Sunday, July 12, 2009


Neil Gaiman has become one of my go-to authors.  Whenever I'm requesting a parcel of books from my library, I generally have a few specific titles that have grabbed my fancy, and then I'll poke around a bit and grab some books that I haven't read yet from dependable authors.  I'm generally not surprised by such books, but they form the mortar of my reading habits... a good means to bridge the gap between more major components.

Gaiman is kind of a weird example, though, because aside from "American Gods" and a few other books, most of his output is either comic books or juvenile fiction.  As I've said before, I'm really glad to be able to request books from the library and pick them up from the hold shelf, so I can enjoy reading such books without feeling like I'm hanging around the children's or Young Adult sections.

InterWorld is actually co-written between Gaiman and Michael Reaves, who I haven't read before but who also wrote, uh, a Star Wars book featuring Darth Maul.  Hm.  Yes.  I'm not exactly sure how to fit that fact in, so I'm just going to pretend that Gaiman wrote the whole thing himself.


I feel compelled to compare InterWorld to Coraline, mainly because they're so different.  Coraline is aimed at a younger audience, and has fairly simple language, but it's that timeless and ageless type of simplicity.  It almost feels more like a myth than a story.  While I was aware that it was a children's book, it didn't at all irritate me or feel dumbed down.

InterWorld is aimed a few years higher, at the pre-teen (I refuse to write "tween" - oh, dang!) demographic.  The language is a bit more complex than Coraline, enough to lose that ageless feel but not so much to feel like a "real" adult book.  As such, reading it was... not exactly annoying, but less satisfying.  The narrator, Joey, has a friendly voice, which counts for a lot, but the book has an annoying tendency to over-communicate every thing that he thinks.  It's one of the best examples I've seen recently of "Tell, don't show." 

To emphasize: from a technical perspective, the book is perfectly fine.. there aren't any typos or major plot holes or anything like that.  The language is just a little blandly written.

The story itself isn't, though.  As is his wont, Gaiman has created a rich world here - actually, far more than that: he has invented the "Altiverse", a slice of the Multiverse consisting of every parallel version of Earth.  In this slender book of between 100 and 200 pages, he manages to create an entirely convincing system of... well, multiple realities, movement through space and time, an eternal battle between the forces of magic and those of science, and other cool stuff like that.  It's pretty amazing how quickly and fully he can lay stuff like this out.  I think that this is a one-shot thing, but it feels like the book is setting the ground work for what could be an entire series.  A note at the very end describes how the original idea was imagined as a TV show, and I can totally imagine this as being a solid episodic series.  (In addition to Star Wars, Michael Reaves also wrote episodes for my beloved ST:TNG and Sliders, and you can certainly think about InterWorld as being a continuation of the Sliders concept.)

Wow, tangent.  Anyways, what I meant to say was that, Coraline the book focuses on the importance of self-reliance, independence, and personal strength.  The movie subverted these themes, much to my dismay.  InterWorld, in keeping with its title, is much more focused on relationships.  Joey Harker, the protagonist, has extreme talents, but he relies on the assistance of friends at every step of his journey.  Far be it from me to say that one message is better than the other, but I do find it interesting that you can find opposite opinions from the same author.

In a way, it does make a kind of sense... I keep harping on this, but I'm really interested in Kohlberg's theory of moral development.  The early stages that children go through are primarily selfish, and see others as means of punishment or reward.  As people age and mature, they move into the later stages that are more concerned with the good of the group and of society.  I'm probably reading way too much into this, but you could trace a similar kind of evolution through the suggested reading ages of Gaiman's books, from the individualism of the child through the group focus of the tween (shudder) through the complex societies of American Gods and Sandman.

All this, of course, is the opposite of what we tend to think of: we generally think of people starting out as highly dependent upon others, and growing more and more independent as they grow up.  Which is also true.  I suppose you might think of it like this: on a physical level, we need the group less as we mature, but on a mental level, we become better equipped to use and contribute to the group.  It's a little like love: the less you need it, the better it's likely to be.


InterWorld is a very entertaining piece of fluff... it lasted a single day in my commuter bag.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to adult readers unless you're a Gaiman completist like me.  It's a fine book, but there's better Gaiman out there.

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