This novel by Micaiah Johnson is set in a future version of the earth where the technology exists to visit other versions of the earth. But it’s only safe to visit other earths where you parallel counterpart does not exist, which makes multiverse travel best suited to those from more vulnerable communities. Cara is one such person. She survives in only a few of the hundred of earths that are close enough to visit, so she’s kept busy traversing to other worlds, pulling what data she can and returning to the comfortable apartment she’s received for her work.
Cara mostly keeps to herself, flirting with Dell, the woman who runs the technology for all her journeys, and sometimes visiting her family outside the prosperous city where she lives. And she hopes to keep to her work long enough to earn the status of a citizen. But all that changes when a trip goes wrong. And then so much more happens.
I liked how this book kept throwing me for a loop. I was never entirely sure what to expect from it as the plot develops and secrets continue to be revealed. I’ve been impatient this year with books that don’t have enough story, and this was bursting with story. Story to fill a couple of worlds.
It would be tempting, I think, in a book about multiverses, to spend a lot of time looking at different permutations of how the world could go, but Johnson wisely focuses on just two, with references here are there to other possibilities. Her interest is more in how the existence of other worlds affects the people in the primary world of the book (Earth 1). Cara herself thinks a lot about what is essential to her identity across worlds (and sometimes makes wrong assumptions). But her life is mostly grounded in the book’s primary world. For other characters, the other worlds are sources of knowledge or power. And for many, they just exist, not meaning much at all, because survival in their current world is enough to think about.
The book is very much interested in questions of class and power, and how they drive people’s decisions and development. Because the science of the book only allows people to visit worlds that closely echo Earth 1, class tends to be fixed across books, although different individuals may have more or less power from one world to the next. Similarly, people tend to have relationships with the same people across worlds, although the nature of those relationships can vary. It’s a little unsettling to see just how much is fixed between one world and another, although I supposed a really big difference in societal structure or character relationships would just cut a world off from being accessible.
At any rate, the point of this book is not the degree to which the multiverse theory works. It’s more about the people existing in the multiverses and what they can and can’t do about their situation. And watching how all that plays out is exciting.