Be My Enemy

Ian McDonald
Be My Enemy Cover

Be My Enemy: No Letdown in the Everness Series

Scott Laz

The adventures of teenage genius Everett Singh and his Earth 3 "electropunk" airship crew companions continue in Ian McDonald's second installment of the young adult Everness series, Be My Enemy (2012). I enjoyed this one even more than the first (Planesrunner), as McDonald uses an adventure romp through the multiverse to bring out one science fictional concept after another, while still managing to further explore his characters and their relationships, especially that between Everett and Sen, the adopted daughter of Everness's captain and Everett's partner in adventure. The search for Everett's father continues, as does the pursuit of Everett by the villainous Order responsible for his father's disappearance.

(Insert Planesrunner spoiler alert here!) At the end of the previous novel, Everett had used his Infundibulum technology, which allows travel anywhere in the multiverse, to escape evil villainess Charlotte Villers and her colleagues from the Order—the still shady group determined to maintain control over travel within the multiverse, and thus willing to do whatever is necessary to get their hands on Everett's Infundibulum—to escape to an unexplored alternate Earth currently in the grip of an ice age. But Charlotte, now with her "alternate" from another Earth, Charles Villiers, in tow, is able to track them, leading them to jump once again, this time back to Everett's (and our) Earth.

There, Everett, while trying to make contact with his mother and sister, finds that he has been replaced by an alternate Everett (referred to as Everett M), who has been recruited from another alternate Earth and convinced to help them retrieve the Infundibulum from our Everett. It turns out that, on Charlotte's Earth, contact had been made a few decades back with the alien Thrynn sentiency, who have established a presence on the moon, and who provide the technology to turn Everett M into a living cyborg weapon—a super villain. Prior to the showdown between the two Everetts, we have been alternating back and forth between their perspectives, following Everett M's story along with that of the airship crew.

(Insert Be My Enemy spoiler alert here!) Needing to escape once again, Everett convinces Captain Sixsmyth to again jump the airship, this time to Earth 1, the only alternate Earth that has been quarantined by the Panoply—the political organization of the nine worlds with access to gate technology, and thus able to travel among themselves—and where Everett hopes to locate the Panopticon technology which, combined with the Infundibulum, may allow him to track his missing father. The reason for the quarantine, it turns out, is that Earth 1, previously the most technologically advanced of the known alternate Earths, had undergone a nanotech apocalypse, and the quarantine was put in place to prevent the spread of a nanotech collective intelligence to any of the other worlds. The remaining population, including an alternate version of Everett's father, and the inventor of inter-universe gate travel on all of the alternate Earths, has been fighting a losing battle against this "Nahn" collective. In order to locate the Panopticon, the combined forces of Everness and Earth 1's military must expose themselves to the Nahn, who grow their collective by converting living beings with their nanotechnology. In the meantime, the Order has sent Everett M to Earth 1 as well, on his own mission to track down Everness

So far, then, we've got multiversal travel, an electropunk airship, a nano-apocalypse, alternate versions of both the hero and the villain, a super-powered cyborg with built-in missiles and lasers, and strange aliens on the moon. And the series isn't over yet. McDonald is clearly having fun with this stuff, and it must be a refreshing diversion from his more serious speculation in novels like The Dervish House. But once you bring multiple universes into a story, the possibilities do open up. And much of the appeal of McDonald's adult novels remains in the Everness books—evocative prose, engaging characters, suspenseful plotting, and fascinating speculative ideas. In particular, the introduction of Everett M and its effect on our Everett—the outcome of which will have to wait for the next novel—and the related darkening of Everett's outlook as he witnesses the destruction on Earth 1, keep us engaged with a character who otherwise might seem "too good to be true." And Everett's relationship with Sen, whose own character reveals new nuances in this novel, also becomes more interesting, as his attraction develops, at the same time that some aspects of her character concern or confuse him.

In my review of Planesrunner, I mentioned that, enjoyable as that book was, I'd still rather see McDonald writing his more "adult" works. Be My Enemy I found to be even better than Planesrunner, but I'll stick with that judgment. That said, I'm not going to second guess McDonald's career choices, and I'll take what I can get from one of the best current practitioners of science fiction. It's just that, as wonderful as the Everness series is, I like McDonald's other recent work even better. In an interview given when Planesrunner was in the works, McDonald noted that he was committed to writing at least three Everness novels, but would like to do more if there was demand for them. If that happens, this will be a series I will continue to look forward to. There is certainly room in this concept for more than one more novel, and I'd be eager to see what McDonald would do with a long-running series, as long as his heart is in it.