The Space Between Stars is an amazing book that is about the end of the world, even when it’s not. (Which I know is a confusing sentence, but you’ll just have to take a leap of faith with me on this one). It is a story that explores religion, the very nature of belief, and agency. However, it is also a novel about a group of survivors searching for meaning, about a woman in need of some self-discovery, and a society given a fresh chance.
Jamie left Earth, not in the forced migrations, but of her own accord to leave the crowded plant and to get some space from her relationship. Grappling with the meaning of the distance, and using that time to use her veterinary skills on a frontier world, Jamie thinks she has all the time in the world, until the virus hits. Wiping through humanity on Earth, their capital, and all the colonies, the virus has a near perfect destruction rate, except for a small fraction: 0.01% of the population that could have survived.
Feeling like the last one in the world, Jamie tries to find other people, anyone, so that she does not have to face the expanse alone. Finding survivors, however, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and this band of misfits have their own problems. Surviving becomes less a problem of finding people, but what to do with them, and that’s where the true trouble begins.
My first impression of this book began before I even read the first page. The fantastic writing begins with the acknowledgements. Corlett is funny, clever, and remarkably wise, all at the same time. There are moments in the book that are so beautifully written and that make you stop reading midsentence. Trust in Corlett. There were moments I was confused about the journey, but all is revealed in an exceedingly surprising and satisfying way. The plot may twist and turn and the ending was unexpected, and extremely startling, but the story will take you on Jamie’s journey of relationships, redemption, and limitations.
Speaking of Jamie’s journey, Jamie’s character is flawed and at times, turbulent. Her mind changes and Corlett resists the temptation to provide us easy answers. However, Jamie works through these issues, the hard, and even long way, analyzing her own privilege, her relationship, and herself. Her narration includes just the right balance between description, memories, and her observations of the present. Her own personal history as well is fascinating and entirely complex, unraveling the various details of her life, for example her relationship with Daniel.
Something I mentioned from before was the band of misfits Jamie encounters. Throughout the whole book we meet a variety of characters from a range of walks of life. The ways that they have dealt with the virus and their survival is intriguing. Corlett manages the task of showing, rather than telling, and offering us multiple perspectives on humanity’s survival.
All of these characters are grounded by an interesting society and history. The society within the novel unfolds slowly, but the end result is something that, even now, is half revealed, but complex. A whole book alone on the unfolding events that led to today could be written. It touches upon issues of class, the dangers of extremes, and power dynamics. The little ways that the characters reveal their own place in society, as well as their experiences, is expertly crafted to show us, rather than tell us.
The Title and One Metaphor
I want to touch upon two things that make the inner scholar in me happy: the title and a metaphor that is particularly representative of the themes in the book. The title has a myriad of amazing meanings and I still haven’t reached the end of all the ways it can be thought out and around. The temptation to gush and find a voice in the void to talk through this book is great, but I will not spoil it for you (so read this book and come back and gush with me!) But I will say that when people are separated by so much distance, planets away, the whole meaning of distance, in relationships and society, changes. The space between the stars becomes a matter of division, a void of silence, words never spoken, and prayers sent out in to the vast cosmos, hoping for a response.
There are some rich symbols, for example the metaphor of collecting sea glass, that reveal much more than they say. The way the pieces wash up, finding each other, or missing them completely asking us questions about fate. And the way humans collect these pieces, melting them down, making them into symbols of second chances, and the possibility of reuniting fragments. This recurring symbol is incredibly rich and fulfilling to dissect.
One of the wondrous things about The Space Between Stars is the way the actual story morphs as you go on; changing from a story centering around a search for love, to one of self-discovery, to another of the fate of the world. At its core though, is a story of survival and self-discovery. It is also a story about the necessity of community, the importance of agency, and the ways history can repeat itself. We are asked, facing our own demise, who we are, at our cores, and who we want to be, given the chance to begin anew.
Disclaimer: I received this book from First to Read in exchange for an honest review.
Who would you want to be with you at the end of the world?
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