A Half-Built Garden

A Half-Built Garden

by Ruthanna Emrys
Setting: United States
Published on July 26, 2022
Pages: 340
Format: Hardcover Source: Library

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.

I enjoy a good first contact story. In this version aliens touch down in the Chesapeake Watershed. A woman is sent out in the middle of the night to monitor some new contaminants and stumbles across the spaceship.

I quite enjoyed the world building in this story. In this version of the 2080s, river networks are the organizing basis for large populations of ecologically minded people who strive to live in cooperation while actively working to heal the Earth. Basically, take everything that would make conservative Americans start to hyperventilate and make a society out of it. I loved it. Can we have that please?

The people at the center of this story are a Jewish polyamorous queer couple with an infant who have just set up a household with two co-parents who have a toddler. They are just starting to work out how their household will function when they suddenly have to try to figure out how to blend the desires of three species.

I liked that decisions were made basically in real-time Reddit threads with discussions between anyone logged in and moderated by algorithms that make sure that the decision represents the agreed upon community values. It also shows what can happen when technology like this that is heavily relied on is sabotaged.

There are humans who don’t like this set up. There is still a United States government representing some humans. Followers of corporations live on artificial islands in a very different societal system.

This book is dense with ideas and interactions. That made it a slow read for me. I had to pay very close attention to what was happening every moment. There are ideas in this book that I will be thinking about for a long time.