REVIEW SUMMARY: The best young adult novel that Robert A. Heinlein never wrote.
MY RATING: .
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Joey Harker goes on a field trip one day and finds himself in the middle of a war between the forces of science and magic across all the possible Earths.
PROS: A well written short novel that really catches the feel of the young adult novels of Robert A. Heinlein, as well as some of his other well-known works.
CONS: A bit too “science fantasy” at times, which almost turns the tale to mush in a few spots.
BOTTOM LINE: Neil Gaiman is best when he works short. Few have captured the voice of Robert A. Heinlein better than this collaborative work with Michael Reaves.
I grew up with Robert A. Heinlein.
Sure, in my misbegotten youth, there were other authors. Arthur C. Clarke played a role. Andre Norton, Alan E. Nourse, Poul Anderson, James Blish and others played supporting roles. Isaac Asimov was there, both in fiction and non-fiction.
But Robert A. Heinlein, with his titles for young adults (“juveniles” as they were called then) was the lead. In books from Starman Jones to Farmer in the Sky to Citizen of the Galaxy to Have Space Suit, Will Travel (which I read many, many times), Heinlein entertained me and taught me. Painlessly.
He taught me the value of an education. He taught me the value of ethics. He taught me the value of not sitting on my butt. Naturally, as with reading a work such as Moby Dick, not everything in every book sunk and was understood right away, but it did sink in and eventually helped to form what I am today.
Other authors have tried to be Robert A. Heinlein. Some have gotten close, such as Jerry Pournelle (with Exiles to Glory or Higher Education…which he co-wrote with the late Charles Sheffield) or David Gerrold (with his so-called Dingilliad trilogy). Others have tried, hard, but failed, miserably (I’m thinking here of Spider Robinson’s “collaboration” with Heinlein in Variable Star; a book that failed, I feel, because Robinson put too much of his own agenda into the book).
This is why I like InterWorld so much. I haven’t read anything, so far, that shows that Gaiman and Reaves intended on writing a Heinlein young adult novel, but damn if they didn’t do the best job I’ve come across intentionally or not!
Joey Harker is a high school student. He has one somewhat unconventional teacher (who would fit right into a Heinlein novel), Mr. Dimas. On one of his teachers field trips (designed to teach kids about real life and give them some useful experience), Joey finds himself not quite in his world. The girl he was on the field trip with looks slightly different. Cars look slightly different. And when he makes his way home…he finds himself…as a girl.
You’ve heard, no doubt, of the multiverse, the set of all possible universes. What Joey has found is the altiverse, made up of all possible versions of Earth. Whenever a major decisions is made, our planet “buds”. By the point of the story there are millions upon millions of Earths. Some are ruled by the HEX, a group that controls magic and wants to use people like Joey for a nasty purpose. Others are ruled by Binary, which uses science…and also wants people like Joey for a nasty purpose. Trying to maintain the balance is InterWorld, run by hundreds of variants of Joey…some older, some male, some female, some not quite human.
After undergoing intensive schooling, Joey and several of his fellow students are sent on a practice mission. Alas, things go wrong, and he finds himself facing a tough decision. Should he try to live out his life quietly back on his version of Earth? Or help his new friends and try to save millions of other Earths from either HEX or Binary?
I’ve been so-so on Gaiman. The whole graphic novel movement (like the whole video game movement) marched past me with little interest on my part. I’ve enjoyed his novels, but liked his short stories better, as it seems the longer he makes something, the more likely it’ll start sputtering.
This book is the perfect length for him. The character of Joey Harker is well drawn; Gaiman and Reaves do an excellent job here. The secondary characters – especially Jay, Hue and Mr. Dimas – are a lot of fun. There’s action aplenty, too, ranging from swashbuckling fights to internal debates on what to do. Plus, there are some really creepy villains.
In their afterword, Gaiman and Reaves talk about how the story first was shopped around as a television series in the 1990’s. Alas, as is usual when you talk to folks in Hollywood in words with more than one syllable, eyes glazed over. What a shame, as this would have been one heck of a television romp. Thank goodness the book is out, and you can see it in the theater of the mind!