When I read E.C. Meyers' bio on the back flap of his novel, Fair Coin, there was no doubt I would read this book. Creative and humourous, Meyers carries his flair from jacket cover into his novel. Fair Coin, the first book in (yet another) trilogy is about chance, fate, parallel universes, and the choices we make in life.
Sixteen year old Ephraim Scott lives with his alcoholic, chain-smoking mother. One day after arriving home from high school, Ephraim finds his mother passed out at the kitchen table, having overdosed on pills and alcohol. He learns that she saw his body in the morgue after having been told that he had been killed by a bus.
While his mother is recovering in hospital, Ephraim discovers a plastic bag in his mother's purse containing his doppelganger's personal effects including his wallet, keys, and a mysterious coin.The coin is a strange quarter with "Puerto Rico 1998" inscribed on the back of it and minted in 2008.
Ephraim has a crush on smart, cute Jena Kim but he can't seem to figure out how to get her to notice him, much less like him. His best friend, Nathan, who is a camera buff, likes twins Mary and Shelley. On the last day of school, Ephraim discovers a note in his locker telling him to make a wish and flip the coin to make it come true. So Ephraim tries this, wishing that his mother wasn't in hospital. When he does so, the coin becomes hot and after flipping it Ephraim gets sick to his stomach. Strange things begin happening almost immediately. Nathan doesn't remember a conversation that occurred almost minutes earlier about Ephraim's mother being in hospital. And when Ephraim returns to the hospital to see how his mother is doing, she is no longer there. Instead, he finds her at home, napping on the couch and once again late for her job.
So Ephraim tries another wish -that his mother wasn't so messed up and that she had a better job. Sure enough, this wish comes true too, with Ephraim awaking to his mother making breakfast and an empty laundry basket. A third wish, that Jena would like him, also brings about positive results for Ephraim, but has not so happy results for others. As Ephraim makes more wishes he comes to understand that while there might be positive results for him, the effects on other's lives can be devastating.
Eventually Ephraim decides to take both Nathan and later on Jena into his confidence, explaining to them what is going on. Although Ephraim doesn't really understand it, he knows Nathan who sometimes calls himself Nate, has been affected; he is larger, violent and seems bent on using the coin for himself, regardless of how it affects others. This leads Ephraim to decide to wish the coin back to where it came from. He tosses it into the fountain at the park, thinking it is gone. But he couldn't be more wrong. When something terrible happens, Ephraim and Jena realize they need to get the coin back.
While Ephraim and Jena frantically search for the coin that he flipped into the fountain at Greystone Park, Nate shows up. He is armed and he orders them to find the coin. While Ephraim is struggling to find it, Nate shoots and kills Jena. When Ephraim does find the coin, he and Nate land in another universe. In this universe, Summerside is under curfew, with the United States at war with the Middle East.
This universe has a Nathan too - it is Nate (the one who forced Ephraim and Jena to serach for the lost coin) and another Ephraim. Jena Kim is Zoe Kim, whose parents are divorced and Ephraim's parents have been murdered. At Greystone Park Ephraim meets an older Nathan - who is called Nathaniel, who it turns out is trapped in this universe. Nathaniel explains to Ephraim what has been happening and how the coin works.
Nathaniel explains that he was part of a two person team exploring parallel universes with a new technology based on quantum physics. However, Nathaniel lost his partner - an older Ephraim and it takes the two of them to work the coin which is part of a portable coheron drive, nicknamed the Charon device. The coin is both the engine and the navigational device that is paired with a controller. It is a gyrocompass that uses quantum co-ordinates to navigate to another universe while the controller sets and records the co-ordinates. Without the controller, the co-ordinates become random and a person is swapped with his analog in another universe, while his analog is sent to Ephraim's universe. So Ephraim has been randomly swapping into other universes.
Nathaniel asked this universe's Ephraim and Nate to help him, but instead they abandoned him. They traveled to the first Ephraim's universe where Ephraim was hit by a bus, and the first Ephraim came into possession of the coin. But Nate needed the coin to get back to his universe. So he set about tricking the first Ephraim into using the coin and then began spying on him, killing his friend Nathan and setting him up to grab the coin.
Ephraim agrees to help Nathaniel get back to his universe if he is able to get the controller from the violent, unstable Nate. Ephraim now realizes that Nate will do anything to get control of the device and he must formulate a plan to get the controller, send Nathaniel back to his universe, and get back to his own universe.
Fair Coin has a fantastically interesting premise and it works, although it can be confusing to keep track of all the iterations of the main characters. Meyer's draws his readers in with the concept of making wishes that are granted and then letting us see the effect. And then just as we are getting used to what it happening and Ephraim decides to make one last wish, everything we know is upended and we learn that in fact, Ephraim is swapping places with himself in other universes, of which there are infinite numbers.
To create an element of suspense, one of the iterations of his best friend Nathan, is Nate, a sociopath who enjoys killing and hurting people and who is bent upon gaining control of the Charon device. Meyers creates believable characters, managing to change each one just a little in each new universe. But it is Ephraim who is best drawn; his sensitive conscience makes him realize the impact his choices are having on others, and the possible harm that Nate can do throughout the universe. This creates intense conflict and a difficult problem for this likable protagonist to solve.
Those readers who love their science fiction with a good dose of quantum physics will very much enjoy the well written Fair Coin. It is the first in the trilogy and the second book, Quantum Coin is now also available. You can learn more about E.C. Meyers from his website, and watch the book trailer here:
I'll be reviewing Quantum Coin in a few weeks.
Fair Coin by E.C. Meyers
Amherst New York: Pyr an imprint of Prometheus Books 2012