Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Smartest Guy In The Room

The Fold
by Peter Clines

3 1/2 out of 5 chocolate croissants.

Mike Erikson might be the smartest person on Earth, but he’s content to use his high IQ and eidetic memory as a small town school teacher. However, his friend Reggie is a big deal at DARPA and has been trying to hire Mike for years, and now he finally finds a job that Mike can’t resist because of its groundbreaking nature. 

DARPA has been funding a top secret project called the Albuquerque Door* in which a small group of scientists have successfully been able to fold space-time so that a long distance could be traveled by a person taking a single step. The scientists claim that the Door is working perfectly but want more testing, and they have insisted on not providing any of the work behind their discovery until it’s ready to be taken public. Reggie thinks that there’s something not quite right with the project and sends Mike out to investigate in the hopes that he can use his unique talents to sniff out what’s wrong. 

*(Is it just me or does an Albuquerque Door sound like the kind of thing you’d be scared to look up on Urban Dictionary at work?)

I’m tempted to say that this is like Sherlock Holmes showing up on an episode of Fringe, but Mike is a lot nicer than Sherlock and there isn’t a cow in the lab. Mike himself is one of the biggest selling points of this story because the way that his mind works is well done and fascinating in its own right. There’s also some really compelling reasons as to why he’s downplayed his gifts and stuck to being a school teacher. Putting a unique character like this in a situation with a huge scientific breakthrough and a group of people who seem to be hiding something makes for an entertaining story that eventually makes the most of its premise.

While Mike makes for a sympathetic guy that you want to root for, the scientists he deals with are a bunch of jerkfaces. The way that they act for most of the book is one of the things that irked me about it. For quite a while every question or statement that Mike makes is usually met with a hostile question or snarky challenge even as he’s being as polite and accommodating as possible. In fact, I thought Mike was being just a little too nice because as the government guy who is determining whether their new budget will get approved, he should be throwing a little weight around instead of just eating all the crap sandwiches that get flung at him regularly.

There is an argument to be made that since Mike is essentially a rookie and that the scientists have reasons for acting this way that it makes sense for the plot. However, just the way that they respond to almost everything Mike says becomes a bit tiresome. For a bunch of people tearing a hole in the fabric of reality, there are a lot of arrogant and dismissive comments along the lines of “That’s unpossible!” even after Mike has been shown to be right time after time. 

Despite those irritations with the secondary characters, this is still a fun and kinda kooky sci-fi thriller with an intriguing main character that mostly delivers on the potential of its main premise. There’s an indication that this may not be the last we see of Mike, and I’ll be willing to check out more. 

Also posted on Goodreads.

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