The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord is a complex, far-future space opera that includes the sport of Wallrunning. The skills and implications of Wallrunning, it turns out, influence events on an interstellar scale.
I was very pleased to re-encounter characters from Lord’s earlier novel The Best of All Possible Worlds (described at the end of this post), though The Galaxy Game focuses on other protagonists. A prologue helped orient me to the spacefaring civilization featured in these novels, and a little of how things had changed on these worlds in the interim. There’s a lot going on: pilots who bond with living spaceships, people with psychic powers, dealing with the fallout from the fairly recent destruction of the planet Sadira and its refugees.
Wallrunning is a strategy game involving, as you might guess, a wall with different zones, each with different microgravities. The wall can tilt and shear as well; complex team strategy involving such roles as ladders, hookers, slingers, snakes, an anchor, and a nexus, can help or hinder other players, cause wall tilting, or send players flying off the wall into a bodycatcher at the bottom. The game conveys status on star players and influences a major portion of several economies, whether directly or indirectly.
Though there are several point of view characters, the major focus is on Rafidelarua, a teenager who is oblivious to the larger implications of almost every situation he encounters. This means that reading the story includes piecing together disparate clues from an array of angles. Rafi moves among several different cultures and economies, and I learned about them along with him. Things Rafi encounters in passing, like the mindship he travels in, and the reason behind his quarantine prior to interstellar travel, gradually loom larger in the narrative and suddenly merge into the overarching plot. Rafi’s training as a wallrunner, then a nexus, seems almost like an aside for a while, until its significance bursts out in an extremely satisfying way.
I loved Lord’s approach to thoughtful, intersectional speculative fiction. I wrote about The Best of All Possible Worlds for Heroes and Heartbreakers back in February 2013; I described it as having the feel of one of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Hainish novels. It’s about a society of humans spread across a number of different planets, each with their own unique cultures and levels of paranormal ability. The core of the story is the relationship between Grace Delarua, a government liaison to refugees from the destroyed planet Sadira, and Dllenahkh, the chief representative for that group. Dllenahkh has very strong psychic abilities, and Grace is beginning to discover her own talents in this area.
For the entire story, Grace and Dllenahkh have an unusually harmonious working relationship and consider each other friends, but at the same time, both are restraining much more romantic and physical desires. Their interaction is complicated by the fact that most of the surviving Sadiri are male, and thus are seeking wives on Grace’s planet. Naturally, the romance eventually emerges, amid complications arising from their differing cultures. If you like sweet friends-to-lovers romances, or slow burn, this is a wonderful and rewarding example.
However, the thing I most appreciated about The Best of All Possible Worlds was the outside relationships both characters formed and maintained throughout the story. Neither character is an island. During the course of the novel, they build and maintain strong connections that are richly realistic. In particular, I loved that Grace had so many female friends, for instance her BFF Gilda, a famous scientist she meets in the course of her work, and her superior officer, Dr. Daniyel, who offers the perspective of an older generation to Grace.
You don’t need to read these two books in order, as they’re not immediate sequels, but doing so offers some additional depth to the stories.