Rating: 3 out of 5
Dean Koontz’s Elsewhere is the author’s take on the multiverse theory. Jeffrey/Jeffy and his daughter Amity live by themselves, as Amity’s mother left them a long time ago. A local homeless man, Ed (Amity calls him Mr. Spooky) gives Jeffrey a box and tells him to hide it and never open it, much less touch what’s inside (what Ed calls “the key to everything”). Shortly thereafter, folks who look like government spooks come racing into town in search of Ed and his mystery item. In order to better hide it, Jeffrey ends up taking the item out of the box, and it looks like an odd sort of smartphone. When an accident happens and the device is activated, it takes Jeffrey and Amity to a parallel universe. Soon Jeffrey and Amity are racing to outwit John Falkirk, the man in charge of the maybe-maybe-not government forces.
I’ll dive straight into my one major beef with this book. While Ed the homeless guy is okay because he’s a genius on the run and seeking “a life of few possessions,” this book is pretty clear that other homeless people are whiners, lazy, and/or stupid. (“The old man never lamented his homelessness or made excuses for it.” “Neither a hobo impoverished by laziness nor a pitiable vagrant condemned to poverty by a low IQ…”) So what about people who got laid off through no fault of their own? How about people escaping abusive relationships who have nowhere to go? What about people evicted because they have no money because pandemic? Okay, okay, I’ll stop before I get too worked up. Anyway, yes, I’m aware it could be said that it’s just the main character’s views, but in every other way he’s wholesome, and I do not get the impression that this attitude is meant to be a character flaw.
I love the fact that Jeffrey and Amity figure out they’re in a parallel universe fairly quickly rather than going through all the stereotypical denial typical of stories like this. It probably helps that they have a deep and abiding love for genre fiction. It turns out that wherever they are when they activate the device, that’s the physical location they’ll show up at in the other dimension. The device seems to have more than 180 dimensions catalogued in it, and some of them are marked with very important warnings–there are some truly awful things out there. Amity becomes fixated on the idea of finding a version of her mother who doesn’t have the two of them and might want to come home with them.
Although we only see a handful of worlds, we get a little variety in. There’s a fascistic regime where people turn each other in to the government at the drop of a hat. There’s a world in which sentient AIs hunt people. There are other worlds with less obvious differences. Unfortunately, they’re fairly stereotypical in nature. I’m just surprised that there wasn’t any explanation for the fact that, by all rights, they should have shown up in the same places as furniture, or if a hotel were built a little differently, outside a whatever-story window. I would have liked at least a little technobabble excuse for that.
The book does explore the emotional repercussions of having so many parallel selves, and I think that’s the best part of the story. Can you salve your hurt feelings by killing or harming a parallel of the person who harmed you? Will finding your mother/wife in another dimension result in playing happy families? Does the disposition of your other selves matter to you? The answers are different depending on the person. There are also some good themes of courage, danger, and love wound throughout.
Content note for sexual content and child death.