Reading the dust jacket for The Space Between the Stars, you might expect this science fiction novel to be your typical post-apocalyptic tale of survival in a world, actually multiple worlds, devastated by a deadly virus that kills 99.999 % of the human population. However, the heart of this story could take place in any time or any place. It’s about loss and loneliness and about a woman trying to run away from her past but realizing that she can never fully escape it. Of course, it’s also about a deadly virus and how different people react to what might be the end of humanity.
Jamie Allenby, trained as a veterinarian, is working at a research outpost on a remote planet aptly named Soltaire—away from Earth, her childhood home, and away from Alegria, a planet where she had been living with her partner, Daniel. Unlike many people, Jamie hasn’t been forced to make these moves but has chosen to put more distance between herself and the people who care about her.
When the virus hits, Jamie is one of the few on Soltaire to survive and for a few horrifying days, she thinks she might be the only one. However, she soon meets two other survivors, Lowry and Rena, both who had been on a religious retreat, and within a few days they are picked up by a transport ship where the captain and engineer have survived. Rena seems gripped in a sort of religious mania and wants to return to Earth to a monastery in northern England. Though initially resistant, the captain, Callan Jacobs, eventually agrees to take them as far as Alegria.
[And, yes, it was about here that I had the Firefly theme song running through my head.]
Though Anne Corlett incorporates many of the elements of a plot-driven novel, she is much more interested in the characters themselves—whether it is Mila, the young prostitute they pick up along the way, or Lowry, the priest who no longer believes in a traditional God, or Jamie herself, a young woman who has been felled by grief even before she lost everybody around her. It’s also an interesting exploration of the various reactions humans might have as they stare down their extinction. While this makes for some feelings of existential angst while reading, Corlett thankfully provides some moments of grace and hopefulness to lighten the load.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, suspenseful science fiction novel, this would not be a good choice. If you’re looking for a thoughtful meditation on what it means to be human, by all means read on!