Review: The Fold by Peter Clines

The Fold

I could not put this book down. The Fold by Peter Clines is absolutely riveting. It’s also everything I love in a book: weird science, great characters, snappy dialogue, a slowly developing mystery and edge of your seat action. There’s even a touch of romance!

I don’t actually need weird science in every book, but it really suits this one.

Leland ‘Mike’ Erickson is a high school English teacher. You couldn’t say he’s over-qualified for the job. He’s made sure of that. But with an IQ of 180 or higher and an eidetic memory, Mike is going to be overqualified for just about anything he does, even when he’s not trying. An old friend has wanted to recruit Mike to one project or another for over a decade. Mike has a ready excuse for turning him down until this latest project.

A team of scientists has developed a method for instantaneous travel. They call it the Albuquerque Door. The project began as an attempt to instantaneously transport matter from one point to another. It can’t be done. The team’s failures are an illustration of fantasy or science fiction outstripping reality. Until they design a computer powerful enough to not only track disassembling but reassembling the traveller, and figure out how to power it all, transporters will remain the property of Star Trek.

Dr. Arthur Cross and his team have succeeded in developing instantaneous travel, however. Instead of pulling matter apart and putting it back together in a new location, the Albuquerque Door shortens the distance between two points by folding space. In nearly two hundred live tests with human subjects, they’ve only had one incident. One of the crosswalkers (a play on Dr. Cross’s name and the quick walk from one Door to another) apparently went insane after his first trip. Got home and didn’t recognize his wife. Dr. Cross insists the Door played no part and that the subject, Benjamin Miles, was perfectly healthy when he left the facility.

The project is about to run out of funding and Dr. Cross and his team have asked for an extension. The committee reviewing the request wants to know why. If the Door works, why not publicize and reap the rewards. Why are they still testing? What are they hiding? Mike accepts the assignment to visit the facility and evaluate the project. His findings will help determine whether the Door is ready for release or actually does need more funding. From his first hour on site, it’s apparent the team is hiding something. But the central question in this book isn’t ‘what don’t we know?’, it’s ‘what don’t we know we don’t know?’

Outside the mystery surrounding the science of the Door, this book delves deeply into a few of the characters integral to the project, particularly Mike. We learn why he’s an underachiever and this is central to his role! His involvement with the Albuquerque Door is going to change his life, and not just because seriously weird shit is happening around the fold. I loved the descriptions of how his memory worked and how profoundly his abilities affect his outlook and his life. The supporting characters are equally interesting with even the smallest roles filled personality rather than cardboard cut-outs.

There’s also a lot of truly speculative science. The truth about the door is the key to the mystery and the whole book. What’s really on the other side is frightening and fascinating. Rounding out this exciting story, we have an element of horror and a climax full of monsters and mayhem.

It’s clear from the outset that Clines is both a fan of science and science fiction. References abound, from praise for the scientists helping us understand the possible, to the mad men who dare to dream the impossible. The story also includes enough pop culture references to hit geeky buttons. All in all, The Fold is a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I read the book in one day, giggling at the humour and gasping at the surprises. I also enjoyed the author’s afterword where he talked about the genesis of the story and the journey from idea to book.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Nine Planets by Greg Byrne

Nine Planets

Peter Blackwell wakes from a coma into a world he doesn’t recognise. Gripped by a curse, the salvation of humanity is a bizarre holiday. The presents delivered on Father Nick’s Day stave off the despair that drives ordinary men and women to suicide. Blackwell is told he has the knowledge that will break this curse. He is also told that sharing the secret could mean the end of the world. Not a great position to be in. To make things worse, the head injury that put him in a coma has left him without memory and with the compulsion to always tell the truth. It’s as if he’d been put into maze with no open paths.

Blackwell is not without tools, however. He has perfect recall and no trouble making new memories. He also has nine snippets of the past, nine constellations of smell, taste, texture and emotion. He calls these his nine planets. The ninth is armoured and it is therefore assumed that the ninth planet holds the secret to saving the world.

Blackwell has twelve days to unlock the ninth planet. As he unravels the information hidden in the first eight, he puts together a picture of the world. Two brotherhoods, the Cabal and the Poor Men, have been at odds for over seventeen hundred years. The curse is a tool of the Cabal and only the Poor Men stand between them and the end of humanity. Each side has allies and traitors. Not sure who he can trust, Blackwell must nonetheless rely on the assistance of others to reach his goal. The most unexpected of these is an assassin sent to extract his secret.

Then there is the comet, the one hurtling toward Earth. The one a four year-old boy started painting the day it was first detected.

A glance at the blurb should prepare the reader for the fact Nine Planets by Greg Byrne is a little different. Ideas represented as planets? A world inflicted by despair that only a quasi-religious holiday can alleviate? Then there is the whole idea of a suicidal apocalypse. I’m a fan of apocalyptic fiction, but I can honestly say worldwide suicide doesn’t appeal. Of course, these elements are what make ‘Nine Planets’ such a fascinating read.

The book begins with an outtake of mythology. The origin of Father Nick’s Day. Then we meet Peter Blackwell and the tech is futuristic. As each player in the war is introduced, the story and the world complicates further until it’s a colourful tapestry. I admire authors who can juggle several plot threads and have them all eventually entwine.

The use of synesthesia as an interpretive tool is inventive and clever. Instead of a running commentary on how events make Blackwell feel, the reader is invited to experience everything for him or herself through flavour, colour and texture. Truth smells like limes, by the way. I really liked these details; they enriched the story without overwhelming it. Similarly, Byrne’s prose conveyed the plot without distracting the reader. His style is economical and sometimes downright poetic.

As the countdown toward Father Nick’s Day accelerates, so does the action. I found the book difficult to put aside after I passed the half-way point. Shortly after then, alliances shifted and truths were revealed and I lost the rest of my day in the race toward the end.

Nine Planets appears to be author Greg Byrne’s first novel. I’m hoping he’ll write another. I’d love to see where his imagination takes me next.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck

Sword of the Bright Lady (World of Prime, #1)

Christopher Sinclair wakes from an interesting dream into a more interesting dilemma. He is in an alternate reality, a world eerily similar and yet markedly different to ours. The sleepy village he finds himself in appears to be stuck in the medieval age, but for certain marvels. This ‘magic’, apportioned by a substance known as ‘tael’, affects the very way society operates, marking the most startling differences. The higher the rank, the more magic a practitioner commands.

On his first day in this new world, not quite given over to the fact he has left his own world, rather, Christopher believes himself the displaced victim of a plane crash. Our hero manages to transgress several laws while coming to the defence of a young woman. He does not know that striking a nobleman, even to save a young woman’s virtue, is a serious crime punishable by death. He is summoned by church officials and interviewed. By the time his audience with Saint Krellyan is finished, two things are clear. Christopher is no longer in Arizona or anyone on his Earth and he’s in deep…er, trouble. Continue reading “Review: Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck”