Monday, August 2, 2021

The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson

Ballantine Del Rey, ISBN 9780593135051, August 2020

Multiverse travel is now possible, but you can only travel to worlds where your parallel self is dead. This gives people born into bad conditions where survival is unlikely a unique, if limited, value to the Elbridge Institute in walled and wealthy Wiley City.

Cara is one of those outliers, plucked from poverty and danger in the wastelands, to work as a "traverser," bringing back data from the scientists from many of the worlds where her parallel self died. She works with Dell, her Watcher, temptingly attractive yet aloof and withdrawn, a woman of old money in Wiley City. 

Everything is going smoothly, and Cara has a nice apartment and a good income, and makes regular visits to her family in the wasteland settlement of Ashtown. Then another of Cara's parallel selves dies. Cara has a new world to visit, and events start to threaten Cara's dangerous secret.

It also leads to Cara discovering the dangerous secret of the seemingly kindly scientist and Elbridge CEO who invented the world-crossing technology.

I started reading this book with some real skepticism, as it superficially seemed like yet another dystopia, a part of the sff genre that I really do not love. It does take place on a blighted Earth, where developed, technologically advanced civilization exists only in walled cities. There's trade between the cities and their outlying slums in the wasteland, including a sort of edgy tourism by the well-off city people to the safer parts of the slums arts and crafts can be purchased.

We only see Wiley City and its Ashtown slum, but there are other cities and other slums, and other inhabited, if struggling, areas. One of these people is one of Cara's mentors, Jean Sanogo, from the Ivory Coast, survivor of a time as a child soldier before he was found and identified someone who had enough parallel selves dead that he was a good candidate for one of the first traversers. This is a climatologically blighted world, with more damage done by wars caused by the climate change, but the wars now seem to be over, and it's all about living as well as possible in the blight.

One way of doing that is to import raw materials from parallel worlds, similar enough that the world-crossing technology can reach them, but with enough accessible resources to be worth stealing.

The plot-based conflicts are interesting, if sometimes thin. The characters become interesting and compelling, both in meeting alternate versions of some, and in the development the versions we get to know best experience. Jean and his family are more than just a warm, family group with a love of good cooking, though that's an important part of them. Cara learns, develops, changes, makes major choices along the way from a young woman who just wants to remain gainfully employed long enough to earn citizenship in Wiley City, to a woman who wants to make the world better, and is willing to make real sacrifices for her family. Other characters also reveal themselves in interesting ways. Overall, far more satisfying and enjoyable than I originally anticipated.


I received this book from NetGalley via the 2021 Hugo Voters Packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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