16 December 2015

Be My Enemy
by Ian McDonald

I loved the first book in this series, Planesrunner. I loved this one too, because it kept me hooked all the way through and left me bereft and disappointed when I turned the last page.

Yes, the basic conceit and the plot are a bit too close to those of Iain M. Banks’s Transition for comfort — down to the mantis-like sexiness of the Chief Villainess — but the concept of a chase across parallel timelines in different universes is big enough to accommodate both novels and a few dozen others as well. McDonald’s narrative and imaginative powers are strong enough that the comparison with Banks, one of the best writers who ever took up science fiction, does not shame him.

Unfortunately, there is a great big hole in the plot of this sequel, which rather spoils the fun. I won’t reveal it here, except to say it concerns electromagnetic pulses, or EMPs. It’s not a scientific booboo. It’s a storytelling booboo — a very bad one, which seriously spoils an otherwise great read.

Less devastatingly, but rather annoyingly, I found Mr McDonald, whose intelligence I have always heretofore admired, talking utter rubbish in places here. At one point our juvenile hero, Everett Singh, ‘discovers’ that you can’t be afraid on your own because ‘fear needs an audience’. Really? I can’t count the times I’ve been afraid and alone. Another time, Everett says that ‘guns don’t make people feel powerful’. Try telling that to the sick losers who take their revenge against society through mass shootings.

A brilliant read all the same, and a superbly poised transition-point ending.
Can’t wait for Everness #3.

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