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A Half-Built Garden

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for A Half-Built Garden

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    A Half-Built Garden is a quiet, thoughtful, smart sci-fi novel that blends climate fiction with a first contact story. Set in 2083, it follows a queer Jewish woman living in climate-conscious community on the Eastern seaboard of the United States. One night she goes for a walk with her infant daughter and ends up being the first person to encounter alien species that have landed on the Earth, wanting humans to abandon the planet and join them in space before a climate apocalypse destroys everyth A Half-Built Garden is a quiet, thoughtful, smart sci-fi novel that blends climate fiction with a first contact story. Set in 2083, it follows a queer Jewish woman living in climate-conscious community on the Eastern seaboard of the United States. One night she goes for a walk with her infant daughter and ends up being the first person to encounter alien species that have landed on the Earth, wanting humans to abandon the planet and join them in space before a climate apocalypse destroys everything. This is such an interesting book. It's very much a slow-burn and character focused, but with such deep world-building and thought given to alien culture, biology, habitat, families, mating, childrearing, spirituality etc. And the same level of attention to detail given to both sustainable human communities of the future, and what the descendants of corporations with their own culture and goals might look like. The book does a lot to explore ideas of gender and gender identity, disability, and family structures. (The main character lives within a polyamorous family structure). Philosophically, it's considering a lot about decision-making, power, living symbiotically, and sustainability. It's an impressive book and I can see why it's being compared to LeGuin. Readers who are looking for a lot of action or a fast-paced plot are not going to find it here, but it's a beautiful and thought-provoking book worth the time to read. I received an advance copy of this book for review, all opinions are my own.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rachel (TheShadesofOrange)

    3.0 Stars I absolutely loved the first contact aspect of this novel. The aliens were so wonderfully "other" and I enjoyed learning how they differed from humans, both biologically and culturally. If this had remained a larger aspect of the story, this easily could have been a four star read. Gender identity is a very big aspect of this story. I appreciate the importance of representation in stories but I found that these discussions frequently halted the narrative, quickly feeling very repetitive. 3.0 Stars I absolutely loved the first contact aspect of this novel. The aliens were so wonderfully "other" and I enjoyed learning how they differed from humans, both biologically and culturally. If this had remained a larger aspect of the story, this easily could have been a four star read. Gender identity is a very big aspect of this story. I appreciate the importance of representation in stories but I found that these discussions frequently halted the narrative, quickly feeling very repetitive. I did not expect this story to be such a family drama. So much of the story revolved around the protagonist's child and coparents. There were so many mentions of nursing. Since many. Then during the climax of the story, the characters are looking for diapers. I know that others mothers look for representation in fiction, but not me. Or at least not these aspects of motherhood. If you are looking for a soft scifi novel surrounding topics of parenthood and gender identity, then you may find more in this novel. Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Justine

    4.5 stars A delightfully intelligent and socially aware first-contact story. I loved the thoughtfully constructed vision of a near future Earth and continuing battle with the ravages of climate change. As in her previous books, Winter Tide and Deep Roots Emrys explores emotional themes around family, and juxtaposes the celebration with the fear of differences and change. She is a skilled writer, her work deeply conversational, integrating both inner monologue and thoughtful dialogue between charac 4.5 stars A delightfully intelligent and socially aware first-contact story. I loved the thoughtfully constructed vision of a near future Earth and continuing battle with the ravages of climate change. As in her previous books, Winter Tide and Deep Roots Emrys explores emotional themes around family, and juxtaposes the celebration with the fear of differences and change. She is a skilled writer, her work deeply conversational, integrating both inner monologue and thoughtful dialogue between characters. Not perfect, but, much like Emrys' other work, bracingly unique and very satisfying.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    Jo Walton read an ARC in June and had a mixed reaction: "First contact story set in a future the narrator likes a lot better than I do. This is a significant book that’s coming out next year that I was fortunate enough to read early. It’s probably best described as thought provoking—it’s an interesting and fully considered complex future full of different things, and then there are aliens. (The aliens are great.) I would not want to live in this world, I would not make any of the choices the char Jo Walton read an ARC in June and had a mixed reaction: "First contact story set in a future the narrator likes a lot better than I do. This is a significant book that’s coming out next year that I was fortunate enough to read early. It’s probably best described as thought provoking—it’s an interesting and fully considered complex future full of different things, and then there are aliens. (The aliens are great.) I would not want to live in this world, I would not make any of the choices the characters make, I sometimes wanted to shake the narrator, but I was completely engaged with the narrative, couldn’t put it down, and complained about it to anyone who would listen." https://www.tor.com/2021/07/09/jo-wal... And Marissa Lingen just read it and liked it a lot. She's been a reliable reviewer for me: "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." Whole review: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog... I'll be trying it, as soon as the library gets a copy. Which I'll be prodding them, if need be. They're pretty good at buying Tor SF/F unprompted, actually....

