Londons Calling – Planesrunner by Ian McDonald

planesrunnerSome books are great because they are filled with complex themes and subtle nuance. Others, and they tend to be YA novels, take a single idea and tell a ridiculously exciting story that sucks you in and spits you out, breathless at the finish. Planesrunner is one of those.

Set in what is becoming a genre of its own, a parallel London, Planesrunner is a tale filled with swash, buckle, quantum physics and airships. Lots of airships. On the day his father is kidnapped Everett Singh’s life starts to get interesting. Everett’s father is a physicist, with a specialism in the Many-Worlds theory. (Everett is named after Dr Hugh Everett, founder of the Many-Worlds theory (Hugh Everett was also the father of Mark Everett, founder of the band Eels, which explains why I had ‘Novacaine for the Soul’ running through my head the whole time I read the book.)). Shortly after his father disappears, Everett receives a mysterious package; a flash drive. Not just the key to the universe but to 1080 of them.

This being fiction, where dramatic things happen, shadowy forces close in on Everett, desperate to gain the knowledge his father imparted. It soon becomes evident that travel to other universes is not only possible, but is happening right now (in our fictional universe. Not in real life, obviously. Unless it is.). A United Nations of universes exists (the brilliantly named Plenipotentiary) and Earth is about to become its newest member.  Travel between planes is haphazard, and relies on the existence of two ‘Heisenberg Gates’. What Everett has is a map. One that offers freedom to roam the multiverse.  Some very bad people are keen to take a joyride around the planes, and are prepared to take the map using any means necessary. It’s why they kidnapped Everett’s father. Before they can do anything too painful to him Everett jumps into a neighbouring alternate London.

If you’ve read any of McDonald’s science fiction (which I highly recommend you do) you’ll know they are wonderfully evocative. His world building and attention to detail is phenomenal. Planesrunner is no exception. His alternate London, one where oil has never been discovered, is breathtaking. His extrapolations and variances are well balanced and feel entirely accurate. The adventures on the other side of the gate continue apace.  There really is no let up. Everett becomes enlisted on-board the airship Everness and since this is the Everness trilogy, its fair to assume this majestic vessel is in for the long-haul.

The plot of Planesrunner is brilliant. The pace is perfect, the action is thrilling and the quantum physics just the right side of bamboozling. The complex ins and outs of the Many-Worlds theory are comprehensively explained, although they are, I think, quite complex.  I expect this book would appeal to older bracket of YA readers (and not just the 40-yr-olds). Science fans will absolutely love it. I just wanted to shut out the world and read Planesrunner in one breathless sitting.  It really is that good. So, less than a month in, contenders for my YA book of 2014 already have their work cut out, and to cap it all off, books 2&3 are already available. I shall be diving in very soon!

Many (and I mean many) thank to Andrew at Jo Fletcher Books for sending me the Everness books to read.

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