Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Book Review: The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

Pros: conflicted characters, good world-building

Cons: not hard SF

Earth spent years forcing thousands of people to emigrate to other inhabitable worlds as the population grew out of control. Jamie Allenby was living on Soltaire, at the edge of inhabited space, when the plague came through. The survival rate of zero point zero zero zero one percent haunts her as she makes her way to the space port in hopes of finding other survivors. As others emerge, they head towards Earth, unsure of what they’re looking for or how life will carry on. 

I found Jamie an interesting character. In many ways she reminded me of Millicent, the protagonist in Mishell Baker’s Borderline. She’s not particularly likeable, but because you’re seeing her thoughts and feelings (and occasional flashbacks), you understand why she’s making the decisions she is, and why she has trouble letting people get close. Jamie slowly comes to understand what she’s looking for, but I suspect some readers will find her constant questioning herself and where she’s going with her life frustrating. I felt this frustration myself a time or two towards the end of the book, especially when she’s trying to get others to join their group despite making it clear that she thinks people should do what they want and joining the group isn’t what those people want to do. 

Most of the supporting characters are conflicted too, not sure what this new world holds, whether it’s better to return to the old way of doing things or hope for something new. Rena annoyed me, but I think she was supposed to. I appreciated the author including an autistic young man in with the main group of survivors. 

I liked that different views of how the world should continue were offered by different groups. It didn’t surprise me that societal classes would survive the apocalypse. One of the groups they encountered did surprise me though, with their adherence to an even older age. 

Some sections of the book are designed to get you to think deeply about life: what it means, where humanity is headed, etc. This was undercut by Jamie’s constant waffling though, never sure of what she wanted and feeling at one with the universe for a moment and then doubting the emotion the next.

The world-building was pretty good. Callan’s history especially grounded the world for me, in all its cruelty. 

This isn’t hard SF. While there are lags for communication transmissions, there’s no time dilation affecting space travel and it only takes a day or two to get between worlds, with no explanation of how the ship is navigating the distances so quickly. Because Jamie was constantly questioning her decisions, it made me wonder how things would have changed for her if moving from one planet to the next meant years or decades would have passed for those she left behind, so that there was no going back, no reconciliation. How would things have changed for her if these decisions were permanent once she left? Would she have been happier? Would she have stayed on Earth? On Alegria? Would she have found the personal space she needed some other way? Or would she still have ended up on Soltaire, conflicted about the decisions she’d made with her life? 

It was an interesting debut. It posed some good questions and while it wasn’t perfect, it kept me turning pages.

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