Review: Planesrunner – Everness Series, Book 1 / Author: Ian McDonald / Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books / Release Date: Out Now
Having produced thirteen highly acclaimed SF novels and won pretty much every award there is, Ian McDonald now turns his hand to YA fiction with this, the first in an ongoing series. If the opener is anything to go by – and we rather suspect it is - long may it run.
When teenager Everett Singh's quantum physics genius dad is kidnapped in front of his very eyes, he suddenly finds himself the subject of much unwanted attention from his father's shifty university colleague and a sinister couple who don't seem quite of this world. Worse, it even appears that the local police are in on the act. He finds out exactly why this is when he receives a parting gift from his father, downloaded onto his tablet - the Infundibulum.
Turns out that the prodigious Singh, Sr. has brought about the discovery of nine parallel Earths and invented the Heisenberg Gate, the means to travel back and forth between them. The other parallels have already developed this technology, and are united as the Plenitude of Known Worlds, each with its own embassy in all of the others (apart from the ominous 'E1', that's given a wide berth), with our Earth all set to become E10. But the good doctor's latest innovation, the Infundibulum, is a new development for all concerned, as it not only reveals that the Panoply of Worlds is near-infinite but also is a 'map' which can bring the user to any point on any one of them. And those that know about it want it. Bad.
Being something of a chip off the old block in the genius stakes, with the help of the Infundibulum Everett manages to make his way to E3 - a petroleum-free, electric-powered world of pure steampunk grandiosity, only minus all the steam - in the hope of rescuing his father. There he comes across the crew of the free-booting airship Everness – and then the adventure really begins.
Right from the word go, Planesrunner has the reader sucked in. Starting in a completely believable and familiar world of teenage angst, parental break-ups, school and Xboxes, McDonald's novel manages to bring our young hero to the incredible world of E3 without skipping a heartbeat. McDonald has an incredible economy of style; with just a few words one can picture the characters and settings perfectly, making the world of E3 London feel completely real. That isn't to say he's dumbed down his prose or concepts for the younger reader; this is a sterling piece of 'hard' SF. And, with cultural references including everything from Doctor Who to Pulp Fiction, there's much for readers of a finer vintage to enjoy.
Take note, BBC execs – if you're wanting to fill in Saturday tea-time schedules in the long waits between seasons of Who, you could do a lot worse than to mine this rich seam. It has same mixture of ideas, adventure and, above all, heart, that makes that show so successful. And it'd sure as hell beat the arse off Primeval.