The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

I’m so glad I finally found the time to get to this oldest book on my TBR-pile! I’ve had it there since it was nominated for a Hugo two years ago, but other deadlines pushed it aside till I finally had a moment this January to dive in.

And oh, what a smart, elegant, emotional novel it is! I wish all professors of literature were like Micaiah Johnson, because then I’d know that society was in for writing that seriously contemplates human values and conditions instead of the pretentious navel-gazing dreck that passes for fine arts literature nowadays. Clearly, I have an ax to grind with the authors and industry professionals who’ve wasted hours of my life pushing works with dull plots and tedious writing. I mean, y’all, I just read a book where the one guy is described as being “basted with a light batter of money.” Tell me someone else does all the cooking for you without telling me etc. while you focus on your Very Serious Writing Career.

But I digress. The Space Between Worlds is a sci-fi novel about a woman who can walk between the many dimensions of the multiverse. The catch is that you can’t travel into a dimension where your counterpart is still alive. Cara’s alternate selves seem to be really good at dying, as she discovers over the course of her career as a Traverser. But when she realizes that she has a surprising connection to some of the most powerful people in all the dimensions she can walk into, she’ll have to decide whether her cushy life is worth risking for the fate of people who aren’t the ones she actually knows and loves.

This is a shockingly deep examination of what people owe others, how we can give back in our own ways, and how we’re obligated to lend a helping hand where we can. It’s also a persuasive argument for how opportunities can change most people for the better, even if some remain incorrigibly villainous no matter what you do. Bi-friendly and sex- and sex-worker-positive, this novel wears its progressive politics on its sleeve, even as it urges readers to not take things at face value but to give everyone the kind of consideration you’d want for yourself when navigating difficult situations.

Above all that, it’s just some really tremendous writing, with plot twists that had me yelling like someone (else) had slapped down gin rummy at the competitive family card game. I cried at parts and fully laughed at others in this amazing book. It’s hard to believe that this is Ms Johnson’s debut novel. It’s so assured and perfect, and I’m so, so glad I had a chance to experience this multiverse she’s created. I’m honestly a little scared at where a sequel might go, but fingers crossed Ashtown will be as moving and intelligent as this was.

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson was published August 4 2020 by Crown/Del Rey and is available from all good booksellers, including

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  1. “this oldest book on my TBR-pile”

    Two years! A lot of mine are just getting settled in comfortably at the two-year mark. Within easy reach, I have my copy of The Magic Mountain, which I bought on Crete in … drum roll please … 1993. Granted, it’s nearly a thousand pages in German of Thomas Mann’s monumental sentences, and I *have* read about half of it. But sometime this spring the book will celebrate 30 years with me. (As I no longer have my copy of Gravity’s Rainbow, I think Magic Mountain may be champion.)

    1. Ha, well, in fairness, this is books on my “someone sent this to me in a professional capacity” list and not on the “impulsively purchased to be read at my leisure” pile. I don’t even want to delve into that one!

      1. A crucial difference!

  1. […] was a book that was published in a previous year, Micaiah Johnson’s stunning sci-fi debut The Space Between Worlds. However, my list of the year’s best will be limited solely to 12 books that actually came […]

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