Paradox Bound by Peter Clines

Paradox BoundParadox Bound

by Peter Clines

Hardcover, 369 pg.
Crown, 2017

Read: November 8 – 9, 2017


Sanders is a typical American small-town, so typical, I felt like I grew up there. Thankfully, unlike Sanders, the place I grew up in has moved on, Sanders has not. There’s still a Video Rental Store there, for crying out loud. Those who work with computers, or want to have much of an idea about contemporary pop culture, have to move away — or at least commute.

Eli Teague is just such a person — but before he commutes to his IT job from his apartment above the Video Rental Store, he grows up in a pretty typical way. With one exception: twice while growing up, he encounters a young woman dressed incredibly oddly while working on an old Ford Model A, which seems to be fueled by water. They spend a little time conversing each time — typically leaving Eli more confused than he’d have thought possible — then she drives off and disappears. This instills in him an obsession with historic cars, that spills over into American History in general.

As an adult, he encounters her again and inadvertently puts her in danger. He abandons everything he knows in an effort to save her from this and ends up joining her on a hunt through history. Harry (this mysterious woman) travels through history — she’s not a time traveler, she’ll be quick to point out, she travels in history. She’s not crazy about bringing Eli along with her, but literally has almost no choice in the matter.

Harry . . . she’s a great character, and I would’ve appreciated a lot more focus on her, and getting to see much more of her past. Maybe not getting to actually helps, because it makes the reader more curious about her — but I’d still have rather had a better look at her life before Eli became a regular part of it. She’s tough, loyal, cunning — but no superhero, just a strong person.

Short of spoiling the whole thing, this is one of those I have to be very vague about the details, but then why should you read it? I’ll leave it to you to read the book to get more about the hunt they’re on, but I’ll just say that it’s a great idea, a wonderful concept. The other hunters (and allies) we meet are interesting, but man, I’d love more of all of them — there’s some great historical cameos, too. Naturally, we need an opposing force to make things more tense — and we have one of the creepiest around in these pages. They’re not evil, not corrupt, not anything but driven (and with a skewed way of looking at things).

There’s a nostalgic, hopeful tone throughout — despite the sharp critique of the stats quo in America. There’s an evident wit behind the words, too, but this isn’t what you’d call a funny novel. I do think that Clines and I would differ a bit on some of the ways he interprets parts of the national character/psyche, but I can appreciate what he was going for (that’s one of those things that’ll make more sense after you read the book). The characters — whether we like them or not — are very human, very relatable, and pretty sympathetic. Clines has again taken some tropes, concepts, ideas that we’re familiar with — some we know very well, but skewing them just a hair and resulting in something we haven’t sen before.

I expected this to be a pretty good read after The Fold a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t expecting something as fresh feeling as this (but with the skill of someone who’s written a few novels). There’s a dash of civics lessons, some cultural commentary, and a lot of hope — things you don’t always get in light(ish) SF. I “bought into” this book much more quickly than I did The Fold, I’m not sure if that’s because Clines earned my trust in the previous book, or if there’s something more accessible about this one — either way, it’s something for the “Plus” column.

Give this one a whirl — you’ll be glad you did.

2017 Library Love Challenge

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4 Stars

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The Fold by Peter Clines

Sigh. Vacation took more out of me than I thought, it took me far too long to get this written. I really hoped that I could get caught up this week. Oh well…

The FoldThe Fold

by Peter Clines

Hardcover, 372 pg.
Crown, 2015
Read: June 4 – 5, 2015
If you’ve ever wanted an episode of Fringe with more contemporary pop-culture references and a more obvious sense of humor — yet with all the mind-bendy science and disturbing images, this just might be the book for you.

Reggie Magnus is in a bind — he’s some muckety-muck in DARPA and a secret project he’s been funding to develop teleportation has diverged a bit from its original design and started generating unbelievable results. At the same time . . . he knows something’s just not right out there at the development facility — he has no idea what’s wrong, but he knows something is. What’s a guy to do? Well, considering that he’s spent billions (yup, with a “b”) on this project, he needs to make sure he delivers something. Thankfully, Reggie’s got a genius friend with a few months free to send out to California, see what’s going on — hopefully fix the problem and help Reggie to justify the budget for this program.

Enter Mike (Leland Erikson, actually, but he answers to Mike — long story). He is a genius, with a photographic memory (a frighteningly detailed one), a curious streak a mile wide, and….three months off to do this since he’s a High School English teacher just done for the summer. So, he goes to California, meets some legendary scientists (and a few others no one has head of), and then excitement ensures.

While I was reading the second chapter, I scrawled the note: “The tonal shift between chaps 1 & 2 was enough to give me Whiplash (and I’m talking the kind where J K Simmons slaps you repeatedly, not the kind you get a TV lawyer to help with). Think it bodes well for the book.” And it did. After the jarring sensation between the first two chapters (think of the typical NCIS/Bones/etc. type opening wherein someone going about their routine, daily life stumbles on to a body before we join our heroes bantering around the office), things calmed down. The plot unwinds at a good pace — building up a good head of steam until everything goes cuckoo bananas. Eventually, all the pieces come together — but the explanation doesn’t end things, it only sets up a action-packed, mind-scrambling conclusion.

Like Mike, we get a nice orientation to the research facility and its team. Most come thi-i-i-i-s close to being right out of Central Casting, but Clines tweaks them just enough to keep them from being a frightening cliché. Ditto for Reggie, actually. This is not to say that Clines spends all that much time fully developing these characters — he comes close with Dr. Arthur Cross and Jamie Parker.

Jamie’s your basic attractive blond with severe emotional issues, when she’s not being a ultra-professional uber-computer scientist, that is. Dr. Cross is the 4th most popular scientist in the world — behind Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking and Bill Nye. He writes books for popular audiences and heads up research projects like this one (to over-do the Fringe comparisons, he’s William Bell). When he’s not being dark and mysterious, he’s the kind of scientist you want to learn from, dropping lines like: “Almost any concept or idea in the world can be expressed through comparison with a classic Warner Bros. cartoon,” and then goes on to demonstrate just that.

Actually, it may not be character development. Those two might be the characters we spend the most time with. This sounds like a criticism, but it’s not really. It’s not that type of book, all it requires are characters to move the plot along, not people you get too invested in.

Now, Mike is another story, he’s fully fleshed out. He is sort of a Robert Langdon type character — brilliant, in the right place at the right time, driven, and courageous enough to jump into danger, yada yada yada. — but with one significant difference: I liked Mike from the moment I met him, and I never, not for one sentence (over two books) liked Langdon. He’s charming, down-to-earth (in his own way), and is desperate just to be a regular guy. It’s hard not to respond to that.

It’s an engaging story, told well, filled with likeable characters doing out-of-this-world things. Solid SF work. Give this one a shot.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the nice folks over at Blogging for Books for this review. Not sure they got their money’s worth, but I came out pretty good on the deal.

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4 Stars