Review of The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
Johnson offers a wonderfully imperfect heroine and her fascinating journeys through the multiverse, her various lives, and her alternate selves in this science fiction debut.
Cara is one of a dwindling number of traversers. She can travel through the multiverse, but only to worlds where another version of herself no longer exists. Her other selves seem uncannily apt to die, so Cara is able to visit 372 other Earths where her counterparts are no longer living.
She comes from poverty and an unfavored area, and she lives in uncertain status, without citizenship or security aside from her employment for the mysterious, greedy Eldridge Institute. She collects off-world data, the purpose of which has never been of interest to her--she's more focused on tracking the shadows of her other existences, piecing together the lives of her counterparts, and keeping a journal of all that was and might have been.
If I figured anything out in these last six years, it is this: human beings are unknowable.
But when one of Cara's eight remaining selves mysteriously dies while she is world walking, shocking secrets are revealed that connect various worlds and shake Cara to her core. She must cobble together the various bits of knowledge and savviness she's gained through tracing the steps of her many other selves if she's going to stand any chance of outsmarting the canny and intelligent Adam Bosch--a man who will otherwise almost certainly be the source of her undoing.
I could become the thing I'd always feared, and then I might never be afraid of anything again.
This was a fascinating story that offered satisfying character depth and various permutations of Cara herself, her family members, loves, nightmarish enemies, and best friends. Johnson's explorations of the complicated intersections of class, wealth and poverty, control of valuable resources, and disparate levels of freedom throughout the multiverse are haunting. Cara lives through tantalizing explorations of her alternate lives--and the shape of each is dramatically affected by her own various small and large decisions, others' choices, and chance.
I was intrigued by the layers Johnson built into the story. In some worlds, Cara recognizes common characteristics in those she loves or fears; she sometimes barely recognizes the same people in other worlds; and she always mentally logs the various factors that allowed beauty or cruelty or desperation or joy to take root. There's a postapocalyptic feel to the story, with turf wars, corruption, mercenary "runners" who shake down travelers, and gritty survivors.
When asked what this discovery could teach us about what mattered, about death, and human nature, and how to make the world a gentler place, both parties were silent. But we were right, the scientists said. And so were we, the spiritual said.
Cara isn't superhuman; she's imperfect, sometimes selfish, tough, and occasionally she's wonderfully vulnerable. I loved her as an unlikely heroine, and I loved that it wasn't too easy for her to attempt to address complex issues within the multiverse.
The middle of the story dragged a little bit for me, but generally I was hooked and ready for whatever Johnson was serving up. Side note: I'd like for this story to also become a movie, thank you very much.
I received an advance digital copy of this book courtesy of Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
This is Micaiah Johnson's first book. Its tone reminded me a little bit of The Goddess in the Machine.
If you like books with a postapocalyptic feel, check out the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Fantastic Dystopian and Postapocalyptic Novels.