After a violent virus rages through Earth and the colonized planets, Jamie wakes up to a settlement completely devoid of other human life. She receives a scrambled and unintelligible message from Earth, but it gives her hope that an important person from her past is still alive. Jamie soon finds other survivors and a ship, and together they begin the journey to Earth and to whatever new civilization might await them.
The Space Between Stars was full of promise. The first few pages follow Jamie as she wakes up to find herself completely alone in her settlement and possibly the entire planet. The grief, confusion, and panic of these scenes are artistically and vividly rendered. Jamie’s fear and panic are tangible as she she tries to figure out how survive — perhaps forever — alone.
“But the statistics were wrong here. What if they were wrong elsewhere? Her thoughts unwound again, spinning out beyond the walls of the cabin, beyond the skies, out into the endlessness of space. An empty universe, with just one pinpoint of life, curled and numb on the dusty floor.
She fought for control. She knew there were survivors. The emergency messages had been clear.
Terminal in almost all cases.
Almost. A lot of life could fit into that one small word.”
Once Jamie and other survivors find each other, they must contend with their different circumstances and experiences. Jamie had recently fled a relationship and is hoping to make amends by finding any and all who survived the virus. The captain of their ship didn’t care much for humanity before the virus and doesn’t care much more for it now. There’s an altruistic preacher who’s spiritual but might not believe in a god, a fanatical religious woman who’s convinced the virus was sent from a higher power, a former prostitute, and a developmentally slow young boy. They are all outsiders in their own right and are now forced together to try to survive.
However, from there, the novel become a series of flat characters and synthetic conversations. As unique as this group seems and as many conflicts and emotions could be explored through their interactions, the characters feel incomplete and stagnant. Their interactions are constructed, as if the author is very much trying to make a certain point, and it feels unnatural and forced.
The themes the novel explores, such as the value of human life or our place in the universe, fit well within sci-fi and dystopian fiction, but these are too heavy-handed and contrived to feel genuine or poignant. The prose are often lyrical and poetic, but they get lost amid the artificiality of the characters, plot, and themes.
Within the overcrowded dystopian fiction genre, this novel doesn’t do much to distinguish itself. The Space Between Stars has a compelling premise and beautiful prose, but it lacks the elegance, emotion, and complexity of comparable titles such as Station Eleven.