Capitalism is a Surrealist Nightmare, or the Space Between Worlds

[a transcript of a video i need to refilm but I still want y’all to know my many many thoughts]

intro

“Why have I survived? Because I am a creature more devious than all the other mes put together. Because I saw myself bleeding out and instead of checking for a pulse, I began collecting her things. I survive the desert like a coyote survives, like all tricksters do.”

cover designer: jo myler

Before we get into the review, I received an e-arc from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All my opinions are my own. 

In this video, I will be discussing: homophobia, racism, classism, physical abuse, warfare, and murder. If you want more information about how these triggers apply to the book itself, please DM on twitter or ask below. I’ll give you as much detail as I can or as much as you want.

This video will contain spoilers for the Space Between Worlds. 

The Space Between Worlds was one of my most anticipated books of 2020. I heard about it from Charlotte from tealeafreads & readsrainbow towards the beginning of the year, and I’ve been waiting to read it since. It’s about a world while travel between alternate universes is possible. But only if the person is dead in the world they want to travel to. Cara is dead in all but 7 of the over 300 worlds that they can access, and she is one of the most prolific travelers.  After another one of her doppelgangers is killed, she uncovers a plot that threatens herself and the multiverse as a whole.

summary

Early on, we learn that Cara, or at least the Cara we follow, is not the Cara of Earth-Zero and that Cara has been dead for the last six years. Instead she is Caralee from Earth 22. The Cara we follow is harder and less sheltered than the Cara of Earth 0—named Caramenta. While Caramenta lived in the Rurals, moved there after her mother married a pastor, and lived a life that, while not easy, gave her less callouses and scars than Caralee—who I’ll be calling Cara from now on and Earth 0 Caramenta. 

Both Caras grew up in Ashetown, which is the land outside Wiley City’s wall, and with rough early lives. The key point of divergence is that Caramenta’s mother married a widowed pastor and merged their families while Cara’s mother died young, leaving Cara to survive on her own. Cara eventually got involved with Nik Nik, the leader of Ashetown, and suffered abuse at his hands—always going back until Caramenta, on her first traveling mission, is sent to her world and killed, and Cara decides to take her place.

At the start of the book, there are 8 versions of Cara still alive but another one is murdered, unlocking another world for Cara to travel to. This leads to another traveler, Starla Saeed, being let go from the company, and Cara being assigned the world. We also see Cara’s handler, Dell. Cara flirts with her, and continues to do so for the rest of the book and assumes that Dell’s discomfort with her, despite their mutual attraction being evident, is due to classism.

Before she travels to the new world, she visits Caramenta’s home to take part in a religious ceremony. We see just how much she cares about Caramenta’s family, especially her younger step-sister, Esther, who she would give the world for. 

As soon as she returns, she is sent to the new world but something goes wrong—namely the Cara of that world, named Nelline, is still alive. Cara is injured gravely and it’s a miracle she even survived as no one else has ever survived a jump into a universe where their dop is still alive. She is nursed back to health by the Earth 175 version of Nik Nik. After that, she is quickly pulled into a conspiracy to take down the leader of that universe’s Ashetown—Nik Nik’s older brother, Adra, who is assumed to be dead in Earth 0 (and most worlds).

I won’t get into the specifics of it but their plan works. Most importantly, Cara learns that Adra is the Earth 22 version of Adam Bosch, the man who invented the technology to travel worlds, and uses that information to murder Adra, tricking him into travelling to Earth 0 with her which kills him. Nelline also tries to come, which ends up killing her as well. 

Back on Earth 0, Cara gives Nelline a funeral, attended by Esther and Dell. It is then that Esher reveals to Cara that she has always known that Cara was not Caramenta, given that Cara has tattoos, which Esther knows Caramenta never had. The two end up talking and grow closer. It is also revealed that Caramenta hated Dell, going so far as to nearly file a complaint against her.

Adam Bosch recruits Cara to Maintenance, his group of interdimensional assassins and reveals that he has been killing off anyone in other universes close to figuring out how to travel between the worlds, including other versions of himself. He also tells her that he has had an eye on her for a while, and not Caramenta but Caralee, going so far to arrange Caramenta’s death in order to lure Cara to Earth 0.

Cara doesn’t give him an answer right away and goes to her mentor, Jean, for advice. Jean admits he knew about the program, used to be a part of it, and knew about Bosch’s interest in Cara for the program. 

