Bobby Pendragon (14) has just kissed his girlfriend (Courtney) for the first time when his Uncle Press turns up and demands that he accompany him on a mission of vital importance which takes them through a portal to another world. Uncle Press is captured and Bobby must save him and the local low-tech population from the bullying, armour-wearing Bedoowan. In the sequel, Bobby and Uncle Press follow Saint Dane to Cloral, a world covered completely by water, to prevent him from pushing as many worlds as he can to the point of chaos. In the third book, Bobby finds Saint Dane manipulating things in 1937 New York, and must work out what link there is between a New York gangster, the Nazi Party, the Hindenburg Airship disaster and Saint Dane’s plan for total chaos. To find out more about events to come, he and his companion Gunny travel to 3rd Earth, 3000 years in the future, where a powerful computer can simulate what would have happened if …

The author notes in his acknowledgements that, when it comes to launching a new series…”the hard part is getting it published…so that family and friends aren’t the only ones who get to read it.” In this case, you have to ask yourself whether he should have made the effort.

Chapters alternate between Bobby’s first person narrative diary, which his friend Mark receives in installments through a portal, and Mark and Courtney’s own experiences in coming to terms with Bobby’s disapearance. To emphasise the difference, the perspectives are represented by serif and non-serif fonts, respectively. Just in case you couldn’t work out for yourself who’s talking, presumably. Frankly, I wouldn’t even bother trying. Bobby’s thought and speech patterns are steeped in a early 21st century argot which seems incapable of anything more than superficial and emotional reaction. His uncle, the wise and slightly mysterious mentor figure you always find in these things, fails to demonstrate anything other than a rather irritating air of calm superiority.

This author has delivered a mixture of not-terribly-original ideas and original plot turns but in a package which fails to convince. I find Bobby Pendragon’s character more irritating than engaging, and his friends are emotional cardboard cutouts. A slight shame, because some of the twists and turns of the plot are appealing enough to deserve better delivery: the fate of Faar and Mark’s dilemma when the school bully discovers Bobby’s diaries for instance. The impression, however, is rather like reading a film novelisation: everyone just runs around and issues their lines at emotional extremes.

An important part of this story turns on the fact that Bobby and Gunny have seen a future simulation of what will happen if the Hindenburg doesn’t crash, viz Nazi atom bombs destroying New York in 1944 and turning it in 5010 from a paradise into a hell-hole. This complicates the decision they already face: should they prevent a gangster from using a rocket to blow up the Hindenburg, or should they allow him to go ahead? This is one of those moral choices which beset the sci-fi and fantasy genre, often tied up with time-travel or fortune-telling. The reasoning goes something like: I know what’s going to happen; do I have the right (or duty) to alter the past? The trouble with the reasoning involved in taking this decision is that you don’t know what’s going to happen: the logic takes no account of the fact that men and women are free to choose and to change their choices at any time.

Other moral dilemmas include the issues of population and modesty. Patrick, a Traveller for 51st-century Earth, says: “Combine (populated space stations) with the fact that people have finally started getting smart about family planning, and we finally achieved zero population growth”, the result of which is vast areas of land left unused after people had built underground. Bobby dwells somewhat on a pink bikini owned by his girlfriend Courtney, and which she later wears when they meet in their home town of Stonybrook.

Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.