Felix Sayers, cooking utensil manual author, lives in parallel world A. He thought he was born after the 1985 bifurcation event with universe B, making him a unique. But he has just discovered that his date of birth was forged, and he was actually born before the event. That means there is a Felix B. And worse, Felix B might already be writing a cooking-themed detective novel! Felix A travels to the parallel universe to find out what his counterpart is up to, and discovers that a competing novel may be the least of his worries.
This has one major difference that sets it apart from many a parallel world story: the two worlds have diverged quite considerably, and essentially everything that has happened in either after the divergence is unique. Even people born before the event, who have themselves bifurcated, have very different lives. This makes a pleasant change from the many stories where there are only plot-necessary differences between worlds.
Despite this pleasing realism, I found this rather hard going. It is attempting too many things. It is trying to be science fiction, a detective story, a depiction of a whimsical fascist state, and a screwball romance, all in one package, and it doesn’t quite manage to pull any of it off. This is partly because the viewpoint character is so dull, partly because the quirky differences are rather belaboured, and partly because it is just really difficult to mix detection and science fiction well – so was that world building, or a clue? There are a lot of neat little touches, and the plot is well tied together, but somehow it just didn’t gel for me.