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Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars how about a table of characters and universes ?, June 10, 2012
This review is from: The Broken Universe (Hardcover)
Unlike all the previous 4 reviewers, I had not the pleasure of reading the original short story in Asimov's, or the first book in this series, which looks bound to be at least a trilogy. Instead, I just stumbled across it and found a pleasurable though somewhat indecisive read.

The idea of parallel universes and most crucially the means to traverse them is a compelling one in science fiction. Closely related to the idea of time travel, though the latter is in the context of just one universe. For parallel universes, the gathered short stories by Keith Laumer, Worlds of the Imperium was a favourite of mine. So too the recent S M Stirling gem, Conquistador: A Novel of Alternate History. The latter had the travel gizmo being furnished deux ex machina by some unknown ultra advanced entity, and there was only one of these portals.

In contrast, Melko's tale has a bunch of chaps, undergraduates really, being able to reverse engineer a portal. Now if you read and loved the above works by other authors, you probably wanted more. Alas, Laumer is decades gone, and Stirling has shifted his focus elsewhere. So Melko offers new twists and will almost certainly maintain his series for the near future. An attraction for you. The closest recent text would be Gould's Wildside. Especially in the teenage or 20s ages of its protagonists. Both Gould and Melko's books are well suited for the young adult section of a bookstore, though I hasten to add that anyone can enjoy either.

But when it comes to showing human worlds at different stages of development, Melko affords the reader some quiet laughs. The worlds without personal computers, where the introduction of one with a floppy disk (sic) is high tech! That was a nice understated touch. Melko plays off one difference, and yet reveals a still existing 20 year gap with our world. The humour derives from the reader's appreciation of both factors. There is an element of accord with Charles Stross' acclaimed Merchant Princes series, The Family Trade (Merchant Princes) and The Hidden Family: Book Two of Merchant Princes etc. Though Stross makes far more extreme divergences between his Earths; one being grotesquely medieval and another being our 21st century.

Some of the Melko story seems awkward. The lead protagonist can come off as prissy with weird hangups. Notably, he baulks at arbitrage. Buying something cheap in one universe and selling it for far more in another that values the item. This is in all essence the same as the most elemental mechanism of geographical arbitrage in our (presumably) single universe. Where you might buy used denim or 1950s Americana items in the US Midwest and flog these for far more in SF or LA. I kid you not. People actually do this. Is it immoral? Textbooks on elementary economics could brief you on the advantage of finding and taking advantage of such arbitrage. Other real world (pun intended) examples include those who wake early and haunt yard and estate sales to find cheaply overlooked collectibles, which might then be hawked on eBay or Etsy or, yes, Amazon. One of the driving forces of the commercial Web since 1995 was how it furnished the mass outlet channel, where the inlet is those asymmetric geographically constrained sources.

A big commonality between Melko and Stross is embedded in this arbitrage of cross world trade. Coupled with problems in both plots of scheduling and optimising the physical bandwidth of traversing the dimensions. Readers of Stross will rapidly twig the transportation problems encountered by Melko's characters. While they solve these differently from Stross, the bottlenecks in both tales are important for introducing plot complications.

The Gothic bad chaps in the novel just come off as 100% cardboard. Inept. It is ludicrous that they, as owners of the largest corporation in 1 universe and being ruthless, would just largely confine themselves to serving takeover writs on the heroes for control of the board of directors.

I do have suggestions for improvements to a third book. The current practice of listing a universe by its 4 digit number or even by a short descriptor, like Nuclear Winter or Pleistocene, can be confusing. Ditto and maybe even more so for the characters. Most major characters have their doppelgangers in other universes, and these people collectively of course have the same given name, like Lucy or Ralph. So keeping track of the differences between Lucy 7105 and Lucy 7371 can be hazy. The book addresses this by largely replacing such monikers with nicknames, like Lucy Quayle or Lucy Home. Good. But how about a list of characters at the end of the book, with a summary of what we need to know about them. Ditto for their universes. Hey, given that the universes are in numerical order, maybe give us a simple table or graph of those universes in that order. There is a rough metric embedded in the numbering and the table might help us appreciate more the plot travails.
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