Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review: The Punch Escrow

The Punch Escrow The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free copy from the author for review.

Anyone who has ever endured a long car ride or had to cool their heels at an airport because of a flight delay has wished that we had the technology to just teleport people from place to place like they did on Star Trek. After reading this they’d be more hesitant to step up on the transporter pad.

It’s the 22nd century and the world now relies on technology like teleportation. People and goods can be shifted anywhere on Earth in the blink of an eye. Joel Byram is a guy who spends most of his time playing video games and waiting for his more successful wife Sylvia to come home. Sylvia is an engineer for the company that controls the teleportation technology, but her long hours and company secrets are taking a toll on their marriage.

Joel is the victim of an accident while teleporting to meet Sylvia, and the result is that there are now two Joels in the world. This threatens to expose a horrible secret at the heart of the teleportation industry, and both Joels find themselves on the run from a corporation more powerful than any government as they try to save themselves and Sylvia.

This one is a bit of a mixed bag. It had a lot of things I liked very much from well thought out world building that creates a society based on future tech that seems logical and real. There’s also a bit of real science and physics mixed in so that it doesn’t seem like hand waving nonsense, and the writing has a nice style to it that walks the line between making it too deep to be fun but not treating the reader like an idiot either.

However, it’s got several things that irked me and dragged it down to the three star level. First, it’s got an underachieving smart-ass protagonist who we’re supposed to root for just because he’s not outright evil, and I’m just tired of that trope. Add in the fact that he’s got an attractive wife who is way smarter than him so it’s just like a million sitcoms and Adam Sandler movies that is supposed to appeal to that male geek wish fulfillment that it’s possible to outkick your coverage and snag a hot wife with a great job just by being a charming slacker while not having to change in any way or show any ambition of your own.

This plays right into the second thing that I didn’t like because I’m not a fan of vast conspiracy stories that have a hapless hero who doesn’t actually have any skills or knowledge that move the plot forward. Yes, Joel is able to do a form of hacking on apps because his job is teaching AIs how to think creatively, but he accomplishes this by just being a smart ass to machines so again that’s not anything that makes me think he should be able to survive this.

Instead Joel is just bounced from situation to situation where people then tell him what’s going on. He has no real agency of his own, and he also does another thing I hate which is to just react repeatedly with extreme emotion and no rational thinking. Yeah, your wife is in danger, but just running around like a maniac with no ideas of what’s going on or how to get her back just reinforces that he’s a simple baby man who charges in blindly and should be killed about twenty times over yet somehow he muddles through.

There’s also some unnecessary ‘80s nostalgia laced through with Joel’s love of old pop songs. It didn’t add anything other than trying to tap into the Ready Player One trend. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the very end, and the main secret at the heart of the book is a concept I’ve seen other places so it doesn’t seem as shocking or original as it should.

Despite these reservations I still kinda liked this book. That’s because it does have some genuinely clever stuff in it, and the writing was good enough to make Joel a sympathetic hero even if he’s pretty much everything I hate in a lead character these days. All in all it’s a solid debut sci-fi novel, and I’ll be interested to see what else Tal Klein comes up with.

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