Multi-verse depicted as never before in this debut sci-fi, The Space Between Worlds
The Space Between Worlds by Macaiah Johnson
Published 8/2020, 336 pages
Just released, this sci-fi debut novel is fascinating. Thanks to #NetGalley and #RandomHouseBallantine for the ARC - the opinions are my own.
I was impressed by the concept and then amazed at how well it was developed. The idea of multiple worlds existing on the same time plane isn't new, but to me (admittedly a sci-fi neophyte) this treatment was very creative.
AN EXCITING PREMISE
Cara, the amazing heroine, is an outcast but through a case of mistaken identity, weasels her way into a job in the "city" where she becomes a world traveler. In fact, the most widely traveled traveler. People selected to be travelers have to be expendable because it's so high risk - and she's from an edge-of-civilization town filled with expendables.
There are 322 discovered Earth worlds, all on roughly the same timeline, though on each world each person's life might take a different path. The great twist is that travelers can only visit worlds where they are already dead so there's no dissonance of coexistence. And Cara's dead on LOTS of worlds! The way that affects her, her feelings, her future, are explored very well.
A description of the process of traveling:
"It's been years since I've really paid attention to the act of traversing, the feeling of weightlessness, of being nowhere and also the center of everything. I feel the presence I will probably always call Nyame now, and Dell will always tell me is just a mix of pressure and hallucination."
As she visits each of these worlds, Cara's job is to go to specific data collection sites and retrieve data about the developments on that particular planet. She manages to take the occasional side trip and interacts with people that are still alive on Earth but have different characteristics on the other worlds. The story delves into only a few of these characters and personalities, which is plenty. Hard to keep the worlds and people separate!
On one of her visits to a different Earth, she is told their version of "have a good day" which is "May your life be long and easy". That caused her to muse philosophically:
"Why are we, who are so unhappy, fixated on long lives? What is the point? An easy life isn't a blessing. Easy doesn't mean happy. Alive doesn't mean anything at all. Sometimes the path to an easy life makes you miserable. The only person I've ever heard value happiness is the former empress. She named her second son Happy, hoping it would be true. She knew the cost of an easy life, and the uselessness of a long one. She had both. She wished neither for her child."
During the story we meet her religious sister and stepfather, her abusive ex, her current unrequited love, her mentor - each such great and well developed characters - in all their iterations. But at the center of the story always is Cara, a strong, determined, brave woman. Along the course of the story she has several critical decision points that determine her character. The choices she makes aren't always the easy ones, but it's so interesting to follow her along her path.
There is love, loss, pain, all the ups and downs we all face in our lives. When she loses a friend, the "funeral" prayer spoken by her religious sister says in part:
"I am commending you into the arms of the earth, the preserver of all mercy. I am returning you to everlasting peace, and to the denser reality of the creator of all. Don't be scared. Don't regret. Whatever time you had, it was enough. Whatever you accomplished, it was enough. We will remember your good deeds for the rest of our lives. We will forget your wrongdoings forever. Thank you for spending your time in the dirt with us."
I particularly love the "remember your good deeds forever and forget the wrongdoings forever" section. That should be part of EVERY funeral!
The writing is almost poetic sometimes and harsh and angry at other times. I sometimes had a bit of trouble keeping the characters straight as they appeared on multiple worlds with slightly different traits, but that wasn't distracting and once I made the connections, it was fascinating. A thoroughly readable, intriguing, and well written story. This could be a fun diversion for a book club that tends to focus on literary choices. It's not hard core sci-fi and there are some interesting societal complexities explored that would be fun to discuss.
Reading Challenge: #BooklistQueen20: #49 - published in 2020 You can see how I'm doing with my reading challenges in the Challenges tab at the top of the page.
photo by Terrie Purkey