Purple Skin Blues
Review of The Last Diaspora Book 1 Letters to Earth
By Tom Pahlow
First contact with aliens from across the galaxy. An exciting premise for Mandy Gardner’s first instalment of The Last Diaspora. Letters to Earth is a beautiful coming of age story about starting life afresh on a new and mysterious planet. A diverse set of characters explore the dynamics of a truly open society as civilisation is started anew.
Humanity has finally managed to contact aliens, The Strangers. Zed Walker is tasked as one of the leaders of humanity's next colony on the alien world. But when Zed wakes up on the planet suddenly, he must try to fulfil his mission while uncovering the mysteries of the Strangers. Together with the other survivors, he works to make the new planet home. all the while enduring heartache, grief, crushing responsibilities and isolation. Can he find his peace and the aliens that brought him to the planet?
There’s a soft spot in my heart for any story about establishing life on a new planet. It makes me yearn to be an explorer and discover the beauty of a place no human has ever seen before. In Letters to Earth, Gardner gave me a world to explore that was truly remarkable. Strange creatures, hallucinogenic flowers, an environment that shifts and moves of its own accord. Every chapter revealed some new part of a fantastic world to explore.
Underneath it all was the mystery surrounding the Strangers. Clues sprinkled throughout gave the world life and filled me with a sense of awe and a longing for purple skin. As far as first instalments go, Letters to Earth set up a universe that had me hooked.
Though, there was one mystery that seemed to fall from everyone’s mind in the book. Brought up a couple of times, the disappearance of the rest of the colony ship seems like something I would not have been able to let go of. Yet it seemed like anytime it was mentioned, it was almost as an afterthought. I suppose this might have been part of the reason I expected some nightmarish plot twist. Or maybe I’m just a paranoid reader.
One of the best parts of the book was the truly diverse roster of characters. Race, gender, sexuality and so many experiences of life were shown. In some instances, the personality of the characters was the focus and in others, character arcs revolved around their experiences of identity. Uniformly,
though, every one of them was treated with respect and grew the story. Something that I am enjoying seeing more of.
While reading, I was struck by the realisation of how cynical I am. Perhaps this was part of the reason why Zed’s refusal to accept the changes around him resonated with me. Faced with what seemed like a utopia, I found myself constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the seemingly perfect and happy scene to be twisted into a nightmare that chills you to your very bones.
Instead, what I found was a beautiful story about personal growth. The utopia that the survivors were creating let the growth of the characters take centre stage. Gardner showed us that sometimes we can become so preoccupied with an idealised idea of the future, that we let it impact the present we are living. That starting anew can be difficult if you can’t let go of the past.
I truly cannot wait to delve deeper into The Last Diaspora.