Sometimes, you just happen to stumble on things that brighten your day. I have no idea how I found out about this novel by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves, but it was easily orderable. And I'm tremendously glad I did.
The story focuses on young Joey Harker, a boy in his mid-teens, dealing with all the issues that come with that age for boys, including matters of self-esteem and, of course, girls. It's no help that Joey has a penchant for getting completely and totally lost. And one day, for a school project, he finds himself in the middle of his home town with directions to get back to school, accompanied with the object of his school-boy crush; in other words, he faces the confluence of all his teen-age angsts. And his day doesn't get any better when he tries to scout his way back to school and finds himself passing through a fog bank and then into a city that looks a great deal like the one he knows, except that there are subtle differences…such as another Jo Harker living in his house, who happens to be a girl. And then he finds himself under attack, first by robots and then by an evil sorceress.
And so begins an action-filled novel that posits a multiverse with individual universes spread across a continuum. Pure science resides on one end and pure science on the other, and they are fighting for mastery of the multiverse. Fortunately Joey finds allies in a group determined to let neither side win, a group that saves him and then takes him in as a trainee in the fight.
With such a fascinating backdrop, the story doesn't have to do much to succeed, but Gaiman and Reaves do much more. This story is very much in the vein of Heinlein's juvenile novels, where the young protagonist must learn to first be self-reliant and then an integral part of a community. Interworld is written in first-person, capturing the same kind of voice that Heinlein used so successfully in books like Podkayne of Mars, a character at once curious and concerned but at the same time self-doubting and confused. (I recognize this is yet another reference to Heinlein in recent blogging. I promise that I am not seeking out these kinds of relationships or trying to force them. It's food for thought, however, and it may not be much of a stretch to say that his influence permeates deeply.) And it is this juvenile sense of wonder that grounds our exploration of this multiverse along with Joey.
Interworld turns out to be a page-turner. Most of what happens should be fairly predictable to experienced readers of fiction, but that doesn't keep the story from moving briskly as Joey falls from one complication to the next, from one revelation to another. It is also tightly plotted, with nicely placed hints provided early on and used to solve problems further down the road. Of course at some point, Joey finds himself in the clutches of the evildoers, and his escape is ingenious, based on twists on the rules of the multiverse that have been provided to the reader earlier on. There is a wide range of characters from across the universes that accompany Joey—a wolf-girl, a cyborg, and even a winged woman. Their interaction is usually fairly simplistic, but still entertaining and sometimes surprising.
According to the notes in the back, this book was originally imagined as a TV series. I imagine it would have been a highly entertaining animated series, with hooks for both young and adult viewers alike. And this describes the book as well. It strikes me as being a tremendous way to introduce young readers to speculative fiction—an engaging, adventure-filled romp through some of the tropes of the genre. But it is also appealing to older readers as well, reminding us why we fell I love with the genre in the first place and providing smiles and slight shudders along the way.