I received this book for free from the Publicist in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein
Published by Inkshares/Geek & Sundry on July 25 2017
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
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The nitty-gritty: A heady mix of high entertainment, non-stop action and interesting facts about physics and future technology, this book was, simply put, a blast!
After reading a couple of fellow bloggers’ rave reviews of this book, I knew I had to get a hold of a copy and read it for myself. And they were right! This was one crazy, wild ride! The Punch Escrow reminded me a bit of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, although I didn’t enjoy it quite as much (hence the slightly lower rating), so anyone who had fun with that book will love this. I’ve been so lucky with debut novels this week, because here is another one that surprised me in just about every way. The concept is fairly simple—a man is accidentally “copied” during a transporter accident—but the execution is anything but. Klein’s novel is filled with hard science fiction elements, and readers may get more than they bargained for in the form of physics and history lessons, but trust me when I say it was all entertaining.
This is one of those stories that is easy to spoil, so I’ll just give you the bare bones of the plot. It’s the year 2147, and thanks to a company called International Transport, teleportation is commonplace, with Teleportation Centers (TCs) placed all over so that people can easily get from one place to another. Teleportation has also been made entirely safe, thanks to an invention called the Punch Escrow. Joel Byram is a “salter,” someone who is paid to trick computers and AIs in order to make them evolve and seem more human. Joel and his wife Sylvia are planning to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary in Costa Rica, but because of Sylvia’s highly secretive job working for International Transport, their marriage has become strained. Joel is hoping the vacation will put them back on track.
But things don’t go at all as planned when Joel enters the TC in New York, on his way to meet his wife in Costa Rica. Just as he’s about to transport, the station is sabotaged by a bomber, and Joel emerges from the blast only to discover that there are now two of him—one in New York, the “real” Joel, and the other one who made it to Costa Rica. So much for the Punch Escrow! All Joel wants to do is reunite with Sylvia, but suddenly everyone seems to be after him. Joel finds himself stuck between two factions—IT, who are trying to cover up a huge secret, and a religious group that believes teleportation is more or less evil.
One of the best things about this story is Joel. He’s a little rough around the edges, a guy who doesn’t have a lot of ambition (I mean come on, he tells computers JOKES and tries to trick them for a living!). He’s content to listen to his beloved 80s music, play video games, and take on salting gigs whenever he needs some cash. But the one thing Joel is sure about is that he loves his wife, and he’s determined to mend their relationship. So when things turn ugly after the transporter mishap, Joel discovers that he actually has a backbone, and he more or less turns into a hero. He also swears a lot.
And keep in mind that there are two Joels, although I’m reluctant to say much about that because you know, spoilers! Let’s just say there are some mind-bending moments that were both hysterically funny and cringingly uncomfortable at the same time.
One of the joys of The Punch Escrow is the wonderful juxtaposition between the futuristic setting and Joel’s obsession with the past. In the same paragraph the reader is treated to descriptions of Joel’s “comm,” an implant that basically lets him instantly communicate with anyone, anywhere, and a conversation with a friend about the movie The Princess Bride. Klein definitely knows how to write a futuristic story but still engage his audience, who is still stuck in 2017.
Klein’s future is pretty much what you’ve seen before, there really isn’t anything terribly unique about it, although because I’m a science fiction fan, I never tire of reading about the high-tech futures that the best writers come up with. Of course, the teleportation idea is very cool, and I loved the author’s descriptions of exactly how it all works. Klein has either done a ton of research, or he’s a physicist in disguise, but whatever the case, he completely convinced me that traveling from one place to another in the blink of an eye is entirely possible—or at least it should be. (Whether it’s safe or not, well, you’ll just have to make up your own mind after reading this story!) At this point I should mention that there are lengthy footnotes, but they’re mostly in the first quarter of the book. Any reader who is fascinated by science, physics and history is going to love them. I personally had a blast trying to figure out which were true, and which were fabrications. I’m pretty sure there were some of both!
The story gradually builds as Joel gets deeper and deeper into the conspiracy surrounding International Transport. It also gets very violent, which I wasn’t expecting, but the violence is so well done and makes sense in a weird way. Joel isn’t the violent type, but when he’s thrown into unexpected danger, he embraces his violent side. As I got closer to the end, I still didn’t know how things were going to resolve themselves, and I was happy that I never was able to predict the final outcome.
One sure sign of an unputdownable page-turner is that I forget to take notes while I’m reading, and I managed to get through The Punch Escrow with only a few sentences written down to remind me of things I wanted to say in this review. Luckily I found quite a bit more I wanted to share, and I hope I’ve piqued your interest. For readers who love non-stop action, thrilling glimpses into our possible future, and characters that jump off the page, this is a must read.
Big thanks to Wunderkind PR for supplying a review copy.