February 22, 2011
acquired: author sent an ARC for review
The blurb, from Goodreads:
On a foggy Monday in 1986, the universe suddenly, without warning, bifurcated. Fast forward to thirty-five years later: Felix Sayers is a culinary writer living in San Francisco of Universe A who spends his days lunching at Coconut Café and dreaming of penning an Agatha Christie-style mystery. But everything changes when his Aunt Henrietta dies, leaving Felix a photograph of his father and himself—dated ten days before Felix was born. It can only mean one thing: Felix has an “alter” in Universe B. Panicked that his mystery novel may exist already, Felix crosses to San Francisco B and proceeds to flagrantly violate the rules of both worlds by snooping around his alter’s life. But when he narrowly escapes a hit-and-run, it becomes clear that someone knows he’s crossed over…and whoever it is isn’t happy about it. Now Felix must uncover the truth about his alter, the events of one Monday, and a missing rubber duck before his time in both worlds runs out.
What if you knew, without a doubt, what could’ve happened in your life, if only this one thing, variable x, hadn’t happened? If you hadn’t gotten a serious sinus infection or missed that job interview? Would you be any happier knowing that somewhere out there in a different reality those little decision points hadn’t happened, and you were a reknowned chef or inventor? Better: what if you could travel to one of those alternate realities and meet your (possibly more successful) alternative self. Would you?
In some ways these are familiar questions to fans of science fiction. All the examples that spring to mind as I write this are from television: Sliders and the Star Trek and Stargate franchises all explored ideas of not only alternative histories but alternative presents, but I don’t think I’ve seen the idea discussed in quite this way. Regarding Ducks and Universes pokes at the “what if” idea by getting down to the root mystery: what really caused the bifurcation in 1986? Why did it happen on that Monday and not, say, on Tuesday?
Felix’s journey to San Francisco B to determine if his alter has already written the mystery novel turns into a journey of self-discovery (and he does, eventually, find out if his alter is also writing a murder mystery). He learns more about himself, his moral boundaries, and desires and thereby grows as a person. He also learns more about his family, his alternate self (Felix of Universe B), and who he might’ve become if only x, y, and z hadn’t happened. He’s a likable, identifiable protagonist, an every man. He is utterly ordinary…except, of course, that he’s not.
There’s a whole cast of characters in addition to Felix, and his alter, Felix B. The setting itself is a character in many ways: San Fransisco B, chilly and foggy as the San Fran you and I know, is at the same time different, and those differences from what is familiar to us and to Felix inform the story. Felix’s visit to the alternate San Fransisco allows Maslakovic to work in details about how Universe A and Universe B developed differently, though somewhat in parallel, to each other… as a result it’s eay to see that neither universe is our own (and I can’t help be wonder: are we perhaps Universe E? F?). Felix encounters graduate researchers, Miss Marple-like detectives, his boss’s alter in the form of a scientist, and an almost dog. The people he has the most contact with are nicely fleshed out and everyone is eccentric enough to stand on their own…even if they have an alter.
There’s a whole lot here: an homage to Agatha Christie, universe-crossing diseases, government secrets, multiple murder attempts, quantum physics conundrums, philosophy, and a writer’s insecurities. As my favorite fiction so often is, it can be read simply as mystery or can be read with different layers. It was a lot of fun to read, and I’m glad to have gotten the chance.
Visit the author’s web site.