Years (ok:  decades) ago I used to read a lot of science fiction.  I will never claim that I was all that enamored with the science, but I loved the fiction.  A good story must have an adventure mixed with a sense of wonder and let the science fall where it may, as far as I am concerned.  Perhaps it is no wonder that my favorite from the old period was Ray Bradbury.


Now along comes Paul Melko with his The Walls of the Universe.  Featuring an Ohio farm boy in his senior year in high school named John Rayburn, the book can fit well into the coming of age genre.  John has to grow up fast when one day in the barn he meets his twin who spins a tale of being able to jump into alternate parallel worlds.  John Prime, from one of the other worlds, convinces John it would be fun to jump and see the universe.  What John Prime fails to tell John is that when he jumps, he will not be able to jump back.  John continues to jump until he settles down in a universe where he becomes determined to exploit his knowledge to reverse engineer the device so he can go home.  Meanwhile, back in his world, John Prime unpacks all the secrets he has amassed in other versions of his world so that he can exploit the current population and get rich quick.  Then, to both John’s regret, they discover that they are not alone.  


The power of this novel comes from the fact that these two individuals set off on difference paths as unique individuals and then are forced to make harsh decisions that change their personalities and moral fiber.  I think this book would work for both young adult groups as well as adult groups willing to take on a work of science fiction.  Questions can be found in the choices the characters make, the portrayal of the various universes that are visited and the true nature of loyalty and love in a marriage.  The author’s use of humor and irony will not be lost on book discussion participants.  The ultimate question becomes:  can you go home again?




About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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