Completed 5/23/2023, Reviewed 5/25/2023
This was one of those books where I could recognize that it is well done, but I just couldn’t get into it. Time travel and dimension traveling can be difficult tropes to write about, keeping everything coherent, especially when you’re dimension traveling between very similar universes. Johnson executed it very well. The beginning is kind of tough, but when you figure out what’s going on, you realize it was all part of a master plan of storytelling. Still, the plot would grab me, then release me, then grab me, then release me. It was a book club read, and the majority of people liked it better than me. It also won the 2020 Golden Tentacle Kitschy Award for debut novel that fits the criteria of progressive, intelligent and entertaining.
The story revolves around Cara, a dimension traverser. She was from the wastelands outside a walled city. She got this job in the city because most of her doppelgangers in other dimensions have died. That’s a prerequisite for traversers because if they go to a dimension where their counterpart still exists, it will kill them. By having this job, she is on the way to citizenship and security. However, when Cara is sent to a world where her doppelganger has supposedly died, she is nearly killed. Her doppelganger is apparently alive. Fortunately, she is saved, but is confronted with massive challenge, one where she knows all the players, but they have different roles, being in a different dimension. This leads to crazy politics in her own dimension where she must keep her wits about her to survive the brutal head of the Institute which houses the traversing technology.
It’s quite an elaborate setup, with lots of twists and turns, surprising the reader throughout the book. It is a bit difficult to keep track of all the characters, because they have different personalities in the different dimensions. The ones close to home, Earth 0, are more similar than the farther ones. In particular, she traverses to Earth 175. It’s about halfway to the farthest Earth traversed to, but it still holds many surprises.
Cara is an interesting character. She’s had a hard life, surviving abuse and difficult situations. I was impressed by her survival skills. Now free of some of the crap of her past, she can be more authentic. However, she has an unrequited crush on Dell, her traversing engineer. The feeling is mutual, but there’s something in the way that keeps them apart. It creates a nice sexual tension that is handled well throughout the book. It doesn’t get old or tedious, and the resolution is one of the neat twists that happens in the middle of the book. Even though I never remained fully engrossed in the book, I did empathize with her, especially as she makes bold decisions about her future with the Institute.
The world building was good. It wasn’t fantastic I think because you never spend a whole lot of time in any one dimension, except for Earth 0. And there, you mostly stay in the walled city. There isn’t much outside of it, besides the wastelands, and apparently, other walled cities. Johnson gives you enough information to satisfy the scenes without going overboard in describing everything. Related to that, the prose was pretty good, not too overwhelming, since we weren’t getting a lot of information at any one time. The book overall was pretty readable.
I kind of wish I had different circumstances reading this book. I think I would have liked it better if I could have sat down and read it all in one or two sittings. Maybe, maybe not. I give it three stars out of five because it’s good. Is it excellent? A lot of people think so. But since I didn’t feel completely engaged in it, I knocked off a star. The best thing about this book is that the author delved into the dimension hopping and doppelganger tropes with a fresh perspective, making it feel pretty original.