Title: The Space Between Worlds
Author: Michaiah Johnson
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Release Date: August 4, 2020
Source: Book of the Month
Recommended for fans of: Dark Matter, The Firebird Trilogy, The Flash, Fringe, alternate universes
An outsider who can travel between worlds discovers a secret that threatens her new home and her fragile place in it, in a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.
Multiverse travel is finally possible, 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 disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.
On this Earth, however, Cara has survived. Identified as an outlier and therefore a perfect candidate for multiverse travel, Cara is plucked from the dirt of the wastelands. Now she has a nice apartment on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. She works—and shamelessly flirts—with her enticing yet aloof handler, Dell, as the two women collect off-world data for the Eldridge Institute. She even occasionally leaves the city to visit her family in the wastes, though she struggles to feel at home in either place. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, Cara is on a sure path to citizenship and security.
But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.
The Space Between Worlds was surprisingly grounded for a story about travel between alternate worlds. Cara is a strong and tough MC whose trips through the multiverse force her to face all the parts of herself, even the ugly parts she might rather not examine.
The world building and science behind the multiverse travel was interesting and sound. Here, a person can only visit other worlds where their doppelgänger is dead, the opposite of how inter-dimensional travel worked in Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy. This conundrum adds social commentary on race, class, and politics as the best candidates for multiverse travel are those who come from poor, violent, and otherwise broken backgrounds.
I thought Johnson did a fantastic job of realizing multiple versions of the same characters. Sometimes the differences were subtle, other times more extreme. It makes the reader deeply ponder nurture versus nature. There were lots of twists I didn’t see coming, but I never felt overwhelmed or lost in the sci-fi.
It is great to see more women writing serious sci-fi, and I think this book deserves more attention. It’s short, but it packs a punch. It has very similar vibes to Dark Matter, but a bit less cerebral and with more action movie vibes. I recommend this for fans for alternate universes, tough-as-nails female characters working to overcome trauma, queer romance, and futuristic sci-fi that makes you think deeply about problems in today’s world.
CW: abusive relationship, domestic violence, emotional manipulation, gangs