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The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765319975
Date: 03 February 2009 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Columbus author Paul Melko's second novel, The Walls of the Universe, pits his hero John Rayburn, an Ohio farm boy, against others who can travel between multiple realities. Tricked by an another self who wants his identity into using a device for traveling between universes, he finds himself passing through new realities, some hostile, but none home. The device only allows him to move forward, but not to return to his origin.

The novel alternates between the original John Rayburn, who becomes known as John Wilson, and John Prime who assumes John Rayburn's original identity. Both Johns learn the same people with minor variations occur from universe to universe. Some readers may find this difficult to accept since any difference in events and decisions creates an alternate reality yet John and his friends occur in many universes.

John Prime seeks to gain from introducing Rubik's Cube into his adopted universe while the original John tries to recreate and exploit pinball machines. Others, travelers or exiles, have similar goals. Mention is made of some shadowy monitors, but they never appear although one world John passed through functions as a prison.

Melko pays homage to many icons including Stephen King in John Prime's attempt to write The Shinning, a high school student named Steve who resembles Steve Jobs, and the game pinball. He notes cultural differences, but spends little time on them or how they change that reality or how the reality affects them.

This novel approaches more fantasy than science fiction. Despite his background as a nuclear engineer and computer guru, Melko pushes the envelope when his hero with only freshman physics tries to duplicate the functioning of the transfer device that allows travel between universes, especially since the technological states of the universes vary greatly. Other authors have explored alternate worlds in other YA novels, including Crack in the Line (2004) by Michael Lawrence, and many adult novels with greater effect. The Houses of Time (2008) by Jamil Nasir used interesting speculation on such worlds exploring the application of the uncertainty principle.

The short story/novella roots of Melko's novel show at times. Inconsistencies and implausibilities disrupt believability. The characters also indulge in sex, which may offend some, but Melko doesn't dwell on it and teens see as much on television every day. Eventually the struggle between the good guys and the bad guys deteriorates into an extra-universe chase certain to lead to a sequel.

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