The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

Description: On the verge of adulthood, Rafi attends the Lyceum, a school for the psionically gifted. Rafi possesses mental abilities that might benefit people . . . or control them. Some wish to help Rafi wield his powers responsibly―others see him as a threat to be contained. Rafi’s only freedom at the Lyceum is Wallrunning: a game of speed and agility played on vast vertical surfaces riddled with variable gravity fields.

Serendipity and Ntenman are also students at the Lyceum, but unlike Rafi they come from communities where such abilities are valued. Serendipity finds the Lyceum as much a prison as a school, and she yearns for a meaningful life beyond its gates. Ntenman, with his quick tongue, quicker mind, and a willingness to bend if not break the rules, has no problem fitting in. But he too has his reasons for wanting to escape.

This is a galaxy-spanning story with a fascinating cast of characters, futuristic sports and psychic powers.

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord is a fascinating book about culture, politics, fear and a game that illustrates the intersection of all of these things.  This is a well-defined and complicated galaxy.  The interactions between the various worlds and the cultures that sprang from them are not easy to digest and the story requires a close rather than a casual reading.

The story centers primarily around Rafi, a psionically gifted student whose abilities are viewed variously as something to be exploited or something to be feared, both by others and by himself.  Rafi and his friends, Ntenman and Serendipity are all anxious to leave the Lyceum, the school attempting both to help Rafi understand and control his gift and to assess the danger he poses. Rafi and Ntenman sneak off planet to the world of Punartam, where Rafi must learn a whole new way of social interaction as well as develop his skills in the game of Wallrunning.

Karen Lord is obviously an extremely talented writer and The Galaxy Game is full of intriguing ideas and well-thought out political interactions with realistic consequences and developments. Wallrunning is a complex game requiring both skill and strategy.  It serves as a foil for the political games going on within this universe. I wish the game itself had been better described and illustrated.  As it is, the skills necessary for the game are fairly well-covered, but how the game is played as well as its objectives remain murky.  Perhaps that is what was intended, but it felt lacking.

The societies in The Galaxy Game are uniformly fascinating and the constant maneuvering for position both for the present and the future make for a great read. When sudden and violent upheaval occurs, the pieces that have been maneuvered into place throughout the story suddenly come to life and take the story in new and interesting directions.

This is an entertaining story filled with well-executed and complicated ideas.  There is a lot to explore in this world and it invites a close reading and rereading.  The Galaxy Game is thoughtful science fiction and well worth the read.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

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