The Space Between the Stars

Posted: May 5, 2018 in Book reviews
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9781509833559the space between the stars_2_jpg_264_400.jpgby Anne Corlett

Jamie Allenby wakes from a fever to find she is one of the lucky few to have survived a virulent plague that has almost obliterated humanity. It’s fatal in 99.9999% of cases and so initially Jamie wonders if she might be the only survivor on this far flung colny world she’d travelled to in order to work as a vet, escaping from the pain of a miscarriage and the breakup of her relationship with her former partner Daniel.

She soon discovers she isn’t the only survivor on this planet, and it soon becomes apparent that there are survivors scatters across space. Soon Jamie is part of a disparate group of survivors aboard a battered freighter. They have no real plan, but Jamie wants to get back to Earth, certain that a garbled message she received is proof that Daniel has survived as well.

As the band make their way to Earth they will face dangers, and each group of survivors they encounter has their own ideas about the future of humanity, but the real danger might be closer to home.

 

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, and I’d add that you should never judge a book by it’s blurb. The cover of this book is gorgeous, and the blurb is enticing, talking about a plague that has decimated humanity across dozens of colony worlds, and promising an exciting, and somewhat novel, tale of post-apocalyptic survival.

If only the book had lived up to it’s cover, or it’s premise. Even my synopsis above probably does the book more justice than it actually deserves.

First it needs to be stressed that this is science fiction only in the loosest possible sense. Of course sci-fi is a broad church, ranging from space opera to hard, ultra-realistic science fiction, but all share, to a greater or lesser extent, a speculative element. Aside from references to space ships, and colonies, there is very little here that qualifies. In fact from the way people dress, act and talk, and from the technology on display, this could just as easily been set on Earth today, with Jamie waking up on the Isle of Wight, for example, rather than a far flung world. In fact it’s almost a period piece because at times it feels dated even by today’s technology—see reference to the net for example.

Each of the colony worlds they visit seems indistinguishable from the last, and whilst not every science fiction novel needs to go into detail about the technology of space travel, Corlett doesn’t even make a sop to it. There’s no hint of how space travel works, how artificial gravity works, what kind of fuel the ship uses—they keep having to refuel but it’s just generic ‘fuel’—and worst of all no real attention given to the unfathomable distances between these worlds. They may as well be in a transit van driving from London to Newcastle and stopping off at various service stations along the way.

I’ve seen one reviewer say that it isn’t so much sci-fi as a melodrama, but even there I think it falls down, because few really dramatic things actually happen. In terms of the survivors they meet only a couple of groups who pose any threat, and even here the group evade them with relative ease. Every obstruction to their journey is avoided with the ease of that transit van swerving around potholes. Even the nature of the plague itself is curiously bloodless, you may have thought John Wyndham did cosy catastrophes, but you’ve seen nothing yet. The plague kills billions, but helpfully turns everyone to dust so the survivors rarely have to see any bodies.

I guess Corlett really just wanted to examine the human condition, and there is a lot of navel gazing going on, but if you’re going to view the apocalypse from this angle you need to have more meat to grab onto. Some well-rounded characters would be a start, but sadly there are none.

Did you ever see the TV show Firefly? I’m guessing Corlett must have given the similarities of certain characters. The battered freighter itself reminded me of Serenity with it’s big loading ramp, it’s captained by a taciturn cowboy type named Callan, who has a surly female second in command. Their group also contains a priest with a troubled past, a hooker with a heart of gold and a youngster who appears to have Asperger’s. Pretty much every character in the book comes straight out of central casting, take Rena the religious fanatic. As for Jamie, it’s hard to like her. She seems more concerned with her own troubles than the fact that the human race has been wiped out.

And I haven’t even got to how contrived the ‘plot’ is, especially in terms of who miraculously survives the plague. There was one surprise midway through, one curveball I didn’t see coming, but everything else was horribly predictable, even the romance seems perfunctory.

The worst of it is that it’s a really good premise, and Corlett can clearly write, I liked a lot of her prose, it’s just that she didn’t seem to have a whole lot to say with it.

A missed opportunity and I can’t really recommend it.

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