You know him for his Science Fiction like THE DERVISH HOUSE (EBR Review) and others, but now Ian McDonald invades YA territory with PLANESRUNNER (Amazon) and a world where the Earth exists in almost limitless parallel universes.
Our PoV character is teenage Everett Singh, soccer goalie, science smarty-pants, and son of the brilliant Tejendra Singh, who created the infundibulum–a sort of map to the parallel universes, or “planes”. Before now only the ten Earths that have been able to create gateways can visit each other, but with Tejendra’s invention any earth can be jumped to. But agents from the E2 plane will do anything to get the infundibulum, even kidnap Tejendra from under Everett’s very nose. Little do they know that it’s Everett who his dad left it to for safekeeping, and he’ll do anything to rescue his dad.
The majority of the book is spent in E2, where electricity was discovered in the 1789, and as a result oil-related technology was never developed… including plastic. In this Steampunk-like world Everett befriends the eclectic Sen, the teenage pilot of the cargo airship Everness, and via her a new family among the airship’s small crew.
PLANESRUNNER was fun to read, with a creative mix of Steampunk and SF, and after visiting E2, I expect Everett will jump to other planes, so I’m looking forward to reading about those–he leaves hints for what the other earths would be like. The science is interesting and explained without feeling like it’s over my head. And following Everett’s adventures felt realistic, although he seemed a little too smart for a teenage boy.
Everett is a well-drawn character, but my favorite is Sen, the snarky bohemian orphan, who finds Everett fascinating, and is quickly drawn into his predicament. The other characters add eclectic flair: Captain Sixsmyth, the young captain of the Everness and her sense of honor; Mr. Sharkey, the American “gentleman” who spews bible verse; Mchynlyth, the Scottish engineer; and Charlotte Villiers, the E2 agent with the killer shoes and fascinators who is determined to get the infundibulum.
The storytelling itself is almost stream-of-consciousness as Everett goes off on tangents in the middle of the action–which is stylistically reminiscent of McKinley’s DRAGONHAVEN. I like it, but it may frustrate some readers as it slows the story’s pace. McDonald also has the habit of stringing scenes one after another, making the pacing lumpy and disconnected feeling, although by the end it makes sense. One other problem is Sen’s frequent use of slang. While it adds “authenticity” it can get confusing; fortunately the book contains a dictionary of slang terms.
Despite the jumble of events, they lead up to an exciting ending, where Everett is backed into a corner with no obvious solution. And while there’s no clear “win”, and McDonald leaves the ending open for the following books in the series, it is a fun ride.
- Recommended Age: 13+, more for comprehension than content
- Language: None
- Violence: Some fisticuffs and peril, but no blood and gore
- Sex: Teenage hormones, but no direct references or innuendo