Two British girls Lee and Mal write articles for Fortean Times which specializes on speculations about anomalous phenomena, Cryptozoology (think of Yetis), or conspiracy theories. Out in the Wales landscape, they encounter a mysterious bird man, and it seems that their journalistic dream came true. Only that one of them got lost for several years. Four years later, the story sets off by slowly opening the doors to alternative Earths in parallel universes. Don’t expect Werewolfes jump scaring you like in an Urban Fantasy. Instead, Tchaikovsky explores diverging paths in Earth’s history where other entities could have developed intelligence – there are the Neanderthals of course, but also rat populations, as well as far more bizarre developments like huge immortal cambrian trilobites conquering the solar system and beyond, or super intelligent squids.
This mixes well with a secret agent story arc around MI5 agent Julian and intelligence analyst Alison working from their London offices. They try to save and rescue a kidnapped mathematician Khan who should solve the multiverse puzzle – because the universe is collapsing.
Last time I read something from Tchaikovsky was Children of Time in 2015, and it went very well. First of all, I like Tchaikovsky’s style in this novel: His tongue in the cheek telling of cryptoid hunting girls uncovering an alternate reality. Interleaving the story, pseudo scientific articles extrapolate how biology could have evolved. Also, I loved the setting – the landscape of Great Britain with London as a focal point as a welcomed divergence from so many SF novels, with its insights to British culture like the weird magazine Fortean Times. I found the pacing very good with a slow exposition turning to high speed James Bondish stunt action resolving in a thoughtful unexpected ending. All characters are relatable and charming in their diversity. I just miss a single main protagonist that I could focus on.
It is certainly a different story than his Space Opera Children of Time or his fantasy novels – as it is set in our time and our world (mostly). But then again it is not so much different, as there are spiders and WhatIf scenarios about alternate biological developments.
I’d like to recommend this book on your watch list, it will be published at May 28th 2020.