Last year, I reviewed the book Junction by Daniel M. Bensen, a sci-fi work centered around speculative evolution, that is, imagining how life might evolve on an alternate Earth or other worlds. Junction is a world filled with wormholes connecting to many other planets, with many forms of alien life coexisting there.
The sequel to Junction, titled Interchange releases tomorrow (Tuesday, July 20), and my verdict is that it’s a marked improvement over the first one. If you like speculative evolution or weird aliens, or especially if you thought Junction was worth a read, then you should check out Interchange.
And if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you saw that I also did an interview with Daniel Bensen for my podcast, so you might want to look at that, too.
My rating: 4 out of 5.
This review has an interesting story behind it. I admit I didn’t have high praise for Junction last year; I thought it was pretty rough around the edges and said so. But after I posted the review, Daniel Bensen contacted me and told me he appreciated the review, and he offered me an advance copy of the sequel to review as well. I really like spec-evo, and I did think the story of Junction had potential, so I gave it a read.
Bottom line: Interchange is a marked improvement over Junction. I would still call it rough around the edges, but you can see Dan’s growth as a writer, and I think it definitely turned out better. And with the book release, I thought the time was ripe to do an interview too, and here we are.
I characterize Interchange as Michael Crichton’s The Lost World meets 2001: A Space Odyssey. You have a scientific expedition returning to a world full of exotic (and dangerous) creatures in a big camper funded by a businessman with vague, shadowy interests. And you have mysterious and inscrutable aliens leaving a planet full of wormholes lying around for unknown reasons. (Of course, it’s more nuanced that that, but you can see the parallels.)
Also, I’m seeing a few parallels between the Toymakers and Niven and Pournelle’s Watchmakers from The Mote in God’s Eye.
Junction continues to be a very fun setting in this book, with some truly bizarre speculative evolution going on (which is standard fare for Dan). If you really like spec-evo, that may be enough to carry the story for you, but this time around, I think he’s handled the characterization significantly better, and we certainly get to see a better development of the relationship between our main couple, Daisuke and Anne.
As we discuss in the interview, Dan likes to make his characters deeply flawed and then show them working through their problems in the story. But that’s tricky because it’s walking a fine line between “flawed” and “unlikeable.” Daisuke and Anne don’t always come across as likeable, but I definitely liked their character arcs better. For one, their relationship felt a lot more natural and realistic in this book. In Junction, they were complete opposites forced together by circumstance. In Interchange, we see them actually working through the inevitable problems stemming from that kind of relationship.
Also, while Daisuke still has some issues to work through, Dan says that Anne is the central character of this book, and I enjoyed seeing her development as her hangups finally pushed her off the proverbial deep end, but she came back around and really put in the effort to understand other people (especially Daisuke) and get along with them better.
The character of Moon was the weak point of the story in my view. His actions didn’t seem to match his stated motives, and I didn’t understand what his real game was until it was spelled out at the end. That’s the kind of thing that gave me the most trouble in Junction, but luckily, there was a lot less of it in Interchange.
As for the science, while there are minutiae about the (theorized) science of wormholes that could be cleaned up, my main advice would be to lean more into what the Howling Mountain only hints at. If Junction has been there for 100 million years, it would have evolved its own ecosystem—the biomes would evolve to work with and use each other, and they would not be pure examples of their home planets. That could make for some interesting new directions for the story and the worldbuilding. Who knows? Maybe Book 3 will get off the ground after all.
This post was made at the request of Daniel Bensen.