Sal Vidon has a very specific way of dealing with the loss of his mami: pulling alternate versions of her from other universes into his. It’s not perfect, it’s not his mami after all, but it’s enough. Until his dad, a calamity physicist, creates a machine that will close the multiverse-crossing portals Sal uses. Which turns out to be the least of his problems…
If you were wondering when I was sold on the book, it was the phrase ‘calamity physicist’.
Carlos Hernandez’s funny, inventive and kindhearted book is crammed full of that exact sort of turn of phrase, creating a sense of a sunny, gleefully untidy utopia. A world where science is harnessed not just to make the world a better place but to make it an AWESOME one.
Sal is an instantly likable kid: fast talking, fast thinking and utterly incapable of taking the easy choice. He’s a magician, too, so you know he’s my people. Even better, he’s just a goodhearted, compassionate boy. No pun escapes his gaze and his never-ending supply of delightfully inventive insults keeps his enemies on their heels and his friends just amazed by his verbal skills.
Oh also? There’s an artificially intelligent toilet.
Seriously, it’s one of the best parts of the novel. Sal bonds with Vorágine (yes the toilet has a name) and it plays a vital role in several pivotal scenes at the Academy. All of which are based as much around the relentless horror of adolescence as they are the threat of feral AI and evil doubles.
Except, and here’s where Hernandez plays every ace card, the antagonists here aren’t cardboard cut-out villains. Each have background, context and depth. No relationship, whether between Sal and his American Step-Mom (His name for her) or Sal and brilliant hard-charging friend Gabi, is free of friction or love. These are all complex, brilliant, charming untidy people doing their best. Sometimes they’re complex, brilliant, charming, untidy AIs doing their best. They try anyway, because that’s what you do.
All of this is wrapped up in a plot which puts a new spin on every major multiverse trope and emotional honesty that will absolutely draw you up short. Sal and Gabi are good but never boring, and it’s an absolute delight to tag along on their adventures. I read this before the first book and had no problem picking it up too so if you fancy it, give either a shot.
Just remember, always be nice to your AIs and they’ll be nice to you.
Sal and Gabi Break The Universe and Sal and Gabi Fix The Universe are both available now.
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