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And When I Walked

Natural Selection

By Malinda Lo 

3 May, 2019

Doing What the WFC Cannot Do


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2013’s Natural Selection is an ancillary work to Malinda Lo’s Adaptation 1 .

Amber was born on distant Kurra before moving with her parents to Earth. She looks human enough to pass without notice. None of Amber’s schoolmates know that an alien is among them2.

This piece describes two rites of passage: one on Kurra (obligatory for Imrians like Amber) and one on Earth (not a formal rite of passage, but nonetheless a formative experience for Amber). Amber’s Earth experience takes place two years before her Kurra rite. 

Other Imrians think of Amber as an Earthsider; she’s spent enough time on Earth that she’s something of an outsider. Despite this, she is expected to take part in the Kibila, a renewal ritual that Imrians undergo every fifteen years. This Kibila is Amber’s first and so especially meaningful. 

On Earth, camping with fellow grade-eight students is not a formal rite of passage. But … this particular campout may be difficult for Amber, who is negotiating a complicated round of crushes and crushees. Amber crushes on Morgan (female), Morgan crushes on Zack (male). Amber doesn’t like Zack, but forces herself to listen sympathetically as Morgan bemoans Zack’s lack of interest. 

What the humans do not know, and Amber has not revealed, is that she can read emotions at a touch. It’s an Imrian gift. If she needs to know how someone feels about her, all Amber needs to do is brush against them. With such a gift, how could Amber fail to negotiate social minefields? 


All too often, hearing is not the same as real listening and understanding. This seems to hold for Imrians as well as humans. 

I haven’t read Adaptation yet. I would guess that there’s some overlap in characters between the some of the events of this are foreshadowed by the people present in this story and absent from the next. I will find out when I get access to a copy of Adaptation .

This novella is a nice example of what a skilled author can accomplish in a single short piece. Lo interweaves and parallels two narratives linked by a single character; in one, Amber deals with various expressions of xenophobia amidst upper class American teens alarmed at any evidence of non-conformity, while in the other, she is wending her way back into a native culture from which she has been separated by circumstance. Amber is engaging enough to raise my interest in the other works in this series; no doubt more reviews will follow. 

Natural Selection is available here (Amazon), here (Amazon.ca) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: Specifically, it is entry 1.5. I don’t think my system can handle fractional volume numbers. 

2: Aside from the empathic touch and perhaps a somewhat greater range of appearances, many of the differences between humans and Imrians may be cultural. This raises the question how two unrelated species from different planets could be so similar as to pass for each other at a glance. This is not answered in the story as far as I could tell. 

Imrians who never visit Earth appear to be unfamiliar with the art of reading body language. Has there ever been a story in which non-telepaths wowed telepaths with their ability to discern feelings without normal telepathic senses?