Review: The Space Between the Stars

"Little stars, big stars blowing through the night./ And we're lost out here in the stars." The poignant song by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill could be a soundtrack for Anne Corlett's debut novel, The Space Between the Stars. Jamie Allenby feels lost in the universe after a swift-acting virus has wiped out most humans on Earth and its colonized planets. "Zero point zero zero zero one." Jamie repeats this number like a mantra. Zero point zero zero zero one percent might have survived. The dead turned to dust, "the sheets gray with it.... There wasn't much. Not when you thought of the measure of a person." The living--10,000 possible survivors across 300 worlds. Thirty-three per world. Maybe.

Months earlier, Earth-born Jamie had migrated to Soltaire for a job as a veterinarian. She was mourning a miscarriage and seeking solitude, leaving Daniel, her partner, on the planet Alegria. She knew he had been headed for Earth before the virus struck. Had he survived? They used to joke that in case of a zombie apocalypse, they'd meet on a certain beach in Northumberland. Now all she has is despair mixed with faint hope, and two other people--Lowry, a clergyman, and Rena, a research scientist. They've sent up a distress signal; Rena believes they'll be saved, and then "it will begin"--a new world formed by God, "speaking through the space between the stars."

As they fantasize about where to go if they get off Soltaire, their longing solidifies Earth as their destination. A trade clipper piloted by another loner, Callan Jacobs, picks up the signal, and then the trio. After a few stops on the way to Alegria, Callan agrees to fly to Earth. Jamie, though, realizes she isn't ready. "She needed more time out here, between the unknowing stars." On Alegria, Jamie is stunned to find Daniel--she thought he'd be headed for Northumberland, as they had promised each other. Instead, he is now part of the new administration, with draconian rules in aid of repopulating the worlds, or at least the Alegrian world. Callan Jacobs manages to get them, and a young man named Finn, back into space and headed toward Earth, now the unknown.

Anne Corlett has taken the themes of apocalypse, people attempting to create Utopia but unleashing Armageddon, population engineering and breeding programs, and put her particular stamp on the familiar. The Space Between the Stars is a sci-fi story laced with homey details like e-readers and jigsaw puzzles--there are no esoteric descriptions of warp drives or biodomes or aliens. But there is adventure, there is romance, there is self-discovery. Jamie looks at a blue sky, which "felt like a lie, after so much time spent up above it, in the black of space. It was just something to hide beneath, to avoid seeing how wrenched and scattered among the stars they all really were." But she finds, in this intriguing and wise story, what can fill the space between the stars. --Marilyn Dahl, editor emerita

Shelf Talker: Anne Corlett's debut novel portrays a universe after a virus has wiped out most of the people, as a few survivors search for a new home.

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