Building on one of the imponderables that fascinate every child, the author of a wide range of imaginative fiction (The Changes trilogy; The Healer) uses the familiar pattern of the adventure of a real child in an imaginary world to explore the puzzle of the origin of the universe. In search of a chestnut for his school report on seeds, James happens on a mysterious shop whose proprietor gives him a sealed, empty box. James' mother (as Jack's did with the magic beans) hurls it away; and when he tries to retrieve it from the local dump, James finds the dump transformed into an outsized landscape peopled by totalitarian rats; gulls whose code of honor demands frightening duels; and a cooperative, constantly evolving organism (the burra [borough]) constructed with humor and ingenuity from the dump's debris--a sweetly ingenuous analog to cell combinations in the evolution of life. Escaping the rats, James flies with the burra back to the beginning of time, where he experiences an extraordinary insight into the original generation of something from nothing--and, returning to his own world, transfers his insight to the chestnut and its empty shell. On its primary level, James' adventure is an exciting, magical journey, the burra an intriguing, endearing creation that refers to itself as ""we"": ""We do not see how we can begin to cooperate with a member [a computer] who insists on taking complete control of the rest of us."" To Dickinson's credit, he incorporates the philosophical content of his story so skillfully that it should nurture rather than intrude on the reader's imagination. An entertaining, thought-provoking yarn.