Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Be My Enemy - Ian McDonald

Be My Enemy is Ian McDonald's second book in the Young Adult Everness series. I read the first novel, Planesrunner, last year and it turned out to be a fun and very geeky read, full of science fiction elements, cool gadgets and airships. McDonald is clearly aiming at boys in their early teens, a demographic that is currently not very well served. He may be on to something. As far as I know, McDonald has sold three of these novels to Pyr but he clearly set it up to be a much longer series if there is demand for more. I would not be surprised if more novels will be written in the future. Granted, I am not the target audience but I have been enjoying these two novels an awful lot. In fact, I wish there was something like this around when I was the right age for these books.

Warning: spoilers.

After their narrow escape in the last book fourteen-year-old Everett Singh, genius mathematician, and the crew of the airship Everness are stuck on a frozen, unexplored version of Earth. Soon, they are followed there by their enemies, who are still trying to get their hands on the Infundibulum, a map of all parallel universes his father developed. Everett needs to figure out a way to get the ship moving again before their enemies catch up or the crew freezes to death. A game of hide and seek follows and it turns out their enemies have a few more tricks up their sleeve. An alter of Everett is brought into play. Enhanced by alien technology, this alternate Everett sets out to stop the Everness and its crew. Once again, Everett's ingenuity is tested to the limit.

Everett is very busy in this novel refining his control and understanding of the map and the Heisenberg gun he's managed to hang on to. Under immense pressure from the Charlott and Charles Villiers, he manages to develop a method to go to any point in any alternate universe he desires and this aids the airship Everness a lot. It also gives him the opportunity to influence the destination of the airship. In name, Anastasia Sixsmyth is the captain, and while she emphasizes her command regularly, she has surprisingly little influence on their itinerary. Everett is too preoccupied with the search for his father to let her. It is a hopeless quest as long as Everett hasn't figured out a way to track the jump his father took. Visiting ten to the eightieth alternate versions of Earth is simply impossible. That appears to be a problem for the next novel though.

McDonald brings on the most interesting adversary imaginable into play in this novel. Structurally the novel alternates between Everett's point of view and that of his alter, who is referred to as Everett M to avoid confusion. The implications of alternate worlds (or quantum states to put it in more scientific terms) become very clear when we meet Everett M. Even more so than looking at the alters Charlotte and Charles. He is a very different boy than the Everett we met in Planesrunner and reacts very differently to the trauma he suffers early on in the novel. His alternate Earth is one where humanity have made contact with much more advanced alien beings. After a serious accident, he is transported to the Moon, taken apart and put back together again with a few interesting modifications, to better be able to combat his alter.

The author puts this alternate Everett in some interesting situations but I do wonder if he made the most of the theme of being your own worst enemy. Everett M is not particularly convincing when trying to take Everett's place and as the story progresses he fades a bit into the background. The two do face each other in combat but other than that, they don't really have the chance to chat  and that could potentially have been a very interesting confrontation. Perhaps McDonald is saving that for the next book as well.

There is one mystery McDonald does tackle. The fate of E1, the first version of Earth that developed the technology to jump between alternate universes. It has been quarantined for years, all travel to E1 is forbidden and the most horrible urban myths now surround the place. E1 has been mentioned in the first book a number of times. In Be My Enemy we get to visit it. E1 turns out to be a post apocalyptic world where runaway nano technology has destroyed most of the life on the planet and humanity is barely hanging on in fanatically guarded, permanently besieged enclaves. McDonald has tuned into into a pretty scary place, even more so for Everett when he encounters an alter of his father. Another way in which he makes the implications of alternate worlds clear to the reader.

Everett also deepens his relationship with the crew of the Everness. Sen is her mercurial self in this novel, providing a contrast with the rational world of thought Everett is wrapped in. She is frequently does things that at the same time fascinate and puzzle poor Everett, although he rarely has the time to reflect on his relationship with her. Another crew member that gets quite a lot of attention is the bible quoting Mr. Sharky. Everett distrusts him and Sharky does very little to make Everett change his mind in the novel. I don't particularly care for all the bible quotes but his presence does create tension within the crew, adding another challenge for Everett. Again I get the feeling McDonald is not done with this story line.

Some of the novelty of McDonald's concepts has worn of in this book of course, but all things considered Be My Enemy is a very strong sequel to Planesrunner. McDonald doesn't feel the need to hold the reader's hand in his adult fiction and he certainly doesn't do so here. In my opinion that is something books for teens could use more of. There is a respect of the reader's intelligence in these novels that makes them attractive for geeks of all ages. I hope to see a new McDonald for adult audiences again soon, but I will keep an eye out for the third volume of the Everness series as well.

Book Details
Title: Be My Enemy
Author: Ian McDonald
Publisher: Pyr
Pages: 269
Year: 2012
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-161614-678-8
First published: 2012

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