- 07 Dec 20
Page Turning, Reality Hopping High Jinks
There are quite probably as many books about alternate realities as there are alternate realities, but Koontz – a man who certainly knows how to tell a story, having sold about 450 million units, and even penned an episode of ChiPs under the unlikely pseudonym Brian Coffey – has delivered a reasonably fresh and highly entertaining take here. Ed, or “Mr. Spooky”, gives Jeffy Coltrane the “key to everything” but warns against its use. Buttons are pressed nevertheless and Jeffy and daughter Amity are thrown into a multiverse-hopping adventure.
Staying one jump ahead of thoroughly unpleasant government agent and proper boo-hiss villain, Falkirk, father and daughter try to reunite with their lost wife/mother, which does throw up an interesting philosophical question. If you could find an alternate reality version of someone who’s been lost to you, can you just take up where things left off? Michelle Coltrane abandoned her husband and daughter when Amity was four years old because she just wasn’t happy, so who’s to say an alternate version would be any different, and perhaps if she is different, she’d be even worse? Koontz’s plot is far too busy barrelling forward to worry about any of this class of of chin scratching.
Killer robots, monkey hybrids, good guys, very bad guys; Koontz keeps it all rattling along, turning up the tension as the book progresses. How the key actually works is never really explained, of course, although we know it cost 75 billion dollars to perfect. Think about that for a minute, how would you write yourself out of that corner? Make some noise about worm holes or quantum physics? Ever heard of Hugh Everett III? He was the physicist who proposed the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics, a notion that went against, as I’m sure you already know, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. This is the idea that when you get down to the really, really small, you can only predict properties rather than measure them accurately, and even the very act of trying to measure them confuses things further. Everett’s idea implies that all outcomes are realised, somewhere, and that wave function does not collapse, which was how Heisenberg tried to explain the problems with quantum measurement in the first place.*
Anyway, I was only half paying attention in those classes, and I’m only bringing up Everett’s name – he was the father of Eels main man, Mark Oliver Everett, rock fans – as Koontz calls Ed’s ‘Project Everett Highways’. He does also point out that we can’t go backward or forward in time, only sideways, which does kind of make sense. Luckily for those of us who don't have advanced qualifications in quantum physics - like The Coltranes and, as you can see from the most likely inaccurate mumbo jumbo in the last paragraph, me - Spooky Ed proves to be a good guide - Jeffy and Amity are able to check with one of his books in a library when they get stuck - through all this reality bending, as he happens to have three PhDs and be the smartest man since Einstein. It also turns out there’s more than one key to everything – different realities, different Eds, hence the different keys. Two Eds are better than one.
Not to worry if your brain is hurting slightly, the brightest sparks who've ever lived haven’t figured it out yet either, and Koontz is smart enough to know that it doesn’t really matter when it comes to spinning the yarn. Best to just leave that part of your brain at the door, and enjoy a thrill ride that's as entertaining as the daft kind of big budget movie they’ll never show down the IFI.
(*I was never the sharpest tool in the science class, and I’m only having sport here, so I would strongly advise against handing any of this in as part of an assignment.)