The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett is an apocalyptic novel writ large. Imagine humanity spread throughout the galaxy. Now imagine on the day an apocalyptic event happens, you wake up having survived- not just one of the few people on earth, but one of the few people left on any inhabited planet. The chances of being the only person alive on your own planet are high.
Okay, if you’re like me, this is basically your dream scenario. However, I’ve heard that some humans enjoy companionship and might feel lonely. Crazy concept, but I’ll go with it.
This is where the story begins, with Jamie Allenby, who awakens to find that after having run from the company of people her entire life, the prospect of being actually alone drives her half mad with the need to find and connect with others.
She receives a barely discernible message that leads her to believe someone from her past might have survived, which starts her on a journey home to Earth. On the way she gathers a ragtag band of strangers whose edges do not fit seamlessly together- an antagonistic spaceship captain, an autistic boy, an interstellar prostitute, a preacher, and a lady who seems to have more knowledge about the civilization-ending plague than she should.
What follows is part ripping space yarn, as they jump from planet to planet seeking enough fuel and supplies to make it back to Earth while dealing with the not always friendly survivors they find along the way. When they finally do reach their destination, they find many more people than should be expected and they begin to realize all may not be as it seems.
The book is well-written and obsessively readable, pulling in disparate threads from various science fiction sub-genres to weave an original tale. I do have a few small quibbles that nagged at me. First, the too-convenient device of having the dead bodies disintegrate immediately into dust. I get that this is a good way to avoid dealing with billions of pounds of rotting flesh when that isn’t the direction in which the story was headed, but it comes off as magical hand-waving. It almost gives the apocalyptic world a bloodless, antiseptic feel, with less consequential weight.
One other thing I found grating was the over-use of the title phrase. It is beautifully worded, and having it repeated so often began to steal some of the beauty.
Overall, though, this is a fascinating take on one possible future of humankind, which leaves you with a sense of hope and much to ponder.
The Space Between the Stars is available from Berkley.