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    It's near the end of the 21st century and the Earth has been badly damaged by pollution, climate change and corporate greed, but this is the generation after the Dandelion Revolution and that damage is beginning to be repaired.. The Dandelion Revolution was essentially a Marxist green-led overthrow of corporations that led to the surviving companies and their people to be exiled to artificial islands, nation-states and their agencies are much diminished and barely relevant, and the main decision It's near the end of the 21st century and the Earth has been badly damaged by pollution, climate change and corporate greed, but this is the generation after the Dandelion Revolution and that damage is beginning to be repaired.. The Dandelion Revolution was essentially a Marxist green-led overthrow of corporations that led to the surviving companies and their people to be exiled to artificial islands, nation-states and their agencies are much diminished and barely relevant, and the main decision-making bodies are collective sophisticated online forums run by "watersheds", the new basic unit of governance centered around local ecological areas. Into this fragile new way of living on Earth comes ... aliens, the Ringers, a collective of two different species. We are the first technological species they've found, other than their two founding ones, who've survived their infancy on planet, and they have a fundamental belief that technological species are incompatible with planets. The Ringers have come to ensure that we have the technology needed to get off the Earth, and may well force that outcome. Readers of Kim Stanley Robinson will be familiar with the sort of society that the watersheds have become and it's interesting to see it in operation when written by someone else. The implication of a trouble-filled 21st century with incredible sociopolitical change as well as fundamental changes in the way that we look at family and gender seems like a smart one. Readers of this author's other work will also be familiar with the way that the aliens are portrayed, alien in nature and behavior, but sharing fundamental motivations and concerns that any mature technological society would have, particularly including a desire for community, compassion for others and care for family. If that can be extended to Lovecraftian horrors, it can certainly be extended to aliens. (As an aside, I think it's an implication of these books that only K-selected species can be technological ones. Certainly all three intelligent species in this book have heavy investment in their young. I would be interested in seeing the Ringers + humans encounter an r-selected intelligent species and how that would work). The story here is excellent, dealing with how the family that first discover aliens deals with first contact and how that first contact progresses when every group involved has their own agenda. The watershed people (our protagonist Judy is a nursing mother who's from this group) want to continue their work on Earth and see leaving it as a disaster. The companies see first contact as an opportunity for primacy and unconstrained growth in the stars. The nation states dither between those extremes and the aliens just want to save us all. My main criticism is that this is such a comfortable read, and both the human and alien internal politics as well as the fraught cross-species politics are so fascinating, that I just wanted much more of this already long book. Highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brianna

    I'm sorry, theres a first-contact sapphic Jewish environmental sci-fi published by TOR and no one thought to tell me? I'm sorry, theres a first-contact sapphic Jewish environmental sci-fi published by TOR and no one thought to tell me?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kristenelle

    Have you read Dawn? Do you wonder what it would be like if it was written by Becky Chambers instead of Octavia E. Butler? This is it. The set up is great! Aliens show up and inform us that we have reached a level of technology that can no longer be sustained by a planet and we must take to the stars if we want to survive. Our main character takes issue with this as she and the rest of humanity (mostly) have been working very hard to live sustainably on the planet. Diplomacy and hijinks ensue. A Have you read Dawn? Do you wonder what it would be like if it was written by Becky Chambers instead of Octavia E. Butler? This is it. The set up is great! Aliens show up and inform us that we have reached a level of technology that can no longer be sustained by a planet and we must take to the stars if we want to survive. Our main character takes issue with this as she and the rest of humanity (mostly) have been working very hard to live sustainably on the planet. Diplomacy and hijinks ensue. A hopeful future for humanity and first contact with aliens are very much my buzzwords, but this book didn't work great for me. It is kind of slow and the main character rubbed me the wrong way. She comes across as holier than thou and it is irritating. I found myself disagreeing with her at times where it felt like I was supposed to find her position obviously correct. Maybe I'm just personally too excited by the concept of space exploration that I find it hard to sympathize with a character who wants to stay home and recycle. I did really love a lot of things about this book though. I particularly loved the portrayal of family where it is considered normal and necessary to have four adults coparenting children and all living together as a family unit. Yes, please! Overall, this really reminds me a lot of Becky Chambers. Personally, I tend to find her style nice, but a bit over the top with the preachiness and "niceness." But I know that works for a lot of people and I think those people will love this book just as much. Thank you to NetGalley, Macmillan Audio, and Tordotcom for the audio arc. Sexual violence? No. Other content warnings? Kidnapping

