Book Review: InterWorld by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves

InterWorld by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves
InterWorld by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves
HarperCollins, 2007
I admit: the only reason I checked out InterWorld is because it has Neil Gaiman’s name on it and it was available at my local library. I was waiting for a copy of a different book that I wanted to read, and I needed something to fill the time while I waited. I admit, as well, that I hadn’t paid any attention to the fact that InterWorld is a YA novel.

I wish I knew how much of InterWorld comes from Mr. Gaiman and how much is from the coauthor, Michael Reaves. I hope this is mostly Mr. Reaves book because, otherwise, I have to accept that Mr. Gaiman finally wrote something that disappointed me.

I’m not saying InterWorld is a bad book. It’s not. It’s smart and funny and fast-paced. It’s entertaining, with a delightful cast of characters.

It’s just that there really isn’t a single original idea in the whole thing. This is standard fare: it’s a run-of-the-mill multiple Earth / multiverse setting and it features a pretty standard tug-of-war between science and magic.

But mostly, it’s the same kind of teenage escapist fantasy that millions of young people dream up for themselves everyday (you know the kind—kid mysteriously crosses over into a different world where they turn out to be the Chosen One).

Joey Harker is a Walker—someone who can cross between the planes, between worlds, in the Altiverse (not the full multiverse, mind you, just the section of it which contains all the versions of Earth). Turns out, he’s the most powerful Walker out there. He discovers his talent by accident, he’s chased after by bad guys who want to use his power to dominate the Altiverse, and he falls in with a group of people dedicated to opposing them and maintaining a balance of powers.

InterWorld establishes a more robust mechanism for its multiverse setting than many such stories, with deeper references to cosmological and mathematical concepts than is typical for YA books. I applaud the authors for that. It spends much of its time exploring the edges and the borders between worlds, and envisions some highly imaginative environments and creatures to populate them (including a cute and endearing intelligent soap bubble).

This novel has quite a wonderful sense of humor. Joey’s teammates are a bit of a surprise, too.

Frankly, the fact that this is standard teenage escapist fantasy makes me want to like it. I came up with innumerable variations of stories very much like InterWorld when I was a teenager (smart, well educated, outcast, and steeped in scifi). It’s interesting to see professional authors respect this kind of story as a legitimate work.

But we can also turn that around: InterWorld really isn’t any better than the usual escapist fantasy that any smart teenager can dream up for themselves. The narrative is handled better than most teenagers can manage, merely by virtue of Mr. Gaiman and Mr. Reaves’ skills as professional writers, but the story itself is nothing special.

In the “Afterward” of the book, the authors mention that this story was conceived as a scenario for a TV show. They wrote the novel originally as part of a non-conventional strategy to pitch the show to producers. No one bought it, and now they’ve polished and published the book.

I think this story would work better as TV show than it does as a novel.

The best parts of the book are its structural elements: the environment, the cast of characters, the overall scenario. The weak point is the story itself.

Exactly what you would expect from a book that began its life as a pitch for a TV show.

The book is worth reading. I would have loved this book when I was in middle school. It validates all the fantasies I had back then. It’s worth reading because it takes very little time, so there’s little investment. It’s worth reading because it’s entertaining and kinda silly.

But don’t expect it to be anything more than that.

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