Book review: The Fold

The FoldThe Fold by Peter Clines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d probably average the rating of The Fold to 3.5 stars if I could. Overall it tracks closer to 4, but parts of it bring it down a bit.

This is another “opening a portal to other dimensions maybe isn’t a good idea” story and I’m a sucker for them. The Fold is a quick, snarky romp filled with grouchy scientists, weird cockroaches and quantum donuts.

Anyone looking for a lot of hard science to chew on may be disappointed. The science, such as it is, is deliberately vague, even goofy. The main character is a high school teacher, not a scientist, albeit one with a genius-level IQ and eidetic memory (like photographic memory, but covering all senses, not just sight). Mike Erikson catalogues everything he experiences through metaphorical red and black ants that carry information back and forth, allowing him to essentially treat his mind as a computer with near limitless storage. This comes in incredibly handy as the story unfolds (no pun intended), though Erikson points out the downside to one of the scientists, namely that every horrible thing he witnesses also stays with him as vividly as if just happened.

Erikson is hired by a government friend to check out a secretive government-funded project working on a way to fold space and allow for instant travel over vast distances. Located outside San Diego, the small team of DARPA scientists working on what they call The Albuquerque Door treat Erikson as an interloper, though he assures them he is an impartial observer who would like to see them succeed. They assure him that The Door is very safe.

But things go wrong. Then they go very horribly wrong. Part of the fun in the second half of the novel comes from watching the team grapple with events spiraling out of their control and seeing how they react and adjust (or at least valiantly try to). Without getting into blatant spoilers, the story eventually heads off in a direction that feels more like fantasy, with the science feeling more like magic. It’s a little weird.

The banter between the characters is snappy and the pace never flags. There are no real subplots or distractions from the main event, so it’s an easy read to plow through.

Oddly, perhaps more than any book I’ve read in years, I kept imagining specific actors as the characters. The head of the project, a man named Arthur, brought to mind Morgan Freeman so vividly that I would confidently place a bet on Freeman playing the role in a movie adaptation. Or at least the casting director trying to nab him for the part.

Likewise, the engineer Sasha I saw as Sarah Douglas circa Superman II (1981). I’m not even sure why. The weirdest was probably the inevitable (and, IMO, unnecessary) romantic interest of Jamie, who made me think of Pam from the TV series Archer. Yes, she reminded me of a cartoon character.

The Fold is far from perfect, but the whole thing rolls along so smoothly it’s hard to get upset by what amounts to quibbles. As with most alternate dimension stories, it’s never too wise to spend a lot of time examining the plot, lest you find holes you could squeeze a mirror Earth through.

If you like these kinds of stories and you’re not fussed with the science being a bit flimsy, you’ll find The Fold well worth the ride.

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