There’s so much to unpack in Personal Space. On the surface, we see a young woman with an extraordinary secret that allows her a hiding place situated in some kind of alternate reality. It’s just a regular room, but it allows her instant access to any place in which she’s created a door. Beyond the novelty and excitement of this prospect lies incredible usage of symbolism and a deep conversation on trauma and women’s rights.
To me, the dark room represents her trauma as a child, a manifestation of her desperate need to feel safe in a dangerous place. The fact that she can expand it and constantly return to it shows the continuous place this trauma has within her existence. That being said, it doesn’t consume her. Instead of the room disappearing, it grows with her and she operates temporarily within it, not letting it define her.
When she tries to share this secret with a man she trusts, he tries to co-opt it for himself. This man focuses purely on the room instead of the parts of her beyond the room. He becomes obsessed and eventually tries to dictate to her what she should be doing with the room. From that instance, it moves into condescending sexism as he refuses to listen to what she wants. He thinks he deserves to take possession of it, thus downplaying her traumatic experiences and attempting to reallocate them as his own. To say this story is a triumph of symbolism would be an understatement.
As you can see, this is an incredibly meaningful story, and I’m so impressed with the author’s ability to convey so much with a seemingly simple fantasy creation.
By Lawrence Watt-Evans
Asimov’s Science Fiction