Be My Enemy is Ian McDonald’s second book in his alternate-universe EVERNESS series. In this book, our hero Everett Singh confronts his most powerful enemy, himself.
At the end of Planesrunner, Everett’s father was transported into a random universe by the Known Worlds villain Charlotte Villiers. Villiers used a weapon she called a jumpgun. Everett managed to grab the jumpgun, and has used it and the map of universes on his computer tablet to send the airship Everness to another universe as well. Now, he struggles to convert the code that will make the jumpgun and his tablet play nicely together, so that he can jump the Everness to his earth to rescue his mother and baby sister, and then pursue the quest to find his missing father.
There are ten Known Worlds with portal, or gate, technology, and our earth is E10. Be My Enemy opens on E4, with the E4 version of Everett, Everett M. Everett M’s father was also a quantum physicist, but he was killed in a car accident a few months previously. Everett M is knocked down by a car, and when he awakens he is on the dark side of E4’s moon, in the compound of the Thryn, a machine intelligence that came to the moon in 1963. Everett M has been converted into a killer cyborg. This has all been carried out by Charlotte Villiers, who is from E3, with the help of her “alter” on E4. Villiers takes Everett M to E10, where he is to wait and ambush the returning Everett and grab the jumpgun and the map.
There are 1080 known universes, and of them, ten worlds are in communication, or have been. E1, the first world to develop a gate and contact other universes, has been quarantined, under complete interdiction. Any universe coordinates from E1’s Heisenberg Gate have been redirected into the sun. Despite the danger and the mystery, Everett is sure that the jumpgun came from E1, and that there will be devices there that will enable him to track his father’s quantum signature and save him.
First, though, Everett does bring the Everness to his earth. He and Sen, the Everness pilot, encounter Everett M at Everett’s house, and engage in a lively shoot-out. Everett M is a well-developed character: smart, although maybe not as smart as Everett, bold and bitter. He feels no loyalty to any earth, and this is a dangerous factor for someone in his situation, especially when he is sent, after the Everness, to E1.
E1 is overrun with a highly evolved nanotechnology. A few small outposts of humanity remain, but the Nahn, as it calls itself, has assimilated eighty percent of the human population. This is the reason for the quarantine, for the Nahn cannot be allowed to colonize other worlds. This leaves the few humans still at war there trapped, and when the Everness appears, some of the people who have regrouped at Oxford think they see a safe way off-universe, but they plan to leave others behind. Everett, Sen, and the crew of the Everness must face not only unstoppable nano-tech, but treachery from their own species as well.
The characters continue to grow and develop in the series, and the Known Worlds are in real danger by the end of the second book. Sen’s deck of Tarot-like cards, which she creates by hand-drawing and collage, play an interesting part in this book, and each book title is also the name of a card. Everett M is a real villain because we understand how he feels, and Charlotte Villiers continues to be scary, cold and powerful. Although it is not as classically scholarly, and falls more to the science fiction side of the continuum than fantasy, this series is a bit like Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS. As well as saving themselves or achieving a given objective, the characters must wrestle with large moral issues. As a bonus, the books have cyborg shootouts, airships, their own Tarot deck and a secret language. There is something for everyone here, but I recommend reading Planesrunner first in order to understand most of Be My Enemy’s plot points.