Fiction Reviews

Empress of the Sun: Everness Book III

(2014) Ian McDonald, Jo Fletcher Books, £20, hrdbk, 390pp, ISBN 978-1-780-87671-9


The giant airship had jumped but instead of arriving mid-air at an alternate Earth it had materialised in the middle of densely-packed branches of some giant forest! Something had gone very wrong for the airship 'Evernesss' and her crew.

Onboard, teenage Everett Singh was still looking for his father who was out there somewhere among the many alternate Earths, but right now that was not the principal concern. The 'Everness' had jumped into a world unknown to its crew. It was a decidedly odd version of Earth. The Sun did not move as it should: it just went straight up and straight down, and not arc across the sky. Also there was no Moon.

And then they discover the locals. They could have been aliens, for they were not human but more like reptiles. The truth soon dawned. This was a world where the dinosaurs had never been wiped out. This was a world where intelligence had had many millions of years to rise, but not for humans. And this world was not natural…

Meanwhile back on one of the alternate Earth's, a cyborg Everett, that to all intents and purposes was an alternate Everett, was coming to realise that his transporting a nano-creature to this Earth might have been a little bit of a big mistake. And he still has to go to school…

So begins the concluding volume of the 'Everness' trilogy (assuming McDonald stops at three). This time round not only does our Earth have to deal with the forces of the Plenitude and cyborg Everett face nano foes, but we have a human Everett face dinosaurs who want the device – the Infundibulum – that enables travel between the parallel worlds of the multiverse.

Empress of the Sun sees McDonald fire on all cylinders. OK so this is juvenile SF for teenagers, but it is more than a great read for older folk too: it is a proverbial SFnal romp packed with genuine cultural references, and why should youngsters have all the fun? Yes, there is the continuation of the Palari from the previous books. Yes, again there are the SFnal references: we even have a Scottish engineer say that the 'he disnae have the power' to the captain. Added to the mix this time we have plenty to ramp up the excitement and sense-of-wonder including a 'big dumb object'…

OK, so it is juvenile SF and, for example, one wonders why a super-advanced technological intelligence many millennia ahead of our human culture did not already discover the parallel Earths themselves and develop their own way of navigating them. Or what happened to the aliens that these would have undoubtedly encountered (as had happened elsewhere in the trilogy)? But we can be forgiving of basic plot holes and just let ourselves be carried along by the crescendo Ian McDonald has created for it truly is a great ride. And if older readers can be tempted to try out Ian's more sophisticated offerings, such as The Dervish House, River of Gods or my favourite Desolation Road, then all well and good. Meanwhile I hope that Ian continues to cater for teenagers as he has a real talent for tapping in to their world, and I know at least one kid that will be very disappointed if there is no more.

Whether or not Ian McDonald will return to writing for a more adult readership or continue his new-found success with the next generation – he certainly has amply demonstrated that he has more than a little flare for this kind of thing – I cannot say. But it is nonetheless obvious that despite Empress of the Sun's decisive ending that many options are now on the table: one can easily conceive of an Everness Book IV

Jonathan Cowie

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