Airships and Nanotech – Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald

enemy By coincidence I read two novels concurrently that contained reference/homage to Hugh Everett and his many worlds theory (to be fair I knew one of them did, as it’s a sequel, but the other was a complete surprise.) One was literary fiction, slow, nuanced and dull. The other, YA science fiction, was bold, brash and bloody brilliant. Be My Enemy is a direct follow on from Planesrunner, and is book 2 in the Everness series. If you haven’t read book 1, then look away now.

The plot picks up immediately from where Planesrunner ended. Everett Singh and the crew of the Everness have just jumped away from the evil Charlotte Villiers and are hoping to make their escape. Everett’s father is still missing, jettisoned into the multiverse; victim of Villiers’ machinations in book 1.

Before the crew of the Everness can even draw breath the army of the Panoply are on to them. Jumping between planes leaves a signal that can be traced. It’s a bit like your internet history. This is one of those convenient Sci-Fi devices, that I’m not really sure how it works (quantum entanglement?), but it keeps the the book moving along, so I don’t worry too much. Its purpose is to ensure the antagonists can keep chasing the heroes.

Backed into a corner, Everett does what he’s best at. Thinking the unthinkable and realising the impossible. In this case it’s jumping the Everness to the quarantined and fabled disaster zone E1. It’s the deep dark woods of Everett’s universe(s) and you enter at your peril.

It’s here that the novel really takes off. A lot second novels are inferior to the opening volume because the best ideas have been used up. Once the central premise has been set, the story continues within its parameters. With Be Me Enemy McDonald not only picks up his central idea and runs with it, he uses it to make balloon animals, a water park and a Scooby Doo sandwich.

Earth 1 is a terrible place. To say much more would spoil the surprise, but it’s a nightmare vision of science over-extending itself. This is another tightly plotted adventure story, exciting and innovative from start to finish. Be My Enemy sees the crew of the Everness grow, both as a band of brothers and individuals. The novels denouement has one of the most innovative uses of invented technology I can remember reading. It’s one of McDonald’s best traits as a writer, his confections are not just original, they are employed in ways you can never see coming. (It’s like Chekov’s gun only where you thought the gun was something else altogether).

What struck me about these books as I read them, is that since there are three novels currently published (Empress of the Sun is currently burning a hole in my bookshelf), I had sort of assumed this would be a trilogy. Perhaps it is, but with 1080 Earths at his disposal, McDonald can make literally anything happen (book 3 has highly evolved dinosaurs by the looks of things). Whilst the overreaching story arc is tracking down Everett’s father, McDonald has essentially created himself a Quantum Leap scenario.  As long as he can think of settings and stories, Everett can keep on searching for the way home. On the strength of the first two books this is a series I would happily see run and run.

Many Thanks to Andrew at Jo Fletcher Books for sending me a copy of the book. 


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