Thursday, October 16, 2008

Review: Interworld by Neil Gaiman

This is one of Neil Gaiman's earlier works, a YA novel written in collaboration with Michael Reaves. I first discovered Neil Gaiman through his other big collaboration, Good Omens, co-written with Terry Pratchett. I had not particularly cared for either of these authors singly prior to reading that book. Together, I enjoyed them immensely. My history with Gaiman since then has been hit or miss: some of them I liked (Neverwhere) and some I did not (American Gods). Seeing as how I enjoyed his last collaboration, I thought I might enjoy this one.

The story is about a boy named Joey Harker who discovers that he has the ability to travel between parallel worlds. He winds up boot-camping in this sort of bootcamp world populated by other versions of himself, all of whom are affiliated with one of two factions warring for control of the galaxy.

I found the concept of 'multiple versions of himself' really interesting when I read the story summary, but I am not sure the authors quite pull it off. We get a few glimpses---not every 'Joey Harker' is human, for instance. But I would have liked to see more about the interpersonal aspects of this type of situation. If one accepts the premise set out in the story that each world is a result of the divergent decisions an individual might make at critical junctures, it would have been cool to compare two Joeys at the point where they verge off---for example, the Joey who decides to join the cause, meeting up with a Joey who is otherwise the same as he is, but decided *not* to and then gets pulled back in anyway. That would have been more interesting to me than 'variants on the name Joey with slight rearrangements of distinguishing physical characteristics.'

I liked the way the authors portrayed their hero as a fallible kid who tries, makes mistakes and tries to learn from them. The character growth leading up to the inevitable 'big showdown' was nicely played. But I found most of the other characters a little hackneyed and under-developed. We never did find out just where one of them found the big stick up his you know what! It felt to me like perhaps parts of this book were setting up for a sequel which never materialized.

I give them points for the concept, which was creative. But this is one of Gaiman's earliest works, and it shows. There are some nice action sequences, and a likable hero. But there was also a lot of hack, a lot of over-explaining (page after page about the mechanics of how a certain spacesuit works, for example) and in the end, a not entirely clear motivation for how we got ourselves into this in the first place.

Ultimately, I would perhaps recommend this as a library read if you are already a Gaiman fan. But he's done better, and I'm not sure this is purchase-worthy.

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