Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Review: 'The World Next Door' by Brad Ferguson

2 / 5 Stars

‘The World Next Door’ (342 pp) was published by Tor Books in October 1990; the cover artwork is by David Mattingly.

‘World’ is set in an alternate USA in the late 1990s. In this particular USA, World War Three took place in 1962, and most of civilization has been destroyed. In the Adirondack region of upstate New York, the small town of McAndrew is beginning to recover from the decline caused by the War.

The main protagonist of ‘World’ is Jake Garfield, a young guitar player who, along with his friend Prosper Cross, tours the back roads of the Northeast US as a busker, storyteller, and all-purpose laborer.

As the novel opens, Jake and Prosper find a warm welcome in McAndrew, and soon become integrated into the daily life of the community. As the narrative unfolds, it transpires that the townspeople are being troubled by the advent of unusual dreams.

These dreams are not so much nightmares, as they are vivid glimpses into the lives of people in another USA….what turns out to be ‘our’ USA. And as the 20th century comes to a close in Our USA, events in Europe take a dangerous turn, perhaps towards the starting of World War Three. 

Will the dreams of the citizens of McAndrew presage death and destruction for the parallel world ‘next door’ to them ? Will the catastrophe taking place in the parallel world spill into the adjoining world-line and leave McAndrew a charred cinder ?

‘World’ is light on sf content, and light on action. Author Ferguson devotes the bulk of his narrative to a slow-paced, folksy recounting of the domestic intrigues and romantic interactions of his cast of townspeople. 

The backstory behind the collision of the two alternate realities is perfunctory, even contrived, serving mainly as a plot device, rather than an in-depth exploration of 'alternate reality' physics and cosmology.

A subplot, involving the depredations of a team of ruthless militiamen, takes its time unfolding, but it does lend the latter chapters some verve.

Readers looking for a low-key, character-driven drama about managing life in post-Apocalyptia will probably find ‘The World Next Door’ to their liking. But readers looking for an engaging, imaginative exploration of the parallel-world theme likely will find ‘World’ a disappointment.

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