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The Walls Of The Universe by Paul Melko

01/05/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Walls Of The Universe in the USA - or Buy The Walls Of The Universe in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 383 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US), $28.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1997-5.

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When I first started to read Paul Melko's 'The Walls Of The Universe', I thought for a while that I was in junior fiction territory as the main character, John Rayburn, was in his mid to late-teens. However, this was just the starting point. More so when another John and said he had a device that allowed him to move to alternative realities.

He offers to stand in for John to allow him to try it out but he doesn't tell him the catch. The first John Rayburn discovers that he can't get back and go only move forward across the realities and the second John, whom he then called 'John Prime', had effectively conned him to get his reality.

The story then follows both their lives. John Prime essentially taking over the first John's life, sorting out threats from Ted Carson and dating Casey Nicholson and inventing the Rubik Cube, only he couldn't call it that to make some money. It's an advantage discovering what hasn't been invented and exploiting it yourself. The first John, whom Prime had nicknamed John Farm-Boy, had finally found a reality close to what his own looked liked but lacked himself. His objective is to discover how the device worked and gets into some university courses on nuclear physics to better his understanding.

To finance himself he invents a new version of pinball that relies on two players facing off against each other. That looks fun by the way, shame it doesn't exist in our reality. Anyway, he also discovers he isn't the only traveller and there are others in his reality who are doing similar things looking for a way home. I should point out that neither John Rayburn comes from our reality.

Saying anything more at this point is likely to spoil the story for you. Melko successively presents both Rayburns as separate entities, off-set by the odd differences in each reality and how they resolve it. Oddly, both are attracted to similar things but with far different outcomes based on how they deal with them.

If I have to be critical of anything, it's how easy that people both versions of John explain where they come from accept that they are both travellers from alternative realities. I mean, would you accept such a thing if you were told so without at least some demonstration?

The ending also tends to fall into the basic cast of having shown the smoking gun and then to use the elements in a more predictable way in solving them. This shouldn't be held as something necessarily fundamentally wrong with the story. I suspect, if anything, something of the sort was needed to end the novel or else just continue along these divided paths.

I should point out that this is a satisfying read and a real page-turner and if you enjoy reading about the implications of alternative realities will enjoy having read and have on your shelf. Certainly, Melko has left this reality/realities as something that could be explored again from a different perspective.

GF Willmetts

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