Adrienne Martini Reviews The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson (Del Rey 978-0593135051, $28.00, 336pp, hc) August 2020.

Micaiah Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds is built on a solid SFnal idea: a shadowy genius has figured out how to travel between parallel Earths and is raiding them for information and resources. There’s a catch, of course. The only humans who can make the jump between the worlds are those who don’t have a living version of themselves on the place to which they are jumping.

This opens up a contemporary riff on the jump-between-worlds set-up. Those who have lived lives of privilege don’t have much value because they tended to survive on the hundreds of alternate Earths out there. The most in-demand jumpers are “trash people,” black and brown members of the underclass who live outside of the white city’s walls. Their use­fulness may end soon, however, because the work they do is about to become automated.

Cara is one of these “traversers” who is about to be out of a job and forced to move back to Ashtown. But given the number of worlds she’s visited where she’s been able to see how the same situations played out in different ways, she learns a thing or two about the genius who is pulling all the strings – or, at least, thinks he is. Add that conflict to the sheer physical danger that the traversing process frequently inflicts and Johnson’s story has a built-in engine where the stakes are always high.

After a strong start, though, the energy dips in the middle third – and that dip makes some of the inconsistencies in the worldbuilding more evident. That isn’t to say there aren’t inconsistencies in every built world, just that they become more evident when the story loses momentum. Johnson pulls it back together again with a lovely last third, mind, but the inconsistency makes it hard to lean into The Space Between Worlds that she has created.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the December 2020 issue of Locus.

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