Review by Michelle Doering
In The Last Diaspora: Letters to Earth, author Mandy Gardner challenges readers to open themselves up to new ideas and embrace the diversity found within the human race.
Set in the distant future, this story revolves around a young cadet named Zed who has been tasked with starting up a colony on a distant planet; a distant planet which seems to be inhabited by intelligent lifeforms known only as The Strangers. While he is less convinced than some about the intentions of these supposedly friendly aliens, Zed is excited to explore the universe and put his training to good use. Alas, on the peculiar purple planet of Dharti, nothing is as he expects it to be and the survival of his colony is no longer dependent on his army training, but on his willingness and ability to change and adapt to a new way of thinking.
Admittedly, the beginning of this book can be hard to get into. I, much like Zed, found everyone else’s antics and blind faith to be a bit ridiculous, but there was actually a method to the madness, which I was pleasantly surprised by. Also, although there is no thrilling plot or outside antagonist to this story, it was fascinating seeing the colony develop and work together in order to create something that represents all the best aspects of humankind. This diversity is not portrayed in a very sophisticated or nuanced way, but it gets the point across nevertheless.
Though I personally thought the story was lacking in some areas, I recognize that it is a pleasant and inclusive read within a genre that is not always as progressive as it should be. As a gay woman, queer representation is always something that is near and dear to my heart, and this book explicitly has it. No subtextual queer undertones, but actual in-text accounts of a female/female romance, which I’m always here for. Also, unrequited love is such an overused trope in queer stories; by which I mean a poor sad lonely gay person who falls in love with a straight person who can never love them back. I’m so happy to report that this is not one of these stories, and I quite enjoyed the role reversal regarding this particular trope.
I also really enjoyed seeing Zed develop as a character. He starts off as a very strict and unadaptable person, but by letting go of his pride and opening himself up to others, he is able to do something truly remarkable; change. Now, that isn’t to say that he didn’t get on my nerves from time to time, because he definitely did! But I think that’s what makes him an interesting character. At times I was able to relate to him, and others I thought he was a complete moron. There’s a bit of complexity to him that can’t really be found anywhere else in the story.
At its core, this book is a celebration of human cultures and how easily we can come together if we keep an open mind. Though it can come across a bit preach-y at times, I would still highly recommend it. I think we could all do with more happy faith-based stories about the innate goodness in the universe. Give it a read. You just might learn something from it.