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Book Review: Interworld Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves

Joey Harker isn't like other boys his age. It's not just the fact that he has absolutely no sense of direction, put him down on a street in the town where he's lived all his life and he'll walk a block and he'll be completely lost. In fact he's so lacking in a normal sense of direction that he once got lost traveling from his bedroom at the top of his house to the kitchen when he tried to make his way down for supper.

Okay, sure the house had just been renovated, and the new addition for his baby brother was another corridor that he could turn the wrong way onto, but getting lost in your own house, what a loser. That's pretty much what everyone in school though of him too. Oh they liked him well enough and he didn't get beaten up more then average, but he could be guaranteed merciless abuse anytime he discovered a new way to lose himself.

But he figures this one is going to make the rest of them look like nothing. He and two others in his Social Studies class had been dropped off downtown and told to find their way back to school, on foot without phoning, taking a cab, or taking a bus. Of course he happens to be with the one girl in the school he has a crush on, and who barely knows he exists, and the guy in school who seems to have been designed to be put on the face of the earth to make him miserable.

But in about a half hour's time he's going to be looking back on those worries and concerns with fondness as he's about to find out just why he can't ever find his way from point A to B. What he finds out about himself makes Interworld one of the strangest, interesting, and slightly bizarre fantasy/science fiction books you're going to read in a long time.
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Of course there's a very good reason for the book's qualities. Interworld is the result of melding the fantastical mind of Neil Gaiman, responsible for books like Stardust, American Gods, and the movie MirrorMask with the science fiction brain of Michael Reaves who's written television scripts for everything from Star Trek: The Next Generation to The Twilight Zone and instalments of the Star Wars series of novels.

When this type of meeting of minds is attempted the universe just may not recover. Who knows what those two hyper active imaginations could get up to and what long-term effects it could have on life as we know it. It could become so bent out of shape as to look like everybody's been living in a fun house mirror. Little things will be out of place on people's bodies, or they will be shaped in ways that aren't the same as we're used to. Either too wide and square or too tall and straight or other equally strange appearance shifts like fur all over the body, and feathers instead of hair.

Interestingly enough that's just the sort of thing that Joey encounters after the day he takes his first Walk. You see Joey may not be able to find his way to corner store, but he can slip between the different versions of the earth at will, as well as into the couple of other places in between. He's what turns out to be called a Walker, and a particularly powerful one at that. But before he finds that out and other surprises there's the certain matter of him having to be rescued from one of the bad guys – in this case the forces of magic.

What Joey finds out, and even eventually comes to understand, is there are millions upon million of alternate earth realities that for all intents in purpose are stretched out in an arc. On some versions of earth they developed magic as their primary means of technology and on others science became the dominant force. At each end of the arc are worlds which are completely dominated by one or the other and each have their hearts set on conquering everything and making them all in their own image.

As you get closer to the centre of the arc worlds are much more in balance so of course they are targets for the forces of either the HEX (magic) Empire or the Binary (science) Empire. The job of protecting the worlds that are still in balance falls to people like Joey who can walk between the different worlds – the Walkers.

The other thing they all have in common is that they are all Joey. Each and every Walker is Joey as he/she is in a separate reality or world. He might be a little older there, he might be descended from people who evolved from wolves, been born with wings, or have grown up on a version of earth with twenty times the gravitational pull of his own. But no matter what, they are all variations on the theme of Joey.

Talk about a lesson in getting to know yourself? Especially when you've started off on the wrong foot and all 500 versions of you want nothing to do with you and you don't blame them. For it was through your carelessness while being rescued that another version of you was killed, the version of you who had rescued all the people at the training facility you end up in.

Sometimes it’s a really great relief to read a book that is simply enjoyable. Well written, interesting characters, easy plotline to follow, good guys to cheer for, and bad guys to boo. It's even better if the book is smart, witty, and doesn't just spoon-feed you. Interworld does all that and more. From the first page we are drawn into the life of Joey as we watch him stumble for the first time from his world into another to eventually meeting himself five hundred times over.

How often are there books written for a young audience where the idea of self-awareness is even broached? It may not be said in so many words, but Joey is continually evaluating himself, and coming up short each time, in comparison to the character of himself as it was formed on the other worlds. Eventually he learns to stop comparing and recognize his own gifts instead of wishing to be more like the others.

The truly amazing thing about Interworld are the incredible number of variations on the name Joseph that exist. The authors don't call all five hundred of them by name – but I know they could if they had to. Reading a book by one mind with a great imagination is wonderful; to read one written by two great imaginations is wonderful squared. Interworld and a place to sit where you won't be interrupted is the ideal formulae for enjoyment.

Interworld is published by Harper Collins and is available at retailers everywhere, no matter which version of earth you live in.

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