I originally heard about this 2017 novel from a professor friend who is teaching it as part of his Freshman course this fall. Since then, I have seen many articles praising and discussing Tal M. Klein’s The punch escrow: B&N lists their favorite aspects, Paste Magazine interviewed the author, and Lionsgate already obtained movie rights.
Set in 2147 in New York, the premise is that technology has reached a point in which teleportation is a reality and a popular form in of transportation. Like a subway or metro, people go underground but then wait in line for an individual room with a single chair. Once seated, the conductor in the adjoining area watching over it then teleports the person to their destination–to an identical room with a chair anywhere else in the world. After confirmation that the person will arrive exactly as expected the other location, then the person is sent from the original location. If the arrival location has any issues with the teleport, then the person remains at the original location. This fail-safe method is really what caused the boom in teleportation popularity.
With that in mind as the basis, the story itself is about Joel and his wife Sylvia. Besides instant teleportation, there are many other technological advances including food replicators and implanted communication devices. Joel is a salter, hacker, who makes apps including communication avatars more human by teaching them. Sylvia works for International Transport (IT), the company that created teleportation as a mode of transport and the device known as the punch escrow used for teleportation. Of course there opulent be much of a story unless the corporation had secrets and questionable hidden research in the works. Sylvia runs a covert research project at IT that leads to mayhem when she uses it out of desperation to save Joel. Due to it being a thriller, I’m not going to give much else away.
As far as the concept goes, I might have liked it more if the author didn’t invoke Star Trek at the beginning of the novel. Klein quotes Star Trek II: the wrath of Khan and because I’ve become a Trekkie recently (Thanks, Amazon Prime streaming!), the similarities popped even more. While the teleporters and food replicators come from Star Trek, Klein had his on twist and deeply engages with the plausible reality of teleportation in his own way. For me it was distracting at the start, comparing them, but maybe for some Trekkies they will love it even more because of it. That said, Klein ground the technology in hard science, giving a basis for its creation. However, for me, it got in the way of the flow of the story.
With most sci-if, new concepts and technology typically don’t get explained and if they do it’s very briefly. While I commend Klein for trying to justify his world with hard science, it breaks up the flow of the story. It’s is interspersed a little in the narrative as well as many lengthy footnotes in the first couple of chapters, then fewer footnotes as it progresses. In the other sci-if that I’ve read, though not extensive, either there’s a character who needs explaining to for the purposes of plot or there’s no real attempt to explain how the world and it’s technology work. Part of it is left to the imagination and the general how is conveyed in the text. By trying to include the how and why things work, the flow of the story is broken up and made it harder for me as a reader to fully engage. That makes the rest of it more difficult to enjoy, since it’s no longer just a story but a bit of a textbook. Also, on the flip side, later on there are no footnotes when I want and almost expected explanations. While for me it was a bit jarring, maybe other readers wouldn’t mind it or just skip them. However, there could have been others ways to educate the reader, such as a manual or overview of some sort either at the beginning or end. Joel is knowingly sharing his story with people from a different time so I think that would make sense.
Recommended?: For science fiction fans and anyone whose’s ever wondered how teleportation would actually work in everyday life. It’s a solid novel, with lots of action and suspense, although it’s quite technical at the beginning, and especially in the footnotes, during the set-up. If done right, it will make an awesome movie, too