Novel: Planesrunner by Ian McDonald

Being largely unschooled in young adult and middle-grade fiction, I decided to add some to my rotation. Since I trust Ian McDonald’s track record, I thought what better place to start than his YA debut Planesrunner (2011), a colorful science fiction adventure, first in the Everness series. Everett Singh is the hero, a precocious, intelligent fourteen-year-old whose father Tejendra is a brilliant quantum physicist. As the story begins, Everett watches in horror as his father is abducted; shortly thereafter, he receives the “Infundibulum,” a computer program that enables the user to precisely navigate the multiverse. It seems his father was working on a government team that has opened portals to alternate Earths, adding their reality to the “Plenitude,” a consortium of parallel worlds. But it quickly becomes apparent that nefarious forces want to leverage Tejendra’s work toward unknown ends, and Everett is the only person Tejendra trusts with its power.

I found Planesrunner slow to ramp, but once it does — when Everett ventures out into the multiverse in search of his father — it becomes quite fun and inventive. Everett’s first cross-dimensional step lands him in a richly built world, rigorously thought out but with the playful feel of science fantasy. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of the main character; Everett’s  too awesome to be true , too brilliant and worldly by half for his fourteen years, which I found annoying. The voice didn’t strike me as naturally middle grade, either; it felt a bit like mitigated adult SF, written down for a younger audience. This is less noticeable as the book progresses, but it made for a curious tone, especially early. That said, McDonald populates his multiverse with interesting ideas and colorful characters, and the premise is entertainingly explored and rife with possibilities. I liked the book without loving it; I suspect I just wasn’t quite the ideal audience for this one. For the right reader, though, I think it will really strike a chord.

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