(2023) M. R. Carey, Orbit, £18.99, hrdbk, 497pp, ISBN 978-0-356-52085-8
It is a few decades in the future and in Nigeria, Hadiz Tambuwal is researching into dark energy which might seem a little strange as the writing is very clear on the wall that the world is about to end: there are multiple environmental issues, over population and societal collapse. Yet the very wealthy are still funding research in a gamble that some discovery might miraculously mend matters. Even so, dark energy is a bit of a longshot. With society breaking down around her, she makes a chance discovery, the multiverse.
As major a breakthrough as that is – that there are many pristine Earths with their natural resources including real estate into which to move – things are so far gone that there is nobody there to take advantage of this discovery. So, with the help of an artificial intelligence – she sets about exploring the multiverse.
Meanwhile, her explorations have stumbled upon a parallel Earth which itself is part of an Empire of thousands of parallel Earths, the Pandominion empire, and her step has been detected. Further one of Hadiz's remote drones has been picked up…
Meanwhile, the Pandominion has other problems elsewhere than a minor incursion. Its own exploration of the multiverse has uncovered a world that is being harvested of its resources by machines. Further, investigations fail to uncover any biologicals controlling these machines and it seems as if these machines have their own, vast network of parallel Earths…
This then is the basic set up and from this you might be mistaken to think that this is fairly standard SF: don't make that mistake! Yes, this novel draws on standard SF tropes but for the very much the most part it is extremely well assembled, crafted and plotted. Yes, the multiverse is now an almost pedestrian SF trope and it is even seriously considered, albeit contentiously, in science for nearly two-thirds of a century now. Notable multiverse/parallel Earth novels include Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle (1968), Greg Benford's Timescape (1981). Then there is a substantive body of work from Michael Moorcock from his parallel Earth series through to the Jerry Cornelius stories. And, I'd argue, even Greg Egan's Quarantine(1992). Recent excellent multiverse stories in a similar vein to Infinity Gate include Paul McAuley's Cowboy Angels (2007) and even more recently Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth series of novels (2012 – 2016). These last are fine explorations of the multiverse concepts (a good few of which appear in Infinity Gate) but Infinity Gate is a rollicking thriller that packs in ample concepts in a darker, grittier way: after all we begin with the end of the world and go on to see the aftermath of many long gone ends-of-worlds, and we also have war, invasion, espionage, artificial intelligence, super soldiers and much more in the mix.
This is hard-ish SF in that there is plenty of technology and no non-Einsteinian impossibilities. Indeed, one of the rationales for the Pandominion is that going to the stars is just too difficult. Why travel light years when there is a parallel Earth right here? Of course, there is techno-babble, especially early on as Hadiz discovers the multiverse, but it is deftly done. In fact, this is so well done that I suspected that Mike Carey must have a science background and, on checking, was surprised he hasn't! What he does have is an extensive background in writing for comic strips and graphic novels: so he knows all about story-telling and this comes across with Infinity Gate being a proverbial page-turner with some great world-building. Actually, the world-building really is something else as not only are some of the parallel Earths similar to ours, many are not and have major differences. These include where evolution has taken a markedly different route, where humans never got to be the dominant species, but cats, dogs, bears, and even rabbits (one of whom is a lead character).
Now, and here I do not mean to put you off, I thought I saw certain parallels between Infinity Gate and The Wizard of Oz. We have Hadiz as Dorothy who gets whizzed off to parallel Earths along with a large cat and a tin man (robot AI), a cowardly administrator and a wicked witch in the form of a vindictive, senior Pandominion official. Maybe there is a parallel Earth out there where these two stories entwine?
The final thing to say is that Infinity Gate is part of a diptych duology: that is two books that are actually a single, continuous story. So there is more to come.
Will I be seeking out part II? You bet. Infinity Gate grabbed my attention from the off and held it through to the end. The only niggle I had was with the novel's final few pages that sported a couple of reveals that I felt were decided spoilers for the next novel, but I can easily live with that.
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