The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

 

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. KleinScience fiction is often hailed (and sometimes derided) for the miraculous-seeming technologies that drive stories. Characters can communicate at the speed of thought and traverse great distances with minimal inconvenience, and readers for the most part accept this as a narrative device. The Punch Escrow, Klein’s debut novel, is a thriller that challenges this trope by telling a gripping story about the pitfalls of taking such technologies for granted.

It is 2147, and 50 years after the end of “The Last War,” humanity finds itself in a relatively good state thanks to technological advances. Necessary items can be assembled from stray matter. Mosquitos have been genetically modified to drink pollution instead of blood. And teleportation (think Star Trek’s transporters) has become a reality. Overseen by the monolithic International Transport (IT) Corporation and utilizing their patented “Punch Escrow” technology, getting from one part of the world to another is as easy as riding the subway.

Joel Byram, a freelance computer programmer and a bit of a smart aleck, lives with his physicist wife Sylvia in New York. In an attempt to rekindle romance in their strained marriage, they plan a tenth anniversary vacation in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, just as Joel is about to teleport from the Greenwich station to meet Sylvia, a bomb is detonated, damaging the facility. Joel leaves the station seemingly unharmed, but learns that technical meddling has resulted in a perfect duplicate of him arriving to meet his wife. Furthermore, Joel’s full legal rights have been given to the duplicate, whom Joel designates as “Joel2.” The result is that the original Joel (Joel1 ) now is considered old data that needs to be “cleared.” But Joel1 isn’t ready to be cleared. He wants to live, and he wants to see his wife again.

All this happens before the book is half over, and this is not a long book, which gives you some idea of how fast-paced this story is, yet it avoids being confusing due to Klein’s deft explanations. It’s definitely a book to read if you like a healthy dose of thought experiment in your fiction, but still crave a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Like Andy Weir’s The Martian, The Punch Escrow offers plenty of science, story, and humor (not necessarily in that order). 

 
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