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    This was, frankly, excellent. This is the kind of philosophical, big-idea science fiction novel that changes the way you look at the world, that could be read and remembered for generations. This is a first-contact novel. It’s set in our near-future, in a world where the excesses of capitalism have been reined in and humanity is working towards repairing the damage done to the planet. There’s a long way to go - climate refugees, frequent storms, massive wildfires, and the Mississippi deciding to This was, frankly, excellent. This is the kind of philosophical, big-idea science fiction novel that changes the way you look at the world, that could be read and remembered for generations. This is a first-contact novel. It’s set in our near-future, in a world where the excesses of capitalism have been reined in and humanity is working towards repairing the damage done to the planet. There’s a long way to go - climate refugees, frequent storms, massive wildfires, and the Mississippi deciding to change course are all low-key things happening in the background - but carbon levels are starting to go down, pollutants in the waters are being reduced, frogs are multiplying, and strict pollution controls are in place (even if everyone assumes the remaining corporate entities are skirting those to whatever degree they can get away with). The aliens, it turns out, are actually two different species who have formed a unified, space-based culture. They’re eager to welcome a third species to their ranks, and have come to invite humanity to join them in the partially-completed Dyson sphere they’ve been building for the last thousand years or so. They’re delighted and relieved to have made it in time, they tell humanity. Every other time they’ve detected signals (centuries old, due to lightspeed) from a technological civilization, they’ve gone to the planet in question and found nothing but dead cities and ruined climates. A technological civilization, they tell humanity, is fundamentally unsustainable on a planet, and for their species to survive they *must* evacuate. Humanity, being humanity, is of mixed opinions on this. Those who have been working the hardest to save the planet (including the protagonist) are very much against the idea of abandoning Earth now that we’re just starting to get it *right*. The corporations, direct descendants of those who so thoroughly broke things in the first place, are eager to get the hell off of this rock and resume their old endless-growth model in an environment with orders of magnitude more room and no pesky regulations getting in their way. Others are in between, eager to get humanity to the stars and yet unwilling to give up on Earth entirely. The aliens, meanwhile, are having their own debate. They had been expecting to meet a people desperate for rescue and grateful to get away from their dying home. They’re unsure what to do about this mixed response, and they are asking themselves if they can, in good conscience, let these innocent, naïve people stay on their doomed planet, even if that’s what they say they want. This book is all about learning about each other; not just human vs alien, but human vs human (vs human vs human vs human vs human vs…). Who we are, what we want, what’s important to us, and how we want to get there are all critical questions in this book. It doesn’t provide answers, clearly, because these are unanswerable questions - or, at least, everyone’s answer will be unique. But this book got me thinking about them, and I doubt I’ll think about them in exactly the same way again. Comes out July 26. Mark your calendars. My blog

  9. 4 out of 5

    Goran Lowie

    This is an interesting take on colonialist first contact that feels like a more optimistic version of the Xenogenesis series. It tries to juggle quite a few current hot topics but never goes beyond the surface level. Part of me loves it, but at the same time I'm a bit disappointed because it feels rushed and incomplete. Nearing the end, it was clear the author still had a lot to say, but suddenly she really felt the need to wrap up and that was that. It's still a very enjoyable read bound to reso This is an interesting take on colonialist first contact that feels like a more optimistic version of the Xenogenesis series. It tries to juggle quite a few current hot topics but never goes beyond the surface level. Part of me loves it, but at the same time I'm a bit disappointed because it feels rushed and incomplete. Nearing the end, it was clear the author still had a lot to say, but suddenly she really felt the need to wrap up and that was that. It's still a very enjoyable read bound to resonate with a lot of people.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Geonn Cannon

    DNF at 50%.... a half-read book. I believe that any future-set sci-fi novel worth the label absolutely needs to deal with non-binary and gender and non-traditional families. The exclusion of it feels wrong and disingenuous. That said, they should also come with some sort of plot. I had really high hopes for this book, which were quickly dashed by endless discussions about pronouns, how do you choose pronouns, what pronouns are right. When the author isn’t reaching to you about proper pronoun usage DNF at 50%.... a half-read book. I believe that any future-set sci-fi novel worth the label absolutely needs to deal with non-binary and gender and non-traditional families. The exclusion of it feels wrong and disingenuous. That said, they should also come with some sort of plot. I had really high hopes for this book, which were quickly dashed by endless discussions about pronouns, how do you choose pronouns, what pronouns are right. When the author isn’t reaching to you about proper pronoun usage, the focus shifts to motherhood and being a mom and babies and raising children and birthing and nursing. Yay moms, now let them actually DO SOMETHING. This novel is something like 350 pages, but I think the actual story would struggle to fill a novella. To say I didn't like the characters would be to imply there WERE characters, rather than named mouthpieces who exist to either ask leading questions or to answer those questions with a diatribe about how the author envisions the future. I really don't know who this book is for. People who agree with the author don't need to be beat over the head about the subject the way this book does, and people who don't agree (well, I want to say those people don't read scifi but we all know they do... for some reason...) will just be irritated.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Siavahda