Before Cara gives her answer, before she even decides what to do, Bosch announces a new program—a interdimensional tourism program where five people a year will get to visit another world. However, she quickly comes to the conclusion that he intends to do this by killing off their dops in the worlds they are going to visit. And with that, she decides that she is going to risk it all and take Adam Bosch down.

Before she begins her plan, Dell confronts Cara. Earlier on, Dell lost one of the earnings her grandmother gave her, and Cara gave her one of the earrings that she took from a dop of Dell’s that she slept with. Dell confronts her about this, and reveals that she kissed Caramenta—who at that point she still thinks is Cara—and Cara threatened to report her to HR and called her a devil. During this, Cara slips up and refers to Caramenta in the 3rd person and confesses to Dell that she is not from Earth 0. 

First she calls the police on him, which leads only to the brutal torture and murder of Jean—Bosch thinking it might be him that reported them but knowing that if it was Cara, Jean’s murder would get in line. Instead, it only made her more adamant in taking him down.

She teams up with the Nik Nik of Earth Zero and orchestrates a way to delay the tourism program without jeopardizing Traveling as a whole by destroying the pods used to Travel. Before the day comes, they sneak into a party at Bosch’s house. Cara goes to his room and finds the files he has on her, and, while she’s there, puts poison into the eyedrops he has to take every four hours because of the ocular implants he got. 

At the party, as she is leaving, she runs into Dell and Dell, assuming she is with the runners from Ashtown against her free will, and follows them, trying to fight the runner for Cara’s honor. Later, the two hook up. What is a hopeful start to a relationship for Dell is a melancholic end for Cara, who has accepted her inevitable death when she tries to take down Bosch.

She is caught the day they destroy the pods. Bosch claims that he has worked with Nik Nik, that the runners he sent to destroy the pods aren’t actually going to do it. The ways he talks and the things he says he dead leads Cara to believe that he did just the opposite and pissed his brother off more. Moments later, an explosion is felt throughout the building, proving her right. She then reveals that she poisoned the eyedrops, says that he will not die right away but he will have a terminal illness for the rest of his life, starting with the slow loss of his sight. This forces him to teach other people the technology behind Traveling or become lost to the pages of a history textbook.

He calls Maintence in to murder her. However, Dell comes in and says that Cara has violated a number of rules, leading to her termination and deportation from Wiley City—saving her life. She goes back to Ashetown and makes a life for herself in the place she swore never to return. Later she runs into Dell and the two start a relationship and a life together, living out their days on the edge of Wiley City. 

i. “REASONS I HAVE LIVED: I don’t know. But there are eight.” (Johnson, pg 19)

At its core, the Space Between Worlds is a story about oppression and the ways it mirrors and echoes itself. Cara has gone through worse things than almost any else in her life. She had been under the boot of the more powerful, of the wealthier, since she was born. Across universes, her life is nearly always marked by tragedy. In many worlds, she died as a child. In many worlds, she died because of her mothers actions. In many worlds, she was utterly powerless to keep herself alive. In Cara, and in the difference between her and Caramenta, we see the ways that their lives have shaped them into different people but what is clear is this: in the systems they both grew up in, neither was ever able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They remained in poverty, always on the edge of losing it all. 

It’s very clear that the main difference in their lives, in how they turned out, is who showed them kindness. Caralee was taken in and raised by the House, a sex worker co-op. And I want to be clear, she was never trafficked by them. They were simply her family. She learned how to survive from people who are accepting and open minded. She learned how to survive from people who know the grittiness of what it takes to survive in a world that wants you dead. 

Caramenta’s mother survived. And that’s the main point of divergence I think. Caramenta’s mother ended up marrying a religious leader. And the two of them are welcomed into the religion. This shapes Caramenta undeniably. She is an outsider, marked as such by her name, her skin color, and her mannerisms. It’s not explored much in the book but it’s my opinion that this lead her to take the tenets of the religion more seriously than even her step-sister who is planning to become a religious leader in her own rite. It’s mentioned, briefly, that some of the Ruralites are homophobic, mostly those that are dedicated to the religion. And Caramenta is, goes so far as to call Dell the devil and essentially bully a girl she had a crush on when she was a teen.

There is also Nelline, Cara’s Earth 175 dop. Here the main point of divergence is that Adra never went on to become Adam Bosch nor did he die in the bogs, like he did in Cara’s Earth. In Earth 175, Ashtown remained the horrible and hopeless place that it was in both Caralee’s and Caramenta’s childhoods, perhaps even worse than that. If Caramenta is Caralee if she were softer, if her life was easier on, Nelline is the opposite. She is what happens when Caralee’s life is brutal in a way that is more sociological than the personal brutality that Caralee’s had.

