Monday, August 24, 2015

Interstellar Origami

They always make it sound so easy to fold space.  Remember in A Wrinkle in Time, when they're explaining what a tesseract is and how you just create a fold in space, and at one point (spoiler? maybe? seriously, have you not read that?) they need to escape, and Calvin just says to Meg's dad, "Tesser, sir!" and he does?  (And also, how that sounds so silly if you say it out loud?)

But the point is, it's not that the idea of a tesseract or wormhole is too much to comprehend--it makes perfect sense, really.  It's the idea of doing this, of humans bending space--where do you grab the edges to start twisting?

In Peter Cline's The Fold, the answer is apparently a supercomputer and Science!

Mike, our hero, is a humble high school English teacher.  That's what he's chosen to be, because he realized a long time ago that his other options--which involve using his superintelligence to its fullest--had plenty of downsides.  So his perfect memory, his ability to sort and think and make leaps of logic faster than anyone else, is something he keeps tucked away.

Until an old friend who works for DARPA comes to offer him a summer job.  A really intriguing job, evaluating a scientific project that's shrouded in so much secrecy that even its funders can't get near the information.  Mike's job is to go in and figure out why this "finished" project requires more testing, and why the team has been acting kind of odd.

As with any thriller about the twisting of space and time, it doesn't pay to look too closely at the Science!, but that's to be expected in a story about instantaneous travel. I'll say here that it also doesn't pay to look too closely at how the scientists are doing their jobs, because if you want to talk about how funding works, or how experimental trials, the scientific method, or even industrial risk-assessment work, all these are also played fast and loose here.  The team is doing a lot of hand-waving, which is why Mike is sent in, but even after cracking down, the author still lets them get away with batting away some concerns like kitchen moths.

The pleasure in this book--and it is a pleasure, though maybe a bit of a guilty one--is watching Mike's mind work.  Seeing him ask questions, put together tiny clues, create massive charts in his head, and try to seem like a normal guy--try to BE a normal guy--through the whole thing is the fun part.  And if the character development is a bit flat, you're kept plenty curious to make up for it.

This is apparently Clines's second book set in this world, though the first, 14, appears to be an entirely separate story.  I actually have a copy of that from Netgalley from ages ago, but I hadn't read it yet; I picked it right up after this one, which is super embarrassing and also super satisfying--I wanted another one of these right after I finished, and there it was!

I will say, though, that as much as I'm enjoying 14, I miss Mike.  I miss watching his brain work, and I hope that if Clines does more in this world, it follows him further.  Can I call a violent thriller with  hints of Lovecraftian dreams a romp?  Because you know--this was. 

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