The Space Between the Stars is Anne Corlett’s first novel, but it’s not her first published piece of writing — and it shows several times over.
The Space Between the Stars is, technically speaking, a science fiction novel. There are hints sprinkled throughout the book about population control in the past. The whole impetus is a virus that’s supremely deadly. There are even statistics! (Well, okay, one major statistic.)
But Anne Corlett’s story of Jamie Allenby’s attempt to reunite with someone after she finds that the deadly virus isn’t deadly enough to kill her is about Jamie, not the deadly virus or the space travel or even how this universe came to be. And that, in fact, one of the best parts of The Space Between the Stars.
The other best part is this: Corlett’s prose lures you in. It’s not quite dreamlike in that it’s describing some very real emotions, but it lulled yours truly into a rather long reading session that saw me suddenly reaching the end of the story far earlier than I expected. She punctuates her characters’ conversations on human nature (which sounds pretentious but ends up feeling quite natural in the grand scheme of things; a little introspection makes sense when there’s a virus that has killed the bulk of humanity on several far-flung planets) with action scenes that can make a reader turn pages more quickly after lingering on those conversations.
Admittedly, she does lean a little heavily on that one statistic, which punctuates the narration somewhat too often for my taste. It seems as if the goal was to impress some additional seriousness on the book. Again, we point out: massive plague. It’s pretty serious as is.
Corlett’s biography on the back flap of the dust jacket notes that this isn’t her first published work. To quote directly: “[Her] short fiction has won, placed, or been short-listed in national and international awards”. It shows in this book. Indeed, it unfolds like a series of episodes with an overarching development for its characters, like a particularly well-crafted miniseries. We make that comparison for reasons that you may deduce for yourself. (It’s to avoid spoilers.)
The book also has several self-contained flashbacks at specific points in the story. Rather than feeling awkwardly placed, they serve a purpose other than “making sure we have italics in this book”. They also avoid making Jamie speak about her own life and provide awkward exposition. That would seem out of character. The fact that I can also say that speaks again to Corlett’s character development.
By virtue of being the main character, Jamie has the best development. However, other characters have their own developments and changes, as they should, and those developments really again work well.
We said earlier that the book sprinkles some worldbuilding throughout. It seems like just enough, but could have perhaps used a bit more here and there. As it was, it’s pretty simple to pick up. Part of that is just curiosity about what else happened in this universe, too.
The back of the dust jacket quotes Claire North as saying she is “looking forward to [Corlett’s] future works”. Yours truly has to agree. If the next work is anything like The Space Between the Stars, it’ll be well worth reading.
You can find The Space Between the Stars at your bookseller of choice.