(2020) Micaiah Johnson, Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99, hrdbk, 329pp, ISBN 978-1-529-38714-8
The Space Between Words is the debut science fiction novel from Micaiah Johnson, set in a future world where the multiverse is accessible – but only parts of it very close to Earth Prime, and only to people who don’t have doppelgangers in the 380 new dimensions now open to humanity.
The action takes place exclusively in variants of two adjoining but disparate communities, the rich walled-off Wiley City and the ganglord controlled other side of the tracks Ashtown, with its Runners and its extortion and its variations on a thug/lover called Nik Nik.
Cara has a job travelling between dimensions. It’s hers because in most of the dimensions Earth Prime is linked to, she’s dead. She’s not even from Earth Prime and it’s not really her job – it’s supposed to be for another version of herself, forced into painful death when she’s ‘accidentally’ sent to Cara’s dimension, Earth 22. Cara takes her place, eager to escape a life of poverty and crime. But she can’t leave her past behind, and the more she travels between worlds, the more she discovers about her own – and the people she thought she knew.
The plotting is intricate, but although the book has a dimension-spanning scope the attention is very firmly fixed on Cara and her journey to discover who she is and what she values. There’s a delicious love story here too, full of loss and betrayal and constraint, plus some bad guys who are really good guys (at least some of the time, in some of the places) and good guys who really, really aren’t.
This is a novel about contrasts and choices. By juxtaposing different versions of essentially the same characters and scenarios and navigating her way through them, Cara learns some important truths about identity and where she fits in the somewhat dysfunctional future society the novel is set in. She’s got to confront errant family members, old lovers in new dimensions and the uncomfortable choices she’s had to make in the past. In other words, a solidly written character-based dimension-spanning science fiction mystery full of intrigue and tension with an engaging protagonist and a satisfying storyline. Recommended.
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