Title: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 4 August 2020
Genre: Adult | Science fiction | Multiverse
Page extent: 336 pages
Goodreads blurb: A multiverse-hopping outsider discovers a secret that threatens her home world and her fragile place in it–a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.
CARA IS DEAD ON THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FOUR WORLDS.
The multiverse business is booming, but there’s just one catch: no one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive.
Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying–from diseases, from turf wars, from vendettas they couldn’t outrun.
But on this earth, Cara’s survived. And she’s reaping the benefits, thanks to the well-heeled Wiley City scientists who ID’d her as an outlier and plucked her from the dirt. Now she’s got a new job collecting offworld data, a path to citizenship, and a near-perfect Wiley City accent. Now she can pretend she’s always lived in the city she grew up staring at from the outside, even if she feels like a fraud on either side of its walls.
But when one of her eight remaining doppelgangers dies under mysterious circumstances, Cara is plunged into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and future in ways she never could have imagined–and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.
Well this book was fucking excellent. Like, really fucking excellent. I think it might be my favourite sci fi. Ever. God, it was so good. From the plot twists 9% in that continued all the way through, to the deep social commentary on issues from gun violence to class to climate change, the exploration of trauma and survival, The Space Between Worlds managed to bring together so many different issues into one perfect sapphic scifi that’ll I’ll be thinking about for pretty much the next five years.
The Space Between Worlds is set on an Earth which has discovered multiverse travel. But there’s a catch: you can only visit a parallel universe if the parallel you is already dead. Traversers, those who have died on other worlds, are hired to travel across the multiverse to get information. Cara is one of these traversers. But when one of the parallel Cara’s is killed in mysterious circumstances, Cara is drawn into a plot that endangers the entire multiverse.
It’s difficult to put into words how much I loved this book. I was hooked completely from the very first page. We’re drawn into this incredibly detailed world, and Johnson has done such an epic job of the worldbuilding. There’s an enclosed, rich city, protected from the harsh weather outside and a Mad Max style desert, where the poorer individuals live overruled by a self-styled emperor. We’re thrust into this world that has been ravaged by climate change, and it felt like a bleak look into our future, so realistic and well detailed was this world. The Space Between Worlds subtly explores issues like climate change in a way that isn’t in your face or preachy – it’s anything but that. In fact, on the surface, there is no blatant discussion of issues like climate change or gun violence. But Johnson has woven these concepts throughout in subtle descriptions of the world: from the way people get around with tarps to protect from the sun, to the stark absence of guns at all, to the descriptions of acid in the air, Johnson weaves social commentary into the story with such a powerful impact.
But what’s most powerful is the depiction of trauma, domestic abuse, and an individual who has survived but is still deeply affected and damaged by what she’s been through. The way Cara is written is just phenomenal. She is such a brilliant, morally grey character. I longed for her to find her safety as much as I longed for her to get her revenge. I won’t say too much about her (spoilers…) but it breaks my heart to see how wrecked and lonely she is and then to see her grow and survive what she’s been through and learn how to use what she’s been through against her enemies, it’s so fucking perfect. Also she’s bi/pan and my heart is just singing to see a bi/pan character get a story this epic.
The romance made my heart hurt (ofc). To see Dell and Cara constantly come close and drift apart, to see how their misunderstandings tear them apart when all I wanted to scream was PLEASE BE HAPPY TOGETHER was just 😭😭😭😭
To conclude: I have so many thoughts about this book. It left me with that feeling that really good books often do, the feeling like I got run over by a car, or that a hole was punched through my chest, that emotional ‘god I can’t quite believe I read this’ level of awe. I can’t wait to see what Johnson does next.