Tal Klein’s The Punch Escrow is an outstanding debut novel. The writing is tight and the narrative flows quickly. This is a must-read for science fiction fans.
It’s the 22nd century. Corporations rule the world and humans have finally broken the secret of teleportation. Although, it’s not exactly teleportation in the Star Trek-dissolving-into-a-bunch-of-sparkly-lights teleportation, people are moving vast distances at near-instantaneous rates.
As the protagonist, Joel, explains, teleportation involves a basic point-to-point transmission. It requires an enclosed station at each point. One station performs a detailed molecular scan of a subject while the destination station replicates the subject. The implications of what happens to the original person is the very core of this story.
The story is told, by the way, in the first-person point of view of Joel, as he is drawn into an intense thriller. Joel is what is known as a “salter,” a specialist in refining Artificial Intelligence applications through verbal ques, logical tricks, and non sequiturs. His wife works as a researcher for the company that holds a monopoly on teleportation. When a terrorist blows up a teleportation center when Joel is on his way to meet his wife for a second honeymoon, the reality of what teleportation actually is begins to be revealed to Joel.
There’s actually elements of political thriller and spy novel woven through, as well, which helps to add to the story’s interest.
Tal Klein has written a sci-fi novel in the best tradition of the genre. From the get-go, Klein creates a world as reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock as it is of Ray Bradbury. The entire story keeps a sense of plot that I associated with North by Northwest as well as Fahrenheit 451.
Perhaps the single greatest heritage of science fiction is its ability to provide a medium for authors to ask big questions, such as gender, race, or religion. Klein tackles another major idea with his layering a thrilling story with ethical questions about the nature of technology and our relationship to it. There is also no bigger question than “what is life” and Klein manages to illustrate a serious issue through a narrative that moves along at a quick pace.
From the very first lines, Klein creates an atmosphere of anticipation. Much of the narrative seems modeled on a deposition-style of speaking, as if it was dictated and then annotated after the fact. The tone is sardonic, as if Joel is speaking to people who are familiar with his world and are just as jaded to the incredible technology. There’re also laugh-out-loud moments and an honest-to-goodness “oh, shit” moment, which is the absolute pay-off I look for as a reader.
Seriously, this is one of the best sci-fi novels I have read in a long time. It’s hard sci-fi, classic sci-fi, the kind of sci-fi I fell in love with when I first read Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, and Isaac Asimov.
Well-done, Mr. Klein. I’ll definitely look for your books in the future.