    HIGHLIGHTS ~aliens that absolutely do not look like spiders ~corporations stuck in cages ~optimistic environmental sci-fi ~never underestimate a dandelion ~can we have this future??? please??? I have been staring blankly at my screen for over a week now, every time I sit down to try and talk about this book. It. It’s just. I have no idea how to be coherent about it. It’s brilliant and beautiful and breathlessly compelling, thoughtful and hopeful and wildly imaginative, revolutionary in so many ways. R HIGHLIGHTS ~aliens that absolutely do not look like spiders ~corporations stuck in cages ~optimistic environmental sci-fi ~never underestimate a dandelion ~can we have this future??? please??? I have been staring blankly at my screen for over a week now, every time I sit down to try and talk about this book. It. It’s just. I have no idea how to be coherent about it. It’s brilliant and beautiful and breathlessly compelling, thoughtful and hopeful and wildly imaginative, revolutionary in so many ways. Reading it feels like the galaxy-brain meme; you can feel your mind expanding as all these new ideas and concepts come rushing in, redefining things you took for granted, making you really look at your own core beliefs, challenging precepts you thought were foundational. Judy lives in a future in which climate collapse was just barely averted; a future in which people align themselves with watersheds rather than nations – instead of arbitrary lines drawn on a map, you belong to the eco-system you’re a part of. It’s a huge shift from how most of us think of ourselves today, but it’s also incredibly simple; the kind of thing that feels so obvious and correct once someone suggests it or points it out. Once I’d grasped the idea, I immediately wondered how is this not something we do already? It makes so much sense! The watersheds honestly look pretty utopic from where I’m sitting, and that is in huge part due to the algorithms that govern their private network: ones that balance and moderate discussion, giving greater weight to people whose history and specialities are relevant, ‘downvoting’ those who don’t know what they’re talking about, collating information from different places and marking or even removing unsubstantiated facts and opinions. I mean. !!! Imagine if we had those now! Just the idea of them were enough to bring me to tears, but also seeing how they allow consensus to form, how everyone gets to weigh in on every decision made by the whole…gods. This. This. And how community grows out of this, the natural effect it has on those who live by it; there are no presidents or prime ministers, because they’re not needed. There’s no parliament, because everyone gets a say. When for whatever reason a spokesperson is needed, the watersheds send someone who specialises in the thing – but that person is still plugged into the network, and can convey the voice of their entire community. They’re not representing the group, they’re an avatar of the group, and that’s just. Mindblowing. Which is one reason Judy is so uncomfortable when she becomes the de-facto representative of the watersheds – not just her own, but all of them! – to the aliens. Especially since it happens by accident. But the real problem is that due to her situation, she has to make decisions on her own, and try her best to figure out the right questions to ask, when typically she would be directed by the concensus of her whole community. From a reader’s perspective, this makes her incredibly interesting – someone who could usually expect to be somewhat passive in a task like this has to be active, even proactive instead, and we get to see how difficult that is for her, and the problems it causes for herself and those around her. It doesn’t hurt that she’s surrounded by a marvelous cast: her wife Carol, and the co-parents who are the other half of their household, Dinar and Athëo, all of whom have very different backgrounds, interests, and specialisations, but all of whom come together as a non-traditional family that I really loved. (Speaking of which, I was delighted to see a future sci-fi with Judaism front-and-centre – there’s a Passover Seder that’s not just wonderful to read, but immensely plot-relevant!) Read the rest at Every Book a Doorway!

  12. 4 out of 5

    literaryelise

    I loved this so much!! RTC

  13. 4 out of 5

    Holly (The GrimDragon)

