by Paul Melko
Edited by David G. Hartwell
Cover Artist: Sam Weber
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765329141
Date: 05 June 2012 List Price $27.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Melko continues the alternate world travels of John Rayburn begun in The Walls of the Universe. The Alarians attack him and his friends, Grace and Henry, when the aliens steal the plans to John's transfer gate and escape the world where the Vig, an interworld security force, had stranded them. Now John and his friends must find and stop them.
John has discovered that while he had originally been a duplicate, one of multiple and similar John Rayburns, his travels have changed him, and he begins to consider how that makes him unique and what that means. Much of the novel centers on the fight against the Alarians who own Pinball Wizards and are determined to acquire the technology for the transfer gates so they can again ravage other worlds.
Grace, one of John's friends who helped create the transfer gates, was tortured in the previous book and now wants revenge against all Alarians. John offers to send the Alarians to another world, but the leaders won't cooperate. With John Prime's help, the Pinball Wizards are able to solve their money worries and pay off the Alarians, but they still want the transfer gates John developed. They make a series of attempts toward that goal.
When one of the Alarian women comes to John and begs his help, she also helps Grace get her revenge, and the Pinball Wizards take over all the Alarian corporate assets. However, knowing the Vigs have marooned the Alarians on their world, John fears they may also seek him and his friends and stop their interdimensional travel.
John Prime continues to explore other worlds. He has no qualms about theft and even murder to defend himself. He travels to a plague world filled with weapons including a store of portable nuclear devices. He doesn't contract the plague and considers it a safe world. He considers the use of nuclear weapons a reasonable option against some potential enemies.
Melko draws a strong contrast between John and John Prime, but John also calls on Prime to solve problems that may involve violence. The author notes cultural differences between the world, but spends little time on them or how they change that reality or how the reality affects them. Mostly, John and his friends focus on technology and making money. Eventually, John wants to use their resources to help people especially in a world like the nuclear winter one where he rescued a woman and her child. John also agonizes over any deaths that happen to those associated with him or may be caused by his actions. Unfortunately, with actions by the Vigs, the numbers mount.
Like its predecessor, this novel approaches more fantasy than science fiction. Despite his background as a nuclear engineer and computer guru, Melko pushes the envelope when his hero with only freshman physics duplicated the functioning of the transfer device that allows travel between universes, especially since the technological states of the universes vary greatly. They easily use and adapt technology of other worlds to their own uses.
A growing number authors, both adult and Young Adult, have written about interdimensional travel, including the excellent Planesrunner (Everness, Book One) by Ian McDonald (SFrevu,dec2011?) and Fair Coin by E.C. Myers (SFRevu, mar 2012). Melko does more this time to examine the effects of interdimensional travel on his characters and provides enough chase excitement to hold readers. It isn't clear if there will be another sequel.