The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson
I enjoy a good “traveling between dimensions” story as much as any other sci-fi/fantasy aficionado, but too many of them are based on coincidence as a basic tenant, either as a means of introducing the phenomenon, or as the basis of the conflict that surrounds the story. To find a well written novel that has traveling between dimensions as a business model – less greed, more altruism, lots of wonderful character development allowed within a story that is not intent on moralizing – well, those are pretty hard to come by.
Enter Micaiah Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds. It is such a novel. And it’s not until it is well under way and you are firmly entrenched in the characters, that you realize it is about greed, it is about the subversion of altruism and it is full of moralizing on many levels – but not in the way you would expect and not doled out with a heavy hand, always in step with the more intimate story that stays firmly at the center of the novel.
Cara is a rare “transverser”, one whose job it is to travel to other Earths in the multi-verse. She is able to do this successfully because so many of her “indigenous doppelgangers” – the other iterations of Cara – do not exist. You see, Cara is dark skinned and comes from an impoverished, rural background, from a marginalized family full of addictions and weaknesses. In “our” dimension, known as Earth One, she was able to overcome her background – but most of her doppelgangers do not. Some of those other Caras don’t survive infancy. Some die of starvation, or disease, or other types of neglect and abuse. Their deaths are often violent. But because those Caras no longer exist, “our” Cara can pass through into their dimensions.
There are so many layers in this book, including the early realization that the person we know as Cara is not the Cara that everyone assumes she is, but instead is an opportunistic “grifter’s git” from another Earth who sees in the mutilated body she stumbles across – the one that has her face, if not her tattoos – as a way to escape. This subversion of the “stranger in a strange land” theme is masterfully done. Then there are the different aspects of the people we come to know on Earth One as they manifest (or are conspicuous in their absence) on the different Earths – Cara’s mother, sister, brother, stepfather; her corporate handler in prosperous Wiley City (and the woman Cara is secretly in love with); the ruthless Emperor of the rural wastelands, who has killed Cara multiple times on multiple Earths; the engaging, benevolent head of the company who employs her, who first cracked the secret of transversing dimensions. And, of course, there are the deeper political, corporate, societal and interpersonal layers that keep ratcheting the story upwards and keeps us vested. Heck, keeps us riveted.
It’s a finely crafted, well written, well realized, and often humorous novel (thanks to Cara’s wry wit), one that manages to tell us a mesmerizing story while guiding us down a well-beaten, thematic path. I’m quite impressed that this is a debut novel, and will be keeping an eye out for Ms. Johnson’s future offerings.