    Review to come!!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie McDaniel

    This book is a first contact novel unlike any I've read in ages, possibly ever. It has humans meeting aliens, but the meat of the story is the competing ideas and worldviews of the two, and the struggles of both to come to a solution. The aliens do not try to kill humans or take over the world. Far from it--they are here to save us, by their lights, and the central conflict is the protagonist and her friends standing up to say, "We appreciate your offered gift, but you must trust us when we say This book is a first contact novel unlike any I've read in ages, possibly ever. It has humans meeting aliens, but the meat of the story is the competing ideas and worldviews of the two, and the struggles of both to come to a solution. The aliens do not try to kill humans or take over the world. Far from it--they are here to save us, by their lights, and the central conflict is the protagonist and her friends standing up to say, "We appreciate your offered gift, but you must trust us when we say we don't want to be saved." The story takes place sixty years in the future, on the far side of climate change when the efforts of decades to heal the planet finally seem to be coming to fruition. This results in a society radically different than the one we see today: a post-capitalism society, when the influence and rule of corporations (particularly the fossil-fuel industry) has been broken--indeed, the corporations and their followers have been exiled to their own floating islands--and the power of nation-states has been greatly reduced. The "dandelion networks" occupy environmentally sensitive or damaged areas and work to heal them, using the power of cooperation, consensus, and shared expertise through crowdsourcing. (In fact, in this future, the idea of private property rights must also be out of fashion, as the members of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Network don't actually say they own the area--they just live there and manage it.) Our protagonist, Judy Wallach-Stevens, is awakened one night by a sensor alarm in the bay, and she takes her wife and baby Dori with her to check it out. Within the first four pages Judy sees the spaceship that has landed on Bear Island in the bay, and the first chapter tells of the meeting between humans and Ringers, as they're named. The Ringers have traveled a hundred and sixty light years (via an artificial wormhole device) to rescue humanity; the two species aboard the ship, the plains-folk and the tree-folk, left their own planets behind long ago. They insist that any civilization past a certain level of technology must leave their birth worlds behind and live in space. In their own system, they live in artificial habitats and are in the midst of a thousand-year project to construct a Dyson sphere around their star. They are here to help, and for a goodly part of the book they don't really care if humanity wants their help or not. This clash of values and worldviews forms the essential conflict of the book, as humans and Ringers struggle to understand each other and reach a compromise. This is complicated by the intrusion and manipulation of the remnants of the exiled corporations, who are only too eager to accept the Ringers' offer and spread throughout the stars (and try to make as much profit as possible while doing so). But Judy, negotiating on behalf of the watersheds, insist that many humans don't want to leave Earth behind, especially when they are finally learning from their mistakes and beginning to heal their world. The author's afterward calls this (half-facetiously, I think) "diaperpunk," as the Ringers place a high value on parents in their society and single out Judy as humanity's representative primarily because she came to them first with a baby. I'm not too fond of the trend of "punk"-ifying everything, but if we're going to stick such a label on this book, for my money it would be "philosophypunk." There are many meaty and substantive philosophical discussions in this book, as the various factions of humans and Ringers thrash out their differences, overcome their fears and prejudices, and at the end decide to form a new cross-species family to help both humans and Ringers. This is not a beach read to rip through in a couple of days. It's a deep, thoughtful first contact story, emphasizing the values of cooperation and sharing over dominance and conquering. If you like your science fiction to be the SF of ideas, give this a try.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    I found this to be mostly entertaining and I thoroughly enjoyed the first encounter with the extraterrestrials and the dissection of the definition of family. I also appreciated the fact that gender identity was so explored. That being said I didn’t really care for how much nursing was brought up. I am a mother and one who is very comfortable to nurse my child but I don’t need it to be a focus of a book. Additionally, the book was a bit long through the middle.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    An interesting approach to first contact, definitely worth reading. The boundaries of gender identity and presentation, and their intersections with biology and societal expectations are explored, but the complexity came overwhelmingly from the human characters. The aliens' ideas were a lot more rigid and simplistic, which is a trope I'm not super fond of. Making the aliens look like giant pill bugs and spiders was a very purposeful choice, and I think this "animalistic" quality, for lack of a b An interesting approach to first contact, definitely worth reading. The boundaries of gender identity and presentation, and their intersections with biology and societal expectations are explored, but the complexity came overwhelmingly from the human characters. The aliens' ideas were a lot more rigid and simplistic, which is a trope I'm not super fond of. Making the aliens look like giant pill bugs and spiders was a very purposeful choice, and I think this "animalistic" quality, for lack of a better word, made them into less complex people than they could have been. By any other measure, they were human. Other than their bodies and their power structure being different, the aliens weren't particularly distinct from the human characters. This is a spoiler but you may want to be forewarned: (view spoiler)[It was also very convenient for the sex scene that was inserted at the 59% point, in which Judy and her wife have sex with the giant spider guy with ten mouths and many eyes and limbs, and hentai and tentacle porn are discussed. It basically fades to black afterwards, but my good woman, if you're going to insert and interspecies threesome with an alien into your book to create intimacy and a close relationship, did you HAVE to make the alien a giant spider? One that moves like a horse, to be precise? I don't think anybody would be that quick to get over the spiderness of it all. (hide spoiler)] The intersection between capitalism and environmentalism was the main reason why I picked up this book, and it was nuanced enough to keep me engaged. While the different human factions are opposed ideologically, and Emrys is evidently on the side of the people trying to restore the planet, the group of people who behave as a corporation are only villanised to a reasonable degree, and they're allowed room for growth. Religion, Judaism especifically, also plays a big part in the plot. I liked how it was used to build relationships and ground the protagonist, but I think that a woman married to another woman living in a co-parenting polycule and open to polyamory, (view spoiler)[with optional added aliens (hide spoiler)] , at some point in the next 100 years, would not be conservative enough to keep kosher. That seemed like an easy way to introduce the reader to the fact that she's Jewish, but we're reminded enough that that particular choice felt forced. If you've read Axiom's End, this book is similar, but in reverse. (view spoiler)[Instead of aliens coming to Earth, in the past, looking for asylum, the aliens come to Earth, in the future, to grant us an asylum we haven't asked for. I also liked the relationship with Ampersand better. (hide spoiler)]

  17. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. A Half-Built Garden is an intelligent and compelling SF first contact near-future novel by Ruthanna Emrys. Released 26th July 2022 by Macmillan on their Tor Forge imprint, it's 352 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. A Half-Built Garden is an intelligent and compelling SF first contact near-future novel by Ruthanna Emrys. Released 26th July 2022 by Macmillan on their Tor Forge imprint, it's 352 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. This is a beautifully written story, slow moving, with gravitas. I was engaged quite literally from the first page. Alien first contact stories are a favorite and this is a good one. It's set in 2083 and humans have finally banded together (more or less) to banish the corporations to isolated outposts and are in a desperate race to save Earth and maintain habitability. The aliens show up to convince what's left of humanity to abandon Earth before a catastrophe renders it a lost cause. The first person protagonist/narrator is sympathetically written, intelligent, queer, compassionate, and three dimensional. There's a lot of content in the book extrapolating out from corporate oligarchy, corruption, greed, and the nature of power and the effect that has on our climate and habitat. At the same time, it's very much a story about parenthood and identity and the fact that diapers have to be changed and babies insist on being fed even if you're just a few minutes from first contact with alien lifeforms. Some of the mentions of parenting moments gave a whiff of whimsy, some of them, I felt, broke up the narrative thread a bit and yanked me out of my suspension of disbelief. There is a very human story here, wrapped in a breathtakingly creative world building which made me pause at several points in amazement. Ms. Emrys is a gifted storyteller and this is a well written story. Four stars. Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Harrison Schweiloch

