got a Passover seder where Octavia Butler is quoted. Most of all, it’s got flawed, stubborn, lovable people working desperately hard for a better world, at a time when I think we all need more of that. Highly recommended.

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