However, the material circumstances that these women live in, that they grew up in, are not that different even if they are different people. All of them exist on the precipice of death. At any moment, they could lose their lives or lose the people they love or experience horrific trauma. No matter the differences they have, no matter how difference they are personally, the oppression they face is mirrored and reflected by each other. This does a great way of showing the ways of how individual circumstances matter less than the weight of systematic oppression that is ingrained into the very fabric of society. It shows that no matter what Caralee did, no matter what Nelline did, no matter what Caramenta did, their lives were always going to take a similar shape, end up in a similar place, unless there was great systematic change. 

Of Cara’s dops, we only hear about one that is in a good place in society. Earth 225 Cara, also named Caralee, was taken in by a wealthy family of Wileyites. She was wandering around when shwas four after her mother kicked her out of the house when a Wiley City couple found her. They took her in. They didn’t ask about her parents, didn’t stop to think that they were abducting a child. It isn’t something that is focused on. There’s about a page dedicated to her. But in that short amount of time, it’s positively chilling. The Cara with the best life on paper is a victim of a horrendous violation of human rights, stolen from her mother without a single thought beyond the idea that her life would be better away from the people and culture she came from. 

ii. “I just want you to understand that I’ve killed you in worlds  where you meant something to me without a second thought. And you mean nothing to me here.” pg. 256

It also does not shy away from depicting the oppression and the corruption of the society, of all facets of it. 

Wylie City is a walled city. We never get much information on how it is formed but it was created after some sort of catastrophe, I think an environmental one but I could be reading into that. It is a walled city inhabited by the rich. Wylie citizens are guaranteed healthcare, a job, and the essentials of life. There is very little they want for. Yet, the citizens of Ashtown are not awarded any of the same benefits despite the fact that they provide labor and resources that Wylie City needs to keep going. They are essential to Wylie City and it’s prosperity but they are not given a second thought, are treated as less than human.

We see this in the general worldbuilding implicitly but most explicitly we see in the Travelers. The travelers are, more often than not, the people who have been the most mistreated by society. They are child soldiers. They are miners. They are children raised in poverty. They are refugees and poor migrants. They are, to be blunt, poor people and people of color. Because of this, because their rate of survival is so low, they are the most valuable Travelers, and they can go to the most worlds. Eldridge, the company that controls Traveling, offers them the chance to become Wylie Citizens if they become Travelers and even if they do not become citizens, they are still residents for however long they work for the company. But they have to risk their lives. Many people, including Caramenta, take the job only because they are desperate for money for themselves and their families. 

We see just how far that Adam Bosch is willing to go to keep his power. He is willing to kill other versions of himself, willing to kill innocent people in the same of profit and making a name for himself in the history books. It doesn’t matter if he has to kill people, exploit them, leave them to die, or manipulate them across the worlds. It is an amazing look into the bedrock of capitalism, into the inevitable exploitation and carnage that it brings, especially to the most vulnerable members of society. 

iii. “Sometimes to kill a dragon, you have to remember that you breath fire too. This isn’t a becoming; its a revealing. I’ve been a monster all along.”

The Space Between Worlds is a story about revolution. We open with a Cara who is not content with the shape of the world, who is not happy with the hands she has been dealt in her life or any one of the lives she has lived in any of the worlds, but she has accepted these things. She’s accepted the circumstances of her few lives, of her many death. For her, it is not a thing that she can change. Her goal is simply to survive. It’s not that she doesn’t care about other people, it’s that she thinks it won’t matter if she tries to change things.

During her time on Earth 175, Cara helps overthrow a government. She is instrumental to it, and she learns just how far she is willing to go to survive and more importantly, to help those around her. Her motives are never really altruistic. Even if she doesn’t know the citizens of Ash in Earth 175, she knows and cares about versions of them. It doesn’t matter, not really. What matters to the narrative that this pushes her to change. This shows her that her actions, if she works in concert with other people, can change the world, can chip away at the systems that hold her and people like her down. 

At the end of the story, her revolution is not a large, society-altering one. It is one that makes changes possible, however, one that, in fact, forces changes. It is not a godsend. It is not a promise. It is a prayer. It is hope that one day the world might reshape itself. At the end of the day, her revolution amounts to taking down one man and the corporation that he controls. But is still something that saves lives, that leaves a pathway for more permanent change. And, personally, I find that incredibly hopeful.

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