    A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys I requested this book from Netgalley based on the recommendation of Seanan McGuire, one of my favorite authors who often recommends books on Twitter that I end up liking. It’s billed as a new take on a first contact story, which I was really in the mood for - I feel like I’m reading a lot more fantasy lately and not enough science fiction. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy fantasy, I do! But science fiction is where my heart lies, and between Hugo reading and A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys I requested this book from Netgalley based on the recommendation of Seanan McGuire, one of my favorite authors who often recommends books on Twitter that I end up liking. It’s billed as a new take on a first contact story, which I was really in the mood for - I feel like I’m reading a lot more fantasy lately and not enough science fiction. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy fantasy, I do! But science fiction is where my heart lies, and between Hugo reading and other stuff, I realized I’m reading a lot more fantasy than science fiction and I miss spaceships and robots. A Half-Built Garden doesn’t have any robots, it it has some cool spaceships in it so that’s a win! But seriously- the main conceit in the book is that a near-future Earth is just barely climbing it’s way out of a climate crisis, and traditional governments and corporations don’t hold the same kind of sway they used to - at least not everywhere. Instead there are a number of environmental reclamation zones that are self-governed by a mixture of leading edge science and Reddit-style consensus. The Earth stuff alone is fascinating and well-written and I could’ve devoured another 200 pages of backstory here. But into this world lands an alien ship making contact - these aliens destroyed their world and live on a ringworld and are seeking out other life forms to rescue them from what they believe is the inevitable doom of a planetary existence. The rub is that humanity is divided - the corporations are ready to jump ship and strip mine a whole new solar system, while the protagonists want to have a chance to actually finish fixing the earth and don’t want to be forced to leave. This was a truly wonderful book. I even enjoyed the parts I didn’t like - for example, I found the multiparty-marriage setup of the protagonists to be off putting and unpleasant- mainly because the narrator and her primary wife seemed to have rushed into it and it didn’t feel like a fully realized, vibrant relationship. I also felt like the corporate presentation veered towards caricature on occasions. But overall the story felt honest and loving and kind and just what I wonted. It was also nice to see a Jewish protagonist that actually felt Jewish. Representation matters, and I always like to feel like there is a place for me in this genre. Thanks to Tor and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    First contact between a major human faction who are eco-socialists(?) that are sure of themselves that they're dialing back the effects of human induced climate change and a dual species collective. Those two species, a plains grub and a sort of tree spider serve the role of tech centric accelerationists who have evolved past the need for planets and are constructing a dyson sphere that will take a few thousand years to build. That premise alone was quite intriguing and I found aspects of that p First contact between a major human faction who are eco-socialists(?) that are sure of themselves that they're dialing back the effects of human induced climate change and a dual species collective. Those two species, a plains grub and a sort of tree spider serve the role of tech centric accelerationists who have evolved past the need for planets and are constructing a dyson sphere that will take a few thousand years to build. That premise alone was quite intriguing and I found aspects of that philosophical debate which this book takes time to unravel worth reading. While I found that first contact premise to be very much worth reading and the trade offs between the different sorts of utopian ideologies colliding, I found some of the conversations and actions between the various characters (both alien to human and human to human) to be preposterous. The humans seemed more alien to me than the aliens. The humans could be broken down to caricatures of specific ideological perspectives while the aliens had nuance while retaining an overarching ideology. I don't know any other word to describe this other than annoying, because I found the initial book's premise to be very good. There are successes today of eco-socialism and they don't resemble the kinds of fictions that eco-socialists in academia envision. This book seems very much influenced by the world envisioned by academics and less so by the reality of how eco-socialism has worked in practice. There's Evo Morales in Bolivia for instance, who has made serious gains in decoupling the capital-labor dynamic that led the the current climate catastrophe, has not entirely given up growth mindset. I would have much rather read a humanity which was much more pragmatic and nuanced interact with these aliens than the one we got in this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    krispy

    unfortunately i don’t think this was the book for me :( it had many things i like to read about i.e. cool aliens, representation, family dynamics, climate awareness, hope! and i came out of reading this agreeing with a lot of ideas this book espoused (capitalism is not it, good intentions don’t always lead to good outcomes, empathy is important) but i just could not get into it 1. my attention span is not strong enough for ~300 pages of first person narration from a narrator i do not vibe with ve unfortunately i don’t think this was the book for me :( it had many things i like to read about i.e. cool aliens, representation, family dynamics, climate awareness, hope! and i came out of reading this agreeing with a lot of ideas this book espoused (capitalism is not it, good intentions don’t always lead to good outcomes, empathy is important) but i just could not get into it 1. my attention span is not strong enough for ~300 pages of first person narration from a narrator i do not vibe with very much, the short chapters did help me a bit but it was a struggle for me to be engaged throughout for some of the reasons below as well 2. too much diplomacy and ideological discussions, not enough actual things happening, book has so much dialogue and so many ideas my smol brain could not synthesize it all, moves too fast (too many conversations being had and options being thrown around) and too slow (not much action, just discussions for a lot of the book) at the same time 3. world-building is very abstracted, author drops little bits of info all the time about the world in 2083 which do contribute to a mental image of the future but my two brain cells could not put them together for the life of me so it was all disjointed, i think i got the gist in terms of causes of environmental destruction, factions, how the aliens are like, but i don’t like feeling confused and i was still confused at many points about how things worked in this future in big and small ways, so i never felt quite immersed and more like i was kind of getting strung along for the ride to not be negative to the end, i did like a few of the characters especially some of the aliens and the thought put into many aspects if this version of the future, but the way it was written just didn’t quite work for me

