The Man Who Crossed Worlds by Chris Strange
Review by Ryan Lawler
All freelance Tunneler Miles Franco wants is a bit of freedom and a couple of bucks to rub together. So when the cops haul him downtown for illegally smuggling the natives of another dimension to Earth, he’ll take any chance he can get to stay out of the pen. And funnily enough, the cops have just the job for him.
A mysterious interdimensional drug-smuggler is staking his claim on Miles’ city, and a drug war is about to kick off that will make the city look like the set of a post-apocalyptic horror movie. As a Tunneler, Miles knows all about interdimensional transport, and the cops need his help cutting off the drug lord’s supply before it reaches Earth.
But it doesn’t take long playing police lapdog before Miles realizes this ain’t no ordinary drug he’s dealing with. Snooping around in gang business is a dangerous job in a city where everyone’s on the take and the gangsters play for keeps.
And there are a lot of ways a nosy Tunneler can disappear.
I’ve got a lot of time for energetic books – the ones that are unashamedly action driven and packed full of unrealistic / explosive set pieces. This type of fiction is often referred to as pulp fiction, one that takes liberties with science and reality to tell an exciting story. The Man Who Crossed Worlds by Chris Strange is one of these stories, an urban fantasy set in a dirty city with an underworld that relies on people creating tunnels between dimensions and realities. Strange takes us on a wild ride from start to finish, a full frontal assault on your sense of reality that, like most rollercoasters, will leave you slightly disoriented but wanting more.
The story follows Miles Franco, a Tunneler who has enough power to get by every day, but not quite enough to attract the attention of the gangs or the police. It’s the perfect situation for him really, he gets to stay in control of his own life and make his own way through the world. But when a seemingly simple smuggling job goes south and lands Miles in prison, his Tunnling ability combined with his lack of noteriety makes him the perfect candidate for some undercover informant work. The informant work is just the start, and as the police demands become more risky Miles finds himself in the middle of a long awaited war between the gangs and the police – the guy who knows too much, a target for both sides.
Strange has created a fantastic world here, one that is loosely based on our world but with the addition of multiple realities and hubs of power that allowing for Tunneling between our world and the world of Heaven. The city of Bluegate is one such hub, and as a result it is an eclectic collection of all sorts of people from both realities. Mix in the gang warfare, corrupt police, a bunch of vigilante’s, and a government barely hanging on and you get a city that feels like a cross between Sin City and Gotham. It feels almost like a caricature of these two cities, but there is so much depth and complexity to the city that it resembles a caricature on the surface only. When it comes to the world of Heaven, Strange does an excellent job of making it feel foreign yet relateable at the same time. The laws of physics apply in completely random ways here, but the personalities are very similar and make me want to go back and visit this world. I wish Strange had given us more time to explore Heaven, but the pace of the story was such that there wasn’t an opportunity for a good look around. I really like the concept of Tunneling, both as a method of getting from one reality to the other, and as a way of siphoning power and the different application of physics from one reality to the other. It is fun, versatile, flexible, and was used in some very novel ways during the final action sequences. That said, I feel like the limitations Strange put on Tunneling were a bit underdone and don’t really mesh well with the whole Tunneling concept. For example, the concept of Kemia feels a lot like a video game where you need to acquire enough mana points, or in this case Kemia, to use your Tunneling power. With the whole underworld vibe I can see why Strange introduced a commodity like Kemia, but it just seems like a convenient way to take away the protagonist’s power when the plot required it.
When it comes to the plot, The Man Who Crossed Worlds is essentially a bumbling detective story, where every attempt by the protagonist Miles to leave the story behind results in him accidently uncovering more clues and forcing him deeper into the story. The story revolves around three well crafted and interconnected mysteries – what is this new drug, who is supplying this new drug, and why is this new drug so important. As Miles stumbles from one plot point to the next, Strange feeds the reader with liberal doses of red herrings and accurate information, and if you had enough time to sit down and think about it you (and probably Miles) could pontentially sort true from false and solve the mystery. But Strange is not that kind, and he forces Miles into making snap decisions before he can sit down and properly analyse the information gathered. I like the way Strange has done this – I feel like I would have made a lot of the same decisions that Miles makes, and that makes Miles come across as an unfortunate character rather than an incompetent character. It does mean that the story is slightly contrived and that any choice Miles made would have probably been the wrong one, but these decisions usually lead to a big action sequence so I was happy to let it slide.
The characters were probably my favourite part of this story – larger that life characters who are very ‘in your face, shoot from the hip’ types of characters. Bluegate feels like a town of extroverts, even Miles who only wants to be left alone. I get the feeling it would be a very loud town and it would be hard to get any rest anywhere. Miles is an awesome character, one who is very cynical after a life of hardships, but one is who competent, pro-active about achieving his goals, and able to make self-effacing jokes in a witty fashion. You feel like you could be friends with him, except you wouldn’t want to because he attracts so much trouble. There aren’t any passive characters here, there aren’t really any introverts (with the exception of maybe Desmond’s boyfriend), and for that reason everyone seems to be ready to fight (if they aren’t already in the middle of a conflict). This is part and parcel of the pulp style of story telling – these characters are not an accurate representation of a real city – but it doesn’t matter. This book has been designed for excitement and conflict, and all the energy bundled up in these characters will ensure that excitement and conflict are always there. One thing I will mention is that Miles probably suffers from a bit too much introspection, a common issue I find with books told from the first person perspective. I mean it’s great to see the inner workings of Miles’ mind, but sometimes he just agonises and agonises over matters of morality, trust, friendship etc to the point where it almost feels like preaching. Don’t get me wrong, most of it is fine and makes sense in the context of the story, but towards the end there is a lot of repetition of Miles’ introspection which may have caused me to roll my eyes once or twice.
The Man Who Crossed Worlds is one of the most energetic stories I have read in the past twelve months. Strange does not take a backfoot step here, he rarely takes his foot off the accelerator, he just plows through whatever is standing in front of him. This story is not without its faults, and its slightly aggressive attitude may be a turn off for some people. It is very much a case of ‘what you see is what you get’ with Strange and I can see a lot of people having a lot of fun with this style of storytelling. If you like The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne, The Demon Squad series by Tim Marquitz, and maybe The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, then you will get a good kick out this book.
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