I enjoyed Ian McDonald's Turkish-flavored sci-fi novel, The Dervish House, and was pleased to see this foray into Young Adult sci-fi come out in audio..Show More » form. After 14-year-old Everett Singh's Punjabi-British quantum physicist dad is kidnapped, Everett receives a file containing what his father had discovered: a map of parallel universes dubbed the Infundibulum (I wish more authors would come up with such fun-to-say words). Currently, there are only ten that can be reached (or can reach each other), since connection requires the same technology on the other side, but the elder Singh's discovery may change that, and someone sinister wants the map. So, Everett must use his own capable intellect to escape into another plane, where a coal-driven world called E3 and a steampunky version of London await him.
The format here is good-old-fashioned juvenile adventure (compared to McDonald's more sophisticated adult books), but if you or a young family member enjoy those, there's plenty to recommend Planesrunner. It features female and non-white primary characters without making a big deal of it. There's a healthy sense of humor (I had a laugh at the website where kids share the pathetic behaviors of recently-divorced parents) and an awareness of things young people are interested in, from Facebook to Doctor Who. While none of McDonald's ideas are particularly original (steampunk and airships have been done to death by now), he combines them in an intelligent, creative way, and young readers won't notice the borrowings. The supporting characters, such the feisty, alterna-Cockney girl, Sen, and her strong-willed airship captain guardian, Anastasia Sixsmyth, who join Everett on his adventure in E3, are a lot of fun, though this book really only introduces them for the future.
The storytelling isn’t without a few stumbles, though. My main issue is that Everett's abilities stretch the limits of believability. A 14-year-old prodigy who does normal preteen stuff, but can also think in more than three dimensions and solve quantum field equations? That might have been pushing the "it's okay to be a nerd" message into implausibility. There’s a bit of filler as well, such as an airship battle in the second half that seems unnecessary to the main plot (and is the sort of thing handled more excitingly in Scott Westerfeld's steampunk adventure, Leviathan)
But, not huge flaws. The many-worlds concept is interesting, and there are intriguing hints at where the series might go in the future. I’m sure I would have thoroughly enjoyed Planesrunner at age 14. Speaking of, there wasn't anything that I'd consider inappropriate for young people, just some cheeky humor, some non-lethal fighting, and one or two minor swear words. However, the science references might go over the heads of pre-adolescent kids.
Audible narrator Tom Lawrence does a solid job, switching over to a credible American (and other) accents as the dialogue calls for. A good B/B+ YA novel.