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth Geary (KagedBooks)

    DNF - 39% This should not be taken as a formal review just a note on the book up to the point where i've read. The concept is quite interesting, and the story does flow, although i'd like to see more world building. DNF'ing because I read as a form of escapism, and the politics thrown into every page here are exhausting. The world is so divisive right now and this future where everyone respects each other and corporations are ostracized is really challenging my suspension of disbelief, more than DNF - 39% This should not be taken as a formal review just a note on the book up to the point where i've read. The concept is quite interesting, and the story does flow, although i'd like to see more world building. DNF'ing because I read as a form of escapism, and the politics thrown into every page here are exhausting. The world is so divisive right now and this future where everyone respects each other and corporations are ostracized is really challenging my suspension of disbelief, more than the aliens. TL:DR: It's my headspace preventing me from finishing this, I may revisit if real world things ever improve.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Heather Jones

    I knew I liked Emrys - I've been enjoying her series of Lovecraftian novels for several years - but this book was just on a whole new level, and blew me away. It's a welcome addition to the newish genre of books that look optimistically at how humans might find new, better, more sustainable way to be communities after the apocalypse, a long, slow, thoughtful first-contact story. It's the future, and Judy, our main character, is part of a watershed community, working to slowly restore Earth's eco I knew I liked Emrys - I've been enjoying her series of Lovecraftian novels for several years - but this book was just on a whole new level, and blew me away. It's a welcome addition to the newish genre of books that look optimistically at how humans might find new, better, more sustainable way to be communities after the apocalypse, a long, slow, thoughtful first-contact story. It's the future, and Judy, our main character, is part of a watershed community, working to slowly restore Earth's ecology after the disasters of our century. A spaceship arrives; the aliens have often seen technological societies destroy their own planets and bring extinction to their own species. They are so happy to arrive at Earth in time to rescue humanity, by taking everyone away from Earth to live with them in space, whether that's what all the humans want, or not. I loved the way, while there are a few villains here, mostly, it's a story of people who all mean well, and want to do what's right, but are in profound conflict about what the right actions are. Give yourself time to read slowly and really immerse yourself in the possibilities that Emrys invites us to consider, because the layers of ideas about community, colonialism, conflict, and communication have powerful implications for how we live now.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alice Lemon

    I just finished beta-reading this for the author this weekend, and thought it was quite good!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Annemieke / A Dance with Books

    Thank you to TorDotCom and Netgalley for the review copy in exchange for an honest review. This does not change my opinion in anyway. Trigger/Content Warnings: Graphic Sex Scene | Discussions about Gender An alien contact human story was what drew me to this book to request to review. I got something a lot more and while I did not love it at all I think there is a lot for others to discover here. I think the whole concept of this future Earth is rather interesting. Basically Earth has fallen ecos Thank you to TorDotCom and Netgalley for the review copy in exchange for an honest review. This does not change my opinion in anyway. Trigger/Content Warnings: Graphic Sex Scene | Discussions about Gender An alien contact human story was what drew me to this book to request to review. I got something a lot more and while I did not love it at all I think there is a lot for others to discover here. I think the whole concept of this future Earth is rather interesting. Basically Earth has fallen ecosystem and corporalism wise. There are big watershed networks all over the planet that are working hard on trying to recover our eco system while making decisions as a whole without one person as the leader. The corporates were pushed away by them and they settled on what was previous new zeeland/austriala I believe. The family dynamics are also very different. Couples take on children and form families with other couples so that there is more of a network for each other and the children. This can be romantic/sexual as well but doesn't have to be. A lot is open about queer identity but even here there seems to still be a stigma on being trans. As much as I liked exploring that part of this book I felt that we were thrown into this story without very little explanation. I was grasping at straws while we were also meeting the aliens and I am fairly certain I didn't manage to catch all the great things about this set up. I think that was a shame. A bit more of a focus on the world building, like the explanation of the actual collapse and war with the corporations would have been nice. Adding into that I am sorry to say is that I did not care for the element of romance in this. It wasn't about it being three persons but about one of them being a headless spider having sex with an f/f couple wih its tentacles/paws/whatever. Like no, okay. I didn't need it to be that graphic either.

  25. 4 out of 5

    On the Same Page

    ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. On paper, I should have loved this book. It has peaceful first contact with aliens, people rising up against corporations to protect the planet, and interesting dynamics between humans and aliens, where the aliens think they know what's best for the humans, and the humans vehemently disagree. The aliens are definitely interesting, as they seem to value motherhood in general, and tend to take mothers more seriously ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. On paper, I should have loved this book. It has peaceful first contact with aliens, people rising up against corporations to protect the planet, and interesting dynamics between humans and aliens, where the aliens think they know what's best for the humans, and the humans vehemently disagree. The aliens are definitely interesting, as they seem to value motherhood in general, and tend to take mothers more seriously than any other people (I honestly still don't know what to think about this, but it was, at least, a take I haven't seen before). It's also queernorm with a Jewish family at its heart, and I really liked seeing the way they still practiced their faith, even that far into the future. Unfortunately, I found the book really tedious to get through. While this book has some really interesting ideas, it ultimately suffers from insufficient worldbuilding. It's written in first person POV from the perspective of Judy, who is narrating events that have already happened. It's unclear if this is as some kind of documentation for future generations or just in her own diary, but this choice means that we get no explanation about the world in which Judy lives, even though it's nowhere near our own. As someone who wasn't familiar with the term "watershed politics" and what that entails, the concept of the watershed networks remained hard to grasp until I finally starting Googling some of the terms the author was using. And it's not just the state of Earth at the time of the book; the way relationships work and what families look like doesn't get explained either. You find out early on that Judy and her wife, Carol, have another couple as co-parents, but what that means for how their household works, or what the relationship between the two couples is, remains a mystery until somewhere in the second half of the book. It made for a frustrating reading experience, since I was spending more time than I wanted to trying to form a mental image of how everything connected, and I would've preferred to spend that energy on digging deeper into the impact of first contact with the aliens. I just felt overwhelmed by all the information I was missing, which didn't make for a great reading experience.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chester Johnson

