Planesrunner: Ian McDonald's YA debut is full of action-packed multidimensional cool, airships, electropunk and quantum physics

Ian McDonald has spent the past two decades blowing the lid off of science fiction with his poetic, dense, lavish novels that span the universe from Mars to Africa, from the future to the past, from Brazil to India to Turkey. Now McDonald has begun a second career as a young adult novelist with his Everness series, the first volume of which is Planesrunner, which goes on sale today.

Planesrunner is the story of Everett Singh, a moderately unhappy schoolboy in London whose divorced, quantum physicist dad is kidnapped before his eyes one night. Everett embarks on an epic quest to find out what happened to his dad, a quest that is complicated by his mother's hostility to her ex-husband, a police cover-up, sinister visits from the head of the Imperial College physics department, and mysterious, threatening strangers who tail him through the streets of London.

But Everett is convinced that he saw what he saw, and that his father is in peril — not least because his Dad's server has emailed him a firmware update for his tablet that turns it into an n-dimensional directory of the multiverse, an insurance file on a dead man's switch that was sent to Everett when his dad was offline for a critical amount of time. Everett can't outwit the forces of evil forever — but he can choose the way he is captured, and he does, and that's how he manages to escape through an interdimensional portal and penetrate a parallel electricpunk universe where there is no oil, but where coal-fired manufactories turn out the carbon nanofiber necessary to support a global industry of freewheeling electrified airships.

On the run in another London, Everett gets embroiled in the politics of international airship traffic, living in the autonomous zone around Hackney where the airships dock, spying on the interdimensional ministry where he believes his father is being held, joining a ragtag airship crew and making their fights his own — even as he tries to solve the seemingly impossible problem of liberating his father.

Planesrunner is smashing adventure fiction that spans the multiverse without ever losing its cool or its sense of style. Ian McDonald is one of the greats of science fiction and his young adult debut is everything you could hope for: romantic, action-packed, wildly imaginative and full of heart.