"The Space Between the Stars" by Anne Corlett; Berkley (368 pages, $26)
Imagine waking up on a distant planet after three days of an intense fever. An apocalyptic virus has raged through the solar system, burning through human flesh and bone until all that's left of a person is dust. The human population has been decimated, leaving few survivors.
You don't hear sounds of daily life. You don't hear sounds from the nearby logging station. You don't hear workers on the farm where you live rustling the animals. You are aware that survival was one-in-a-million chance. There have to be others, but where?
And how do you get off this small space colony to find them?
"The Space Between the Stars," the debut science fiction novel by Anne Corlett, is a story about seven very different survivors traveling in a spaceship across the universe toward Earth in search of safety, home and, hopefully, the love they left behind.
Jamie Allenby is the main character and arguably the most unlikable one in the book. For the better part of the narrative, she doesn't think much beyond herself, or her reasons for wanting to return to Earth.
While most of the ship's passengers are admittedly flawed, Jamie is unapologetically selfish and self-centered and obsesses about her miscarriage and former lover. Even when he proves to be a man different than she thought she knew, she still wallows in the "love you, love you not" missive.
Enough already! There may be people in the universe who need saving.
Every major character is fighting something in their past – and their confrontations with one another and their self-declarations dominate the story, which is reminiscent of a soap opera.
The ship's captain, Callan, has abandoned a special-needs sibling to run freight through the solar system. The priest, Lowry, broke his vows, left the priesthood and tried to salvage the life he helped to destroy.
Rena is a research scientist whose deadly project conflicted with her religious beliefs and it drove her to madness. Finn, one of two shipmates Jamie connected with, is presumably autistic and probably one of the more honest characters in the book. Mila, a prostitute, and Gracie, the ship's engineer, have limited roles.
The apocalyptic manmade virus, genetic-cleansing, forced emigration and rebuilding of civilization are the reasons I wanted to read this book, but they are reduced to secondary status.
In every instance of the crew reaching other worlds on their journey, the encounters are either hostile or odd. Perhaps it's more of a statement on our society: An ousted and wronged group of people rebuilds a new world while making the same mistakes they brought along with them.
"The Space Between the Stars" had potential, if only it had lived up to its science-fiction premise.
But the characters, especially the main character, are too unrelatable, flaky and selfish for anyone to become invested in the narrative.