My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As one might guess from the title, this is a lighthearted–dare I say whimsical–science fiction novel set around parallel universes. The light tone works to discourage one from being too much of a stickler about logical consistency and scientific validity. Parallel universes can raise almost as many troubling questions as time travel; but when the tone is comedic, it’s easy to set the these concerns aside and take it as a simple plot device. This isn’t to suggest that Maslakovic neglects the issues altogether. She is, after all, an engineer by training. Having the universes split a relatively short time in the past is likely an attempt to deal with the fact that the two universes are extremely similar, but recognizably different (a cliché among sci-fi parallel universes.) But she does avoid getting bogged down in the minutiae of consistency. There may be some happenings that leave one a bit befuddled, given there is obviously different decisions and behaviors occurring in the alternative universes, so events in one universe shouldn’t be a predictor of events in the other.
The backdrop is that a technical writer and aspiring novelist, Felix Sayers, finds out that he has an “alter.” In Sayer’s world, there are two San Franciscos. He is from what’s considered the original Universe, A, and there’s an alternative Universe B that one can cross over to if one is willing to follow a number of rules–mostly set in place to prohibit interacting with one’s alter. Everyone born before the schism of the two universes has an alternative version of themselves in the alternate universe unless that person has passed away. Like identical twins, “alters” look alike, but because of chains of different decisions and experiences, they may lead considerably different lives. Felix thought he was alter-less, but when he finds out about a discrepancy in his birthdate, he realizes he does.
Felix decides to go to Universe B, to spy on and possibly interrogate his alter—in contravention of the rules. Specifically, Felix of A wants to know if Felix B is working on a novel, and, if so, if the alter is ahead of him. He doesn’t want his to be relegated to writing the novel by “the other Felix Sayers.”
As the story progresses, the novel crosses genres again, adding a mystery component. When Felix crosses over, he draws much more attention than he wants or expects. This includes several failed (and sometimes comedic) attempts on his life. Felix immediately suspects one person, but it wouldn’t be much of a mystery if the initial suspect turned out to be the villain. Actually, it’s not much of a murder mystery because there are few characters who we can believe would be credibly wicked.
However, there’s still the mysterious question of whether Felix engaged in an activity that resulted in the split. Of course, there’s a scientist who creates the conditions in which the schism can happen, but Felix nonetheless worries whether he “caused” the split through some inadvertent act as an infant. This may not be so much a critique as it is insight into what makes the lead likable, if hapless. Incidentally, this is where the duck comes in.
If you like light sci-fi, this is a good read. It’s not side-splitting like Douglas Adams, but it’s laid back and has a dry sense of humor.