Why a universe-hopping entrepreneur may be your next big hero

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We loved Paul Melko's The Walls Of The Universe for its clever take on alternate universes. So we're excited that the sequel is finally coming, plus a movie version from the makers of Shrek. Melko told us what to expect.

In The Walls Of The Universe, a man named John Rayburn meets another version of himself, from another universe. This other John, dubbed John Prime, is less altruistic than "our" version, and he tricks "our" John into jumping to another universe using a device that's only good for one-way journeys. John Rayburn eventually winds up in a universe that's stuck in the 1950s, where he "invents" pinball and starts a successful company. But there are tons of criminals who also have come from other universes, plus John Prime is busy screwing up John Rayburn's life in his original universe, including murdering someone. You can read our full review here.


The news broke over the weekend that Melko finally got a book deal for the sequel, The Broken Universe, which will once again come out from Tor Books. And the first book got a movie deal from the producer/director team behind the Shrek movies, Aron Warner and Andrew Adamson.

We caught up with Melko and asked him a few questions about both bits of exciting news.


Congrats on your book deal and movie deal. What can you tell us about the sequel? Does it pick up right where the first book left off? Now that they've gotten a lot more control over the universe-hopping, and can go backwards as well as forwards, are we going to see a lot more cross-universe trade?

THE BROKEN UNIVERSE picks up right where THE WALLS OF THE UNIVERSE left off. John Prime has beaten his murder rap by kidnapping his victim from another universe. John Rayburn has accepted his new home universe. A horde of baddies has been released upon the multiverse after stealing John's homemade gate. Only they've managed to break the gate in the process.


John and company work to foil their plot to take over their pinball company, recruiting other Johns, other Graces, other Henrys, and other Caseys from surrounding universes. They need money fast and turn to John Prime with his shifty, yet lucrative plans, which lead them to treasure hunting on an island in the middle of Lake Erie.

The sequel focuses on the birth of a new company, Pinball Wizards Transuniversal, and, yes, they start making money by trading between universes, arbitraging in Silly Bandz, laptops, and hoverboards. But John Rayburn has bigger plans than making money. His goal is to utilize the universe-hopping technology for the good of humankind.


The scope of the sequel expands beyond the immediate problems of John, and a larger context of the multiverse is revealed.

What can you tell us about the movie? Will it be animated or live-action?

We had nibbles for the film rights immediately after the starred review was published in Publishers Weekly. Film rights ultimately went to Aron Warner, of Shrek fame. Unfortunately, I don't know more than that, except that a script is being written.


What do you think is the appeal of alternate-universe stories? And do you think things like Fringe are making the sub-genre more popular?

I love parallel universe stories, going back to one of my most influential authors, Philip Jose Farmer. His WORLD OF TIERS series, with its pocket universes, was seminal for me, and I reread it numerous times through my teens and later years. (Even as recently as this year.) Here was a multiverse in which decadent lords ruled mini-universes created with science they no longer understood.


Parallel universe stories are appealing to writers in that they provide a what-if mechanism for social examination. Small things can be isolated and changed, and the resulting world becomes a thought experiment for the author. Usually this is a straw man argument from the author; he or she knows the cards that have been dealt and plays the hand.

As to other media presentation of parallel universes, I have not, I am afraid, watched Fringe, nor the precursor parallel universe show, Sliders! Shocking, I know. The media presentation that I remember most vividly is the "Mirror, Mirror" episode of the original STAR TREK. (John Prime does not wear a goatee!) So my knowledge of media representation of parallel universes stops at 1967, before I was born.