Quantum Coin is E.C. Myers’s second book, following the adventures of Ephraim Scott and his friends as they hop from universe to universe by means of a magical coin, er, I mean, a coheron drive disguised as a quarter. In this outing, the very multiverse is collapsing and universes are merging, with unpredictable results. It appears that only Ephraim, Jena Kim, Zoe (an “analog” of Jena from a dystopian universe) and Nathan can stop it — but is that even the right thing to do?
In Quantum Coin, the action starts right up, as Jena and Ephraim have their senior prom interrupted by Zoe. In short order, Ephraim, Jena, Zoe and Nathan are in a future-timeline universe where the prototype coheron drive is located. Nathaniel and Dr. Jena Kim, who are about twenty years older than our heroes, advise them that the universes are collapsing and that the only person who can help them is Hugh Everett, the physics genius who developed the coheron drive in the first place. Everett died in their universe decades ago; Nathaniel and Dr. Kim “recruited” an analog Everett to continue to the work, but that one has died too. Jena, Ephrain and Nathaniel are dispatched to the 1950s in their own universe to recruit a third Hugh Everett, assuming he can stop the collapse of the multiverse.
The section set in the 1950s is interesting and suspenseful. It is clear almost immediately that Dr. Kim (Jena, twenty years older) can’t be trusted, and the jury is still out on Nathaniel. The slowly imploding ‘verses add to the tension in the plot by throwing in some twists of their own. Ephraim finds Everett, but the man is not what he expects, and soon Ephraim is stranded in the 1950s.
That isn’t the only plot twist. Ephraim uncovers the secret of the first coheron drive, and then some more secrets about his own future-verse analog whom he calls Scott. Things are not what they seem in any parallel world, apparently.
I liked the action in this book, but I did not care for the characters. They seemed inconsistent to me, and it wasn’t just that there were so many of them. Jena (I guess I should call her Jena Prime) is accosted by a man on the 1950s Princeton campus, who whispers something rude to her. She starts to cry, shocked that in the 1950s (her favorite decade) when women aren’t even admitted to Princeton, a man would bait her with sexual and ethnic slurs. A few seconds later she says it’s no big deal, she’s heard worse from the kids at school. Well, which is it?
Myers does not quite have control of his material here. Yes, it’s quantum physics, so it might be fair to say that no one really has “control” of the material, but Myers only needs enough to drive his plot, and he overdoes it. The multiverse is intelligent — or maybe it isn’t. It’s deterministic — or maybe it isn’t. Our observation affects the outcome — or maybe it doesn’t. There can be only one — or maybe more. Paging Erwin Schrödinger. Doctor Schrödinger, it’s your cat on Line One, or maybe it’s Line Two.
There is no moral lesson to be learned. Most characters, including Ephraim, behave badly and there are no real consequences. At the end of the book everyone talks about making a sacrifice, but then it turns out they really don’t have to, and everyone gets what they want. The most worrisome part of the story, ethically, is the treatment of a four-year-old child that Dr. Kim abducted from a universe who functions as a cute pet throughout the rest of the book. When no longer needed, Doug, the little boy, gets sent to live with “Uncle Nathaniel,” even though he has lost his parents and has now imprinted on Ephraim Prime. I have to say the treatment of the Hot Twin Redshirt characters, Mary and Shelley, and Doug actually disturbed me a little. They are just too disposable. It’s not completely fair to compare this book to Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, where multiple universes meant heart-breaking sacrifice… but it’s hard not to.
Still, Quantum Coin delivers an exciting adventure. The book is a fast read, the dialogue is snappy, and the ideas are interesting. Not every book has to deliver an ethical lesson; some can just be fun, and Quantum Coin manages that.