Have you ever wondered what your life might be like had you, or someone else, just made a different, possibly even minor, choice? Just how much would change? Such speculation provides the grist for alternate (or parallel) universe novel The Walls of the Universe. Into the life of simple farmboy and engineering school hopeful John Rayburn walks…John Rayburn. John Prime (nicknames being necessary for obvious reasons) tells John Farmboy that inter-universe travel is possible courtesy of a device small enough to strap to his chest. He loans John Farmboy the device as proof it works, and things get interesting from there.
It’s this period, when John Farmboy is darting from universe to universe, when The Walls of the Universe is at its best. It’s fast-paced, and the glimpses of alternate universes alluring (perhaps too alluring, I would like to have seen more of some of the worlds). John Farmboy discovers that some worlds are very, very different, but also that some things never change.
The story begins to bog down when John Farmboy finally takes an extended sojourn in a universe. Your mileage will vary for this section depending on how interesting you find entrepreneurship, as John starts a pinball company. POVs alternate between John Prime and John Farmboy most of the novel, but Prime’s POVs curiously disappear well before the end of the book (there’s good reason, but Melko could have been smoother about it).
I will leave the evaluation of the physics to those more qualified to comment. The entrepreneurial aspects are generally well done. The logic holes of the sort inherent to alternate universes are present.
The Walls of the Universe was originally published as a novella in Asimov’s and was nominated for a Hugo in 2007 before be expanded into a full novel.
4 of 5 Stars.