The Space Between Worlds Micaiah Johnson Del Rey Books August 2020 ISBN: 9780593135051 HC: $28.00 336 pages Order now!
In Micaiah Johnson’s debut novel, The Space Between Worlds, there are multiple versions of future Earth – 380 to be exact – and the Eldridge Institute has discovered how to travel between them in order to collect valuable data. The tricky part is you can’t travel to an Earth if your alternative self is still alive. Therefore the Institute’s star transverser is a young woman named Cara who is dead in all but eight universes.
Cara also travels between worlds of a different kind; she now lives in the lily-white, rich bubble of Wiley City, and visits family in the Mad-Max-style wastelands. Neither feels quite right to her and she spends much of the novel struggling to reconcile her identities on Earth Zero (forget the ones through the multiverse). It’s impossible not to connect the novel’s themes of race, class, power, and labor with the pandemic and protests of today, especially as Cara considers the capitalistic value of her own (multiple) bodies’ suffering.
Cara finds out that she has died yet again; this time on Earth 74. She is assigned to this new world by her work crush Dell, and quickly discovers some explosive secrets. Things get complicated, to say the least, but Johnson cleverly weaves together all the plot threads and many surprises with ease.
Like its protagonist, the novel does not fit neatly in one box. Johnson uses both economic and lyrical prose to execute an intricate plot and give us deep insight into the characters. The author does not shy from depictions of Cara’s abuse on the page, yet there are moments of wry humor. It combines reliable sci-fi tropes with refreshing world-building details. It’s fast-paced, yet I found myself thinking about the multidimensional (no pun intended) characters days later.
Erin McCourt is a writer and adjunct professor living in Philadelphia.