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Planesrunner
Ian McDonald
Pyr, 269 pages

Planesrunner
Ian McDonald
Ian McDonald was born in 1960 in Manchester and moved to Northern Ireland in 1965. At present, he lives in Belfast with his wife, Patricia. His debut was the short story, The Island of the Dead, in the British magazine, Extro. His work has won the Philip K. Dick Award for best original SF paperback, the Locus poll for best first novel, and several nominations for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Dervish House
SF Site Review: The Dervish House
SF Site Review: Cyberabad Days
SF Site Review: Cyberabad Days
SF Site Review: Brasyl
SF Site Review: Ares Express
SF Site Review: Sacrifice of Fools
SF Site Reading List: Ian McDonald

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Ian McDonald has become known for his complex, many-threaded, novels set in the near future of large non-first world countries: River of Gods, Brasyl, and The Dervish House. These are all exceptional -- on the strength of these books McDonald is arguably the very best SF writer of this decade. (Yes, there are a few additional candidates for that position!) So at first blush Planesrunner is a surprise -- it's a Young Adult novel, set in London (albeit multiple Londons), following mostly a single point of view. And indeed it's the first of a series, the Everness series. (Though McDonald has in the past had multiple novels set in the same future and he traditionally produces shorter works linked to his novels, he's not yet to my knowledge committed "trilogy.") But none of this detracts from a reader's enjoyment of this new book. It is more straightforward than his most recent novels, yes -- perhaps that's a result of the YA market. (Though as the late Diana Wynne Jones would caution, assuming that writing for younger readers means writing simpler can be lazy and outright wrong.) Any, what Planesrunner really is a fun and exciting novel, with an interesting setup and some involving characters. It's also the opening of a series, so it ends with something of a cliffhanger, but that's the nature of that particular beast.

The novel opens with Everett Singh going to meet his physicist father at a lecture -- but instead Everett witnesses his father's kidnapping. The police are little help, and neither is his mother (who is divorced from his father). Soon enough Everett realizes that his father was involved in some very interesting research, research which led to opening a gate between parallel worlds. And when his father's rather creepy boss comes around, it seems clear that Dr. Singh must have made an important discovery, and that the authorities are after it. This is a familiar enough YA trope (and likewise we quickly learn that Dr. Singh left the key to his discovery with Everett), and it's well executed here.

Everett soon learns that his Earth, after opening the gateway to other worlds, has been welcomed into a group called the Plenitude of Known Worlds, which comprises those worlds to which travel has mutually been established, and between which some form of trade is ongoing. But Everett's father has discovered something very valuable, which he calls the Infundibulum (a nod to Vonnegut, one of a few neat nods in the book, such as Everett's own given name). This is a map to all the parallel Earths in the Multiverse, not just the "Ten Known Worlds." Once it is realized that Everett has the Infundibulum, some nasty seeming people, both on our Earth (designated E10) and on a somewhat fascist-seeming, and steampunk-flavored, Earth called E3. So Everett ends up in unfamiliar E3, on the run from the sinister Charlotte Villiers, and soon in the company of the crew of the airship Everness.

The plot is fast moving and exciting, especially once Everett reaches E3. The characters are well-done as well. Everett is a well-rounded kid -- with nerdiness inherited from his father, plus an interest in cooking and in soccer (er... sorry, "football"). His new friend Sen, and her mother Anastasia and the rest of the crew of the Everness, are also well done. The villains, especially Charlotte Villiers, may chew the scenery a bit much -- this is one way in which the book differs from McDonald's recent adult novels, which eschew full-blown evil villains -- but they still hold the interest. I think this is one of the best YA novels of the year, and I'm eagerly anticipating the sequels.

Copyright © 2011 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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