    Did not finish, I simply couldn't get past the agenda being pushed just in the first few chapters rather than any form of actual science fiction novel. When the main characters in the story get angry at a visiting alien race for implying that the woman who gave birth to a child should be defined as mother, as opposed to someone who identifies as one. When this same future society also figures it to be a priority to find out what pronouns the alien race prefer to use. And later openly wonder how Did not finish, I simply couldn't get past the agenda being pushed just in the first few chapters rather than any form of actual science fiction novel. When the main characters in the story get angry at a visiting alien race for implying that the woman who gave birth to a child should be defined as mother, as opposed to someone who identifies as one. When this same future society also figures it to be a priority to find out what pronouns the alien race prefer to use. And later openly wonder how they will explain important concepts to an alien race immediately after meeting them like Non Binary parenting while calling the otherwise peaceful aliens "ignorant colonizers" in the same vein as indigenous socialism supporters............ Seems like any supposedly scientifically minded future society would have far greater things to address on first contact than Trans, Non binary, and gender identify politics. And the constant bombardment with this really dragged this story down. I have no problem with trans, non binary beliefs, and really wouldn't have minded if these concepts were brought up in passing as part of the story, but they weren't, and I was more interested in actual story development, rather than an ongoing social treatise on this ideaolgy. If you take out all the agenda and Trans politics, the story would have made for a short 2 hour novella rather than a 15 hour audio book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

    https://wordnerdy.blogspot.com/2022/0... Giving this book a big FUCK YEAH, now let me try and tell y’all about it! So it’s set in 2083, and the world is mainly run by a series of environmental collectives, who've been turning around the damage from you, know, ~hand waves~, though there are still some nation-states and corporations hanging around (the latter on their own private islands). Anyway, our protagonist sees some weird environmental readings in the Chesapeake Bay and she and her wife take https://wordnerdy.blogspot.com/2022/0... Giving this book a big FUCK YEAH, now let me try and tell y’all about it! So it’s set in 2083, and the world is mainly run by a series of environmental collectives, who've been turning around the damage from you, know, ~hand waves~, though there are still some nation-states and corporations hanging around (the latter on their own private islands). Anyway, our protagonist sees some weird environmental readings in the Chesapeake Bay and she and her wife take a walk with their baby and discover… an alien ship chilling in the water. And the aliens want to rescue humanity from their broken planet. And suddenly she's one of the main spokespeople for ALIEN DIPLOMACY. Also, pretty much everyone in this book is queer in some capacity and most of the main characters are Jewish! A Passover Seder is significant to the plot! Now there is a lot going on here, lots of explorations of alien culture and future earth culture, maybe it’s a little slow at times, but I totally loved all of it, just super fascinating and HOPEFUL and cool. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. A. __ A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on July 26th.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Selby

    Quite enjoyed this. Essentially a first contact story, with a few twists and plenty of climate dystopia. Main characters on both sides were interesting, not your normal cookie cutter sterotypes. Will definitely ruffle the feathers of anyone who's got a "anti-woke" fetish. I thought the diversity and flexibility of all the different cultures added to the interest. A more positive spin on the future of our planet which I find is much needed at the moment Quite enjoyed this. Essentially a first contact story, with a few twists and plenty of climate dystopia. Main characters on both sides were interesting, not your normal cookie cutter sterotypes. Will definitely ruffle the feathers of anyone who's got a "anti-woke" fetish. I thought the diversity and flexibility of all the different cultures added to the interest. A more positive spin on the future of our planet which I find is much needed at the moment

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stella

    Excellent hopeful climate SF with poly relationships including human/alien.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    There were witty comments scattered throughout the story that I enjoyed. I appreciated that the author emphasized such natural things - breastfeeding, babies, the land - and then juxtaposed them with the aliens and their technology. I also liked that they were rebuilding the land they had destroyed. However, it was really heavy handed on the gender pronouns and the parenting, which ultimately became exhausting. I think I would have liked the book more had it been shorter. Thank you to NetGalley a There were witty comments scattered throughout the story that I enjoyed. I appreciated that the author emphasized such natural things - breastfeeding, babies, the land - and then juxtaposed them with the aliens and their technology. I also liked that they were rebuilding the land they had destroyed. However, it was really heavy handed on the gender pronouns and the parenting, which ultimately became exhausting. I think I would have liked the book more had it been shorter. Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for the ARC.

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