Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves, Interworld (Eos, 2007)

Interworld began life as a television concept. The idea arose from discussions between authors Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves in the mid-'90s, when Reaves was working on animated adventures for DreamWorks and Gaiman was caught up in the production of his much beloved Neverwhere series.

For several years, Gaiman and Reaves tried to pitch the Interworld concept. The Interworld universe, they explained, would consist of not just one possible version of our world, but dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions. These worlds would exist at every point in an infinite arc of realities along a spectrum. At one end of this spectrum would lie worlds wholly devoted to science and at the other, worlds devoted wholly to magic. The bulk of worlds would fall somewhere along the middle of these extremes, most tilting toward one or the other.

But a delicate balance between two extremes is susceptible to attempts to tip that balance. Interworld is no exception. Only a secret organization of "walkers" -- those with the ability to "walk" between these infinite worlds and traverse the vast and confusing spaces between them -- has the ability to maintain equilibrium between realities. And only Joey Harker can "walk."

There aren't as many Joey Harkers as there are worlds in the Interworld universe. In some realities he dies young. In others he may not develop the temperament or the ability to "walk." In many worlds he is not a he: in some he is a she, or an it, even a cyborg or what we might call a faerie or a centaur, depending on the end of the magic/science scale his/her/its world tends toward.

One can see why Gaiman and Reaves had difficulties pitching the idea. It's a bit confusing to explain even if you've read the book, and in 1995 there was no book. By the end of that decade, Gaiman and Reaves decided putting their idea into book form would make the concept simpler to pitch. They spent a winter writing Interworld and tried again to garner interest for a television series. The authors write in their Afterword: "Soon we learned that television executives don't read books either, and we sighed and went about our lives."

Interworld lay dormant for several more years. Recently, its authors pulled their pitch tool out of the trunk, dusted it off, and offered it up for public consumption. Understanding Interworld's history gave me more sympathy toward it. It is a lovely concept, actually, though fraught with some weird angles of interpersonal relationships between the various Joey Harkers. That's all right: weird can be interesting. In the context of a television series it gives plenty of opportunity for ongoing drama and adventure. And so many elements of the Interworld universe are conceptually compelling: the ethereal In-Between (the space between worlds); the piratical villains, traveling across worlds to capture Joey Harkers and boil them down in vats to power ships with their walker essence; the older/younger/other versions of Joey which make up a community of heroes who police their universe; the potential for stunning visuals of an infinite variety of locales (if ever translated to screen).

There is plenty to recommend Interworld, but I can't help feeling it wasn't meant to be a book, at least in its present form. It's as though this is still a literary rendering of a movie or television concept. As a fan of Neil Gaiman, I wanted to find somewhere in these pages the flow and magic, the sense of wonder, which comes from reading Gaiman's best. I'm not sure whether the off-key notes in the writing come from the process of collaboration or from the birthing process particular to Interworld.

Interworld is good, straight-forward adventure, and may not disappoint the younger readers of its target audience looking for rich world-building, dynamic forces of good and evil, and adrenaline-pumping action. But I can't help thinking that same audience would enjoy this even more as a television series or movie. For me, it didn't quite shine as a written work. The writing simply feels too uneven.

If, however, the aim of Interworld is to show just how wrong those television executives who "don't read books" actually were in declining the Interworld concept to begin with, it succeeds admirably. Those guys were wrong. Dead wrong. Maybe now they'll see the error of their ways.

[Camille Alexa]