The novel “Planesrunner” by Ian McDonald was published for the first time in 2012. It’s the first book in the Everness series.
Everett Singh goes to meet his father but only manages to see him while he’s kidnapped in a very swift action. The boy can only take a few photos with his cell phone of the car used to carry away his father, not enough to convince the cops, also because Tejendra Singh is a theoretical physicist, he doesn’t work in the field of atomic energy or other sensitive research.
Disheartened by the skepticism of the police and his mother, Everett tries to analyze on his own the photos he took. While he’s trying to figure out what anyone might want from a physicist who’s working in a research on parallel universes, he finds on his computer a message programmed by his father. What’s the mysterious infundibulum he sent him?
“Planesrunner” begins the Everness young adult series, based on the existence of parallel universes. A group of scientists manages to open a portal to one of them and finds out that some parallel worlds have already established diplomatic relations.
The situation becomes complicated when the physicist Tejendra Singh invents the infundibulum – a name that’s a tribute to “The Sirens of Titan” by Kurt Vonnegut – a map of all the parallel universes that allows to travel from one to another much more easily. It’s a system unknown in the other universes contacted and much more advanced of the known systems and this may affect the balance of power within them.
Fearing for his safety, Tejendra Singh programs a system that leaves the infundibulum to his son Everett even if he’s just a teenager. The boy finds himself in possession of the most advanced technology existing in the known versions of the Earth, with a series of consequences.
This beginning of “Planesrunner” shows the young adult setting of the series. The protagonist is a teenager who finds himself at the center of an intrigue that goes even beyond his universe and must use all his skills to find his father while avoiding prevent the infundibulum getting into the wrong hands.
Everett Singh inherited from his father’s brilliance in physics and indeed seems to have an even greater potential. At the same time, despite being very young, he already seems a very good football goalkeeper and even a master chef. In short, he’s almost a superhero.
In these cases, for an author there’s always the risk of exaggerating the creation of a very young protagonist who’s too gifted. In Star Trek the results with the creation of Wesley Crusher were not very well received by a large part of the audience. 😉 Ian McDonald manages to avoid at least in part having the same effect by giving Everett Singh a story rooted in normalcy.
Already at the beginning of “Planesrunner” we discover that Everett Singh’s parents are divorced, with some problems that derive from that situation. When Tejendra Singh is kidnapped, his ex-wife can hardly believe her son’s story, creating him further problems. Honestly sometimes she seemed to me an idiot whose behavior forced her son to face difficult situations on his own.
Ian McDonald develops the plot of “Planesrunner” in a linear and adventurous way, with lots of action and a fast pace. In the course of the novel, the author starts providing information on some parallel worlds, in particular one of them. Apart from some cliches such as the use of airships instead of airplanes that seems to me one of the novel’s strong elements.
As for the characters, their development’s quality is variable. Some characters who end up becoming protagonists together with Everett Singh are well developed and in the course of the novel we get to know their personality traits and also their stories. In other cases there isn’t a real development so for example Charlotte Villiers seems almost a pantomime villain, a mix between Cruella de Vil and a supermodel who sometimes seem more interested in maintaining her perfect look that recovering the infundibulum.
Apart from these flaws, I think that “Planesrunner” is overall a good novel but you should keep in mind its strong young adult setting as you might not like it. If you’re interested in that type of contents it can be a good read, also taking into account the fact that it doesn’t have a real ending but is clearly the first part of a bigger story.