Planesrunner is sci-fi author Ian McDonald’s first foray into YA, and it’s pretty good. I’ve only read his River of Gods and Cyberabad Days, and it was great to see a different writing style and world.
Everett Singh’s father has been kidnapped right before his eyes, but no one believes him and the police seem strangely uninterested. Everett is convinced that the kidnapping is related to his father’s groundbreaking research, and since no one else seems to want to, it’s up to him to rescue his father… even if it means leaving the reality he’s lived in all his life.
McDonald is great at building science fiction worlds – the parallel realities in Planesrunner are really cool. Each version of Earth that our Earth has made contact with is different; shaped by a single historical change. For example, in the Earth that Everett spends most of the book in, oil was never discovered, and all technology is powered by electricity. That means airships but no planes, plastics being much rarer, and no space programmes.
Everett is a pretty good protagonist. He’s average in many ways, but he’s a really good cook and extremely smart, both of which he uses to great effect. Sometimes he’s too much of a Mary Sue (he figures out a puzzle that stumps his father’s colleagues in a day or so), but he’s still pretty lovable. The rest of the characters are also fun to read about – there’s Anastasia Sixsmyth, the airship captain, Sen, the bratty navigator, and the extremely well put together but evil Charlotte Villiers.
The plot confused me a bit – notwithstanding the Infundibulum being an iPad app (so Everett’s dad is a iPad programmer as well as being a theoretical physicist?), why was Everett’s dad’s kidnapping conducted in public, if the authorities wanted it covered up? I also would’ve liked a bit more planesrunning in the book. I was hoping to explore more than one of the parallel Earths, but that only happens in the sequels. I was a bit disappointed when I found out what the Everness was, since I know the series is called “Everness”. I like airships, but I like alternate realities more, so I wish the focus wasn’t on so much on the adventures of the airship and her crew.
Those are small nitpicks though. Overall, I enjoyed Planesrunner and I’m looking forward to revisiting the world and characters with Be My Enemy.