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WesternSFA
The Broken Universe
by Paul Melko
Tor, $15.99, 384pp
Release Date: June 18, 2013
I so enjoyed this story. It is a sequel to The Walls of the Universe, and while it stood quite well on its own, I do wish I’d read the first one. I’m pretty sure I’d have appreciated this one even more.

This story is very reminiscent of Sliders, that hokey TV show (which is one of my guilty pleasures), but ever so much better scripted. John Rayburn was gifted with a device that enables him to travel between universes. As a result of reverse-engineering the device, John was able to build larger devices – portals – that enable his friends to travel as well. From the first book, I gathered this much: John had to leave his home universe. He traveled to one that was very similar to his own and made a friendship with the doppelgangers of two friends from his home universe – Grace and Henry. He also brought with him an idea of an arcade game – pinball – which had never been invented in Grace and Henry’s universe. With Grace and Henry, he developed a unique new game and marketed it in his new home universe. Unfortunately, because it was an anomaly, it caught the attention of some other dimensional travelers who had been stranded in that same universe. Lots of unpleasantness ensued and all three friends eventually escaped the torturous attentions of the nasty Alarians.

As this book opens, the three friends are trying to get their pinball company back in the black but get caught in corporate takeover tactics initiated by the nasty Alarians. These shenanigans take about half the book. Once that issue is laid to rest, the next order of business was to relocate the liberated Alarian females into an uninhabited universe which opened the door to the friends’ goal of actually helping people with this technology. In the first book, John had visited a world experiencing nuclear winter and saved a woman and child. He decides he’d like to go back to that world and save as many others as he can. At the same time, the group decides they need to expand their pinball enterprise in order to raise enough money to fund their altruistic goals. But they need representatives in other universes for both supplies and a market. And the most likely representatives are, of course, themselves…or, rather – their doppelgangers. Although most of the doppelgangers are quite similar to each other, not all of them have had the same life experiences and have the same goals….or ethics.

Their activities, particularly populating an empty universe with refugees, draw the attention of another group – the Vig. The Alarians had mentioned the Vig as a sort of universal policeforce and apparently our heroes have broken some rules. One of the more fun ideas the author threw in the mix is the fact that no one knows who actually invented the technology. Both the Vig and the Alarians found it, as did John, but the fun fact is that neither of them is particularly familiar with the specific device that John uses and neither enemy group is aware of other devices using the same advanced technology. This book is not the end of the story. There is a renegade John loose in the multiverse, while a truce has been drawn between the Pinball Wizards, as our heroes style themselves, and the Vig. But there are still unanswered questions of the origin of the technology and the purpose of the other devices that John still has.

This story just zipped along at warp speed. The plot was sufficiently complex without becoming confusing. The character development was also sufficient – I would’ve liked a little more depth. The pace was fast and the action exciting. And the moral and safety issues of universe-hopping were thought-provoking. It is a rather blatant knock-off of Sliders but I’m inclined to forgive so long as the story continues. I look forward to more of my new ‘guilty pleasure.’ ~~ Catherine Book

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