(2013) Ian McDonald, Jo Fletcher Books, £16.99, hrdbk, 374pp, ISBN 978-1-780-87668-9
This novel begins with a car crash. A car crash in which a pedestrian has been hit. The pedestrian is teenager Everett Singh, the son of a famous physicist. Everett awakens on the Moon where an alien quasi-intelligence – The Thryn – lives and he is reborn by it as a kind of a cyborg with in-built weapons. He is now Everett M.
Meanwhile on another Earth Everett is in a large, steampunkish airship, The Everness, with rebels who are against 'The Order'. This Everett would be the same as Everett M other than he is a different Everett born on a different, alternate Earth. It quickly transpires that Everett's father on just one parallel Earth (the Earth of our Everett) has developed a map of the multiverse and all the Heisenberg gates between them. The Order desperately want this map. They are after our Everett. Meanwhile Everett M has been re-incarnated as a weapon to get this map off of our Everett.
However forces are closing in on our Everett and the Everness airship. The way to escape, where they can't be followed, is to the mysteriously quarantined alternate Earth 1 and so Everett opens a gate and away they slip. The problem is is that there is a good reason why Earth 1 when into self-quarantine. All the official gates in are blocked (Everett has unofficial access) and the official gates out all open into the heart of the Sun so as to kill anything leaving. There is a very good reason for this…
Much happens along the way, but for me one of the more engaging scenes was the confrontation between 'alters' Everett and Everett M. It was quite a battle. How do you outwit someone who seems to know what you are thinking? Having said that, I was not so convinced that such identical people would conflict as much as these two do, and though the author did not explain to my satisfaction as to why this was, explanations are possible and I hope he clarifies this matter in the subsequent book.
Be My Enemy is a rollicking adventure that teenagers will love. Back in my day we had Edgar Rice Borroughs et al which we had to share with older readers, or overtly children's books such as Lewis' 'Narnia' tales. OK, so we also had some novels based on Gerry Anderson's TV series but again these were more for youngsters, not teenagers, and we shared James' Blish's Star Trek episode short-story adaptations with older readers. There was very solid SF little written for teenagers. Today things are different and youngsters have real treats with writing from the likes of Neil Gaiman. And now they have Ian McDonald too, lucky so-and-so's.
Ian is, of course, best known for his highly literate, adult speculative fiction with works such as Desolation Road, River of Gods and The Dervish House. Now, with his 'Everness' sequence, it looks like he could well be a hit with younger readers too. In part this is because of the author's imagination, and in part because he knows how to craft a cracking tale. Having said that, this is juvenile SF and so older readers should not expect the depth of plotting and in use of tropes of his other works: the tropes in particular are used in more of a cardboard cut-out way. For example, with his use of parallel universes there is no reconciliation between the similarities between universes necessary for near-identical characters on one hand (a perfectly reasonable conjecture) and the notion that some parallel Earths have developed in markedly different ways (which is equally perfectly reasonable but seemingly at odds with the previous notion). Another area of the book's possible extra apeal to younger readers is the author's use of popular cultural references such as from Star Trek and Dr Who, though I am not sure how many teenage readers will be aware of Babylon V but if through mentioning them his readers seek this excellent series out then all power to his elbow. (Although one or two of the references are repeated sufficiently often as to be arguably a little wearing but maybe this is me.) Such references are not confined to popular culture. The protagonist's name, Everett, is a reference to scientist Hugh Everett III who, over half a century ago, scientifically promulgated the notion of the multiverse. And then there is the use of 'Palari', the early English industrial revolution thieves' language one of whose modern incarnations is its use in gay subculture.
Be My Enemy is the second 'Everness' book. Not having read the first in the series, Planesrunner I can say that adult readers at least can jump in at this point as they will soon pick up on what is going on: I am not confident that this would be so for younger souls. On balance I would therefore recommend reading the series in sequence from the beginning.
Finally, for those serious collectors and archivists into cataloguing, Be My Enemy officially came out in 2013 according to the copyright masthead page. However copies were previously around in the final months of 2012.
And there you have it, a great, gung-ho adventure for younger readers from an established writer of adult speculative fiction: something most definitively worth giving as a birthday or Christmas present for that teenager in your life. Seasoned McDonald fans may well find this more than a little light, but those eldsters that have highly varied reading diets may well still get off on this as the author's enthusiasm more than carries the day.
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