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Book Review: The Fold by Peter Clines

By / March 17, 2016 / no comments

There is a lot of overlap between crime novels and science fiction. Both often depend on solving a mystery for their basic plot. The main difference is that in crime fiction the mystery tends to be epistemological (what is true? what do we know?) while in science fiction the mystery tends to be ontological (what is real? what is the nature of the world?) Even so, the process of laying out the mystery and reaching towards a solution is often very similar. And if you like mysteries, you’re going to love The Fold by Peter Clines.

The book starts with a really chilling prologue. A woman is alone at home, waiting for her husband who is due to return from a business trip of just a few days. She hears someone enter the house, but something is wrong; there aren’t the sounds she would expect, and when she calls he doesn’t answer. His bag is in the hall, his car is in the drive, but there’s no sign of him. She’s starting to be afraid: someone is in the house, but she doesn’t think its her husband. She hears footsteps in other rooms. She goes into the kitchen and gets a knife, then she hears steps upstairs where she knows their gun is kept. She’s close to panic now. Then her husband comes down the stairs. But he’s pointing the gun at her. “Who are you,” he says, “and where’s my wife?”

It’s a wonderful opening, terse, atmospheric, the sort of thing that keeps you reading just to find out what on earth is going on.

But for a long time what follows doesn’t seem to relate to the opening at all. We are introduced to our hero, Mike Erikson. We discover that Mike’s IQ is off the scale, and also that he has an eidetic memory, he can recall in perfect detail everything he has ever seen or read. The combination of his memory and his intelligence would make him an ideal government agent, but he prefers the relative anonymity of working as a schoolteacher in New England. Until his old school friend Reggie Magnus, who now heads up a government agency, gets him to do one very special job.

It turns out that a small group of high-powered DARPA scientists out near San Diego had been working on teleportation. When they realised this couldn’t be made to work, they switched tack and created a device called the Albuquerque Door which “folds” dimensions, so you step in at one place and out somewhere else entirely. The thing works, even Reggie has tried it, but the scientists aren’t satisfied, they keep testing it over and over, and they refuse to release any details of their research even to secure the additional funding they require. In addition, members of the team keep falling ill, and there’s a strange acerbic atmosphere that has developed between them. So Reggie wants Mike to go down there for a few weeks and try to find out what is going on.

And for the first half of the novel, that’s exactly what we get: Mike assembling clues that never quite add up. One thing is clear: there is a mystery here; but we don’t know what the mystery is.

The Albuquerque Door has been set up in two buildings some distance apart. Mike sees it in operation as one member of the team steps instantaneously from one building into the next. Another time, Mike and another team member toss a ball back and forth through the door from one building to the next. Everything seems in order, and yet, when tests were run automatically with no-one present the Door refused to open, when one person came through he started complaining that his office had been moved. Then one member of the team steps through the door and emerges dying from radiation burns and other injuries.

The mystery and its solution are fascinating: I guarantee they will keep anyone reading feverishly, anxious to find out what comes next. Unfortunately the solution comes about half way through the book, and after that the intrigue tails off. Clines tries to maintain the tension by introducing an escalating sequence of horrible threats, so what had been a quest for a solution suddenly turns into a rather less sophisticated battle for survival. It’s also notable that, having kept the viewpoint of the novel strictly through Mike’s eyes, about three-quarters of the way through he suddenly has to shift to other characters for brief but key scenes. All of which suggests to me that the rigorous planning that made the first half of the book so good wasn’t really carried over into the second half.

Even so, the impetus for the first half will keep you reading all the way through the second half, and it’s worth the effort. The Fold is really is a superb sf mystery.

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