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The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (book review).

October 17, 2020 | By | Reply More

There are 380 other versions of our Earth. Only one has discovered how to travel between them, Earth Zero, and they’ve found it quite lucrative. There’s just one drawback, if you want to survive travelling to another Earth, the other version of you must be dead or you will die from extreme and inexplicable, crush trauma. The safe, protected citizens of Wiley City are usually equally safe and protected on other Earths so they had to look elsewhere, beyond the borders of the city to the huddle of people surrounding them that aren’t allowed in, the trash of Ashtown.

People who live risky, desperate lives of gang violence and drugs, environmental decay and despair. People who can always see the charmed space of Wiley City but can’t get in. A lucky few are given a job offer. Survive just a few short years moving between Earths and you can stay in Wiley City forever.

Cara wants to belong in Wiley City. She has two short years left and her temporary visa will be permanent. She won’t have to worry about losing her job and immediate deportation back to risks of Ashtown. She has learnt the dress codes and the lingo. She’s becoming more and more useful everyday as alternate versions of herself die. On 372 worlds, Cara is dead. There are only 8 world’s where Cara is still alive. Lucky.

I can list other Science Fiction that use the idea of alternate universes: Philip K. Dick’s ‘The Man In The High Castle’ and The ‘Long Earth’ series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. All have their own take on the concept. ‘The Space Between Worlds’ is not like those. As a standalone novel it is not an on-going tale of hi-jinx in variations of the same Earth. It isn’t an alternate history. Johnson’s other Earths are, for the most part, physically similar. It is the differences in people that are the focus. An exploration of how one step in another direction leads to another future. Cara’s fragile existence demonstrates just how short those steps can be for many people.

The idea of the safe, utopian city sitting next to the slums of the have nots is not new and, as in the case, the split is often along racial lines. The white folk sit comfortably while the black and the brown struggle in a condensed parallel of the world we live in. In Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’, the division is more colonial, with the resources of one place being drained for the comfort of another. The division between Ashtown and Wiley City is much closer.

Many versions of characters live with a view of the other place. So close, yet so far, and none lying in between. Moving to an American city recently, I feel the truth of this. Turn a corner in a ‘nice’ street and suddenly you’re surrounded by broken windows and people scavenging in trash cans for aluminium cans. I’m warned away from certain streets, but only after dark. There are two worlds here that are close enough to touch but never quite meet. Cara’s struggle to belong in Wiley City is the struggle of many struggling to change their world in our own system of privilege. Where one side will always see where you’re from and the other will always see what you’ve become. Reaching one means losing the other.

I haven’t been caught by a book in quite a while. Just one more chapter. Was it Cara’s story? The world building? The writing? All of them together. This novel is sharp and witty and sucked me right in. It does that thing that the best books do, it feels real while you’re reading it. There are no moments that shocked me out of the reading trance to scoff and disbelieve. Each element slotted into place like the finest of cabinetry. The end came with that bittersweet feeling of being sad that it ended but happy that the ending fitted so well. I look forward to rereading ‘The Space Between Worlds’.

I am also very happy that this is a debut novel as that means there is more to come from Micaiah Johnson.

LK Richardson

October 2020

(pub: Del Rey/Penguin/Random House, 2020. 336 page hardback. Price: $28.00 (US), $37.00 (CAN), £15.58 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-59313-505-1)

check out website: www.delreybooks.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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