Neve Maslakovic, Regarding Ducks and Universes

Publisher: Amazon Encore

2010, 331 pages, paperback, $14

one day in 1986, a scientific experiment causes the bifurcation of the universe. At the moment of the split, Universes A and B are identical; but, after, they are no longer the same. Anyone born before the bifurcation has an alter identity in the other universe. Careers follow different paths for a citizen in Universe A and his alter in Universe B. Also, in 2020, two groups race to find the universe maker, the person or thing responsible for the event chain that caused the bifurcation. They believe Felix Sayers’ A or his B identity is responsible. Meanwhile, someone makes multiple attempts on Sayers’s life.

Regarding Ducks and Universes is a lot of fun. It’s full of entertaining characters, bits of humor, scientific theories made comprehensible, and an intriguing look at how the members of two universes would interact. As much as I enjoyed the novel, the narrative caused me some frustration, with bits of information repeated unnecessarily and frequent focus placed on insignificant details.

Maslakovic’s debut novel explores a fascinating what-if scenario: if we had proof our lives would be different if we’d made other choices, what we would do with that proof? Felix A and his alter have much in common, but they have different careers, friends, and haunts around San Francisco. Felix A fears his alter has the better life. Other characters provide further insight into life in connected universes.

I enjoyed noting the differences between the two universes. Universes A and B prefer camel cheese and milk, and advancements in genetics have led to the existence of new species, such as pear/apples and cat/mice. One universe prefers bikes and eBook devices called Omnis, while the other continues to use cars and publish paper books. Universe A has self-heating cans, while Universe B has microwaves.

Felix A has a job writing user guides for kitchen appliances. He secretly dreams of being a published murder mystery novelist, an appropriate narrator for Maslakovic’s novel, which abounds with the conventions of a mystery plot. Chapters end in suspenseful cliffhangers, characters have secrets, and someone is determined to murder Felix, despite multiple failed attempts. Though Felix is accustomed to reading and thinking about mysteries, he is initially unaware he is surrounded by one. He can hardly be blamed; who would expect his life to mirror a work of fiction? His lack of insight does not hamper the reader’s understanding of what is happening.

Some scenes are done well and kept my interest because the focus never strayed from important details. I can’t say the same about other scenes. Felix’s attention shifts between relevant details and insignificant actions. In one paragraph, he discusses universe makers; but, in the next, he devotes several sentences to the sandwich he is eating, a bag he is packing, or a teacup passed from one person to another. These everyday details help to establish a sense of realism. It may also be appropriate for Felix to notice them, since he writes meticulous user guides. However, everyday details are boring in a book about parallel universes.

This book is worth reading for anyone who enjoys alternate universe scenarios, quirky characters, and an intriguing plot affected by chance as much as design. I look forward to reading Neve Maslakovic’s work in the future, and I hope she won’t keep us waiting for long.

—Danielle Ducrest