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Karen Lord, sci-fi writer, prefers her fiction with a dose of reality

The Caribbean author and academic has a reading fantasy

Karen Lord and her book “The Blue, Beautiful World” Rey

In “The Blue, Beautiful World,” Karen Lord imagines a future with humanlike beings living on planets readying to make first contact with the people on Earth. The book is the most recent installment in the award-winning author’s Cygnus Beta cycle series. Lord earned a PhD in the sociology of religion and worked as a researcher before turning to writing. Her first novel, “Redemption in Indigo,” was inspired by a Senegalese folk tale. She lives on Barbados.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

LORD: Right now, I’m savoring Kate Elliott’s “Furious Heaven,” which is the sequel to “Unconquerable Sun” in her Sun Chronicles series. She’s taken the history of Alexander the Great and turned it into a space odyssey. It’s a massive, complex story that really engages the brain.


BOOKS: Do you read mostly science fiction?

LORD: It’s one of my favorite genres, but I’m not limited to it. I do enjoy a good mystery, and I dabble in romance.

BOOKS: What’s the last great mystery you read?

LORD: I was recently dipping into Dorothy L. Sayers’s “Gaudy Night,” one of the books in her Lord Peter Wimsey series. It’s one of my favorites and is set in a fictional women’s college in Oxford. She’s talking about women in academia, and, even though it’s the era between the World Wars, there’s still quite a bit that is relevant to what women in academia face now.

BOOKS: What was the last great romance you read?

LORD: I enjoy Courtney Milan. She does a very good historical romance. There’s a strain of romance that is a bit sanitized and Disney-fied. Her books have a touch of realism that I find pleasant. She doesn’t have the people be perfect. I like escapism like anyone else, but there’s a point when too much rewriting of history becomes annoying.


BOOKS: Do you read nonfiction?

LORD: It’s great fodder for fiction writers but it still has to be well told. I recently read “Four Lost Cities,” by Annalee Newitz. Speculative writers and readers are often obsessed with apocalypse and what I liked about this book is that it’s about these ancient cities that ended in some dramatic way. We are still trying to uncover what happened to these people. I found the book very compellingly told.

BOOKS: Has your taste in science fiction changed over time?

LORD: I find myself leaning toward more realistic fiction and not so much escapism because it feels frivolous. The other thing is that I don’t really have much time to read. Fortunately, I can read very quickly; so it’s not that I’m afraid of big books, but when there are lots of thick books in a series, I start questioning my time investment. I don’t often start a series that’s not finished. Publishers have been known to drop series when readership trails off. You also get authors where you start to wonder if they have charted out their narrative arc.

BOOKS: What are your reading habits?

LORD: Nobody told me that when you become a writer that your reading time is no longer your own. My hobby has become my work. People ask me to read books for blurbing or I have to read a book to moderate a panel, or I get asked about famous Caribbean writers I haven’t read yet. I’m always embarrassed about that. Sometimes I have to give Caribbean literature a priority. There are so many writers now you have to keep abreast of what they are doing.


BOOKS: Who are some of the Caribbean authors you would recommend to American readers?

LORD: Some of the biggest names are the Booker Prize winner Marlon James and the Jamaican British author Leone Ross. She’s extremely good and reminds me of Nalo Hopkinson. She did a lot of combining folk tales and science fiction with books such as “Skin Folk” well before I considered doing that. There’s also a real surge of excellent Caribbean authors writing stories about emigrating to the UK, such as Samuel Selvon’s “The Lonely Londoners” and George Lamming’s “In the Castle of My Skin.”

BOOKS: How would you change yourself as a reader?

LORD: I wish I had a long summer just to curl up with books that I don’t have to analyze or keep notes.