Ruthanna Emrys’ A Half-Built Garden was published 26 July 2022. The blurb for the book reads as follows:
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.
Given the plot takes place roughly sixty years from now the most alien thing about the whole story was the humans. First off, in sixty years time? Really? That’s bloody soon. Major things must have happened for people on Earth to turn course and it must have happened within the next twenty to thirty years. What happened?
The corporations, who according to their own statements have ruled Earth for over a hundred years, have been banned to artificial islands in the South Pacific. Their Hunger-Games-District-One-like behaviour has brought them to a point where, apart from piling on money, gender-fluid representation seems more important than anything else.
Admirably, eco-friendly networks in North America are trying to save the planet by living very down to earth, reducing and even negating their carbon footprints. These eco-friendly people live in co-parenting, gender-fluid/transsexual households and are interconnected through dandelion networks that help them make democratic decisions. The networks seem to be based on how Reddit threads work.
The aliens, called Ringers, have been searching the galaxy for other sentient species that they can save from extinction. Earth is the first planet they arrive at in time to do so. The Ringers have been studying humans from radio and television broadcasts they received over the last 200 years. Hence the Ringers speak English fluently and have a broad understanding of how Western human culture works. They want to incorporate humanity into their system of symbiotic living on dyson sphere space stations light years from our solar system.
People from the dandelion networks make first contact with the Ringers. They don’t want to leave the planet. The US government wants a chance to expand into space. And the corporations hope for new technology and ways to make money. Now the Earthlings, made up of the three factions, need to try to ‘persuade’ each other and the Ringers what would be the best course of action.
Gender dynamics and parenting are topics that caused this book to be compared to the works of Ursula K. LeGuin and Becky Chambers. Yet, Chambers and LeGuin manage to interweave those topics into their stories in a far more engaging way than Emrys does. She intersperses the fairly interesting basis of her story with breastfeeding, pronoun badges, discussions about parenting, gender fluidity and non-binary gender pronouns, alien tentacle threesomes, and a few discussions about who of the three human groups might be right, and of course a few squabbles amongst the different Ringer factions.
I had expected to read a book about first contact, about aliens and how they live, about what makes Earth and it’s inhabitants important to preserve despite the problems the planet and humanity face.
What I actually read was a book centred on parenting and gender pronouns; democratic eco-friendly co-parenting versus corporations on artificial islands that are hiding their children and need five different gender pronouns depending on what kind of clothes they wear. Oh, yes, and there were aliens that looked like lizards and spiders and lived in symbiosis and had rather organic technology.
What rankled me further, there wasn’t any global representation; humanity is not just dandelion networks, the US government and some corporations in the South Pacific. Also, and this was mentioned briefly by the main character, Earth is made up of more than just humans, but the book centred on humans and their survival only.
2/5 Harpy Eagles