We are not alone. More importantly, you’re not alone. There are many alternate versions of you out there—and one who just might be ready to take you down. At least, that’s the way of the scrupulously structured multiverse in Book 2 of the Everness series, Be My Enemy.

Everett Singh, on a mission to reunite with his family and locate his missing father in the elaborate folds of parallel universes, is not just relentlessly pursued by Charlotte Villiers and the Order. A mechanically souped-up, alternate version of himself is also on his heels, just as eager to reunite with his own family and prepared—and equipped— to kill to achieve that goal. Action, adventure, striking characters and incredible clothes converge in a cerebral imagining of the multiverse as opposing teams scramble to save (or rule) the worlds.

Here, Ian McDonald confesses to finding character inspiration in musicians, recalls his fondness for pirates and drops plenty of hints about what’s in store for the series.

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In a world of gadgetry, science and math, the crew of the Everness has great respect for Sen Sixsmyth’s tarot card readings. Are they looking for answers in her cards or looking for reassurance?

It's the closest the crew come to a religion. Shared rituals are important—especially among small crews on ships. There are all kinds of superstitions about the sea and seafarers, I wanted to make Everness as much like a sailing ship as I could, a little society all of its own, lost in the immensity of the Panoply of All Worlds [the multiverse]. It's a ship and a family in a sense, and families also have their own little superstitions and habits and customs. What Sen offers in the Everness tarot are patterns—shapes by which we may make sense of what is happening. They make you think about what's happening and come up with ideas. They're not so much about telling the future as clarifying thought. In Be My Enemy, they give Everett a very big and dangerous idea indeed, which I won't tell you for fear of the spoiler demons. But they're not any recognized tarot deck—there are no suits, they're all major trumps that Sen has invented herself (or inherited...).

Have you ever had a tarot card reading yourself?

Never have. I don't believe in magic.

There’s no questioning that this is sci-fi, but there are certainly elements of a swashbuckling pirate adventure. Are you a big fan of pirate tales?

Captain Anastasia would be very offended if you called her a pirate (and believe me, you don’t want that). She's a trader. Everness is a commercial airship. Okay, she takes occasional short-cuts and plays fast and loose with what is legal, but that's the nature of business. It's not like she's crashed the economy.... As a kid, I loved pirate movies—the life seemed to be free-wheeling and glamorous, and the clothes were great. In this series, clothes are important. Earth 3 is a weird combo of 1940s (think Jack Harkness in Torchwood) and mountain-bike chic (Everett's outfit). Every world has its fashion. And if the series ever really gets to ass-kicking sales levels, well, it's really easy to cosplay. The outfits are all meticulously described.

Charlotte Villiers is a cold, calculating villain. But she’s so... incredibly glamorous. Is it okay to be obsessed with her?

Of course—but she wouldn't deign to look to you. Glamorous—and strict. I got the idea for her from a review of a Goldfrapp concert. It said of Alison Goldfrapp: “No one ever hit a cow-bell so strictly”—and 1940s gear always looks very, very cool (and strict). Yet again, it's easy for cosplay. My main physical model for her is the amazing Anna Calvi. [Charlotte]'s developing as a villain. The best villains, you don't get it all at once. You'll be finding out a whole lot more about Ms. Villiers and what she’s up to in Book 3. Let's just say, she isn't who she seems to be. But then again, no one is. The only person who is her equal is Everett—and eventually, he will run out of luck.

Parallel worlds, alters, jump guns. How fastidiously did you have to rely on a blueprint of the world you’ve created to maintain order?

It's evolving, and I'm keeping copious notes. I've plotted out the whole series arc in a fair amount of detail, and there is a lot of cool stuff to come (wait until you hit Earth 5!), but ideas come up while I'm writing. I've just written a scene in Book 3 (Empress of the Sun) where the Plenitude of Known Worlds moves [governmental] headquarters to Earth 8, and I had a cool idea for that parallel Earth. Everyone is an identical twin. More than an identical twin—in a real sense, they are one consciousness in two bodies. No matter how far apart they go—even across universes—what one feels or sees, the other can experience as well. That's the beauty of writing about parallel worlds—they can be very, very strange, but still be recognizable as a version of our own world. Eventually, if I get the time, I'd like to set up a website which is basically like an Encyclopedia of the Known Worlds of the Plenitude (and some of the yet-uncontacted worlds of the Panoply) where all the supplementary material can go.

Man creates technology. Rogue technology destroys man. Man—or rather, young man— uses technology to summon nature to destroy rogue technology. Are you saying that there are limitations to how far we should go with technology?  

No, because it's our nature to explore, whether across the world, space, inside our heads, into technology. We love pushing it as far as we can. It can be terrifyingly dangerous, but at the same time, it gives us hope and opportunity. I'm not interested in dystopias (though Earth 1 is a pretty scary dystopia), because I'm optimistic about human beings. We can be cruel, monstrous, destructive, petty and selfish, but at the same time, we can be the opposite of all those things, and that is the best part of us. I believe in the future. 

Are we more likely to find Everett watching 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or The Matrix (1999)? 

The Matrix has the cooler clothes.