“Almost any concept or idea in the world can be expressed through comparison with a classic Warner Bros. cartoon.”
“Even the Albuquerque Door?”
You know what a wormhole is, right?
You know what I’m talking about. It’s the scene in certain sci-fi stories when a character takes a piece of paper and a pencil, and draws Point A and Point B, then asks some unsuspecting noob to figure out the shortest distance between the two points. Is it a linear route? Nope. In the next scene, the physicist/ship captain/science officer/what-have-you presses the paper in half and shows that the fastest way between two points is to fold, or otherwise manipulate, the space between them.
Such is the simple underlying premise of many a sci-fi adventure’s horrific demise—and such is the premise underlying The Fold.
Welcome to San Diego, California, home to Comic Con, delicious food, and the greatest scientific breakthrough in the history of humankind. Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a small team of scientists has found the solution to teleportation and unlocked the secrets of travel across any fathomable distance. By folding the fabric of space itself across dimensions, the team has created what they call the Albuquerque Door—a reference to an old Bugs Bunny cartoon—which operates as a portal between the two rings at site A and the corresponding two rings at site B. Turn on the supercomputer, power up the electromagnetic field, and BAM! The applications of the Albuquerque Door are myriad, and DARPA is eager to get the tech finalized and approved for implementation…but there’s just one small problem. The t scientists in California are neurotically secretive about their discovery, and refuse to turn over any of the science until it is absolutely perfect (or so they say).
Enter Leland “Mike” Erikson, an unassuming, normal-seeming high school English teacher who happens to look a lot like a skinny Severus Snape. Mike’s mild-mannered exterior hides a powerful intellect—with an IQ that’s off the charts and an eidetic memory, Mike has been recruited by his old college friend and high ranking DARPA official to use his formidable skills to suss out the situation.
Because while everyone claims the Albuquerque Door is perfectly safe, something’s not quite right—and Mike has to figure out the mystery before that wrongness destroys and consumes everything.
The Fold is the newest novel from Peter Clines, boasting a wicked premise, a twisty, gripping plot, and interdimensional shenanigans. The idea behind the Albuquerque Door isn’t anything new; similarly, the underlying implication that Science is Bad and that these DARPA researchers have Gone Too Far and unlocked some horrible thing from dimensions beyond has been done before. But that doesn’t mean The Fold is tired or trite; in fact, it’s awesome because it brashly wields these tropes and builds tension in a way that would make Michael Crichton proud. The Albuquerque Door promises to revolutionize almost every sector of human infrastructure, from transportation to energy technology—except that something has gone horribly wrong and the door doesn’t quite operate in the controlled Stargate-esque way that DARPA hopes. Some characters walk through the door and return just fine (though they perceive of something being just a little bit off when they walk through the portal), whereas others aren’t so fortunate—there’s the man that returns and doesn’t recognize his wife, or the unfortunate researcher who returns as a kind of wasteland zombie, complete with radiation burns and an unfathomable amount of internal cancers. Then there’s the problem that the door starts to become unstable, and the issue of the seven-legged green roaches that appear from nowhere….
The key to solving the riddle of the Door rests on Mike Erikson’s skinny shoulders—and so far as heroes go, he’s not bad at all. Clines has a deft hand for plot and storytelling, but the characters tend toward the more bland (but not unpleasant) archetypes: Mike is the reluctant genius who tightly controls his superhuman memory because once he unleashes the ants in his brain (that’s how he visualizes the information in his head being processed, through swarms of red and black ants), there’s no turning back. Mike’s character arc is that of intentionally stunted potential—he’s Mycroft Holmes, refusing to use his intellect because he wants to be normal; so far as dramatic character arcs go, Mike’s internal struggles aren’t exactly compelling—you’re eager for him to just unleash the ants and go for it already. There’s a romantic subplot involving one of the scientists that is pleasant overall (if bland and basically superfluous), meanwhile the rest of the characters are generally recognizable walking and talking archetypes, from the pretty-but-prickly programmer, to the kindly John Hammond–type scientist (complete with cane), the curmudgeonly brilliant scientist (complete with snarling insults), the perky and nerdy receptionist, and so on.
But, one could argue, you don’t step through the Alburquerque Door for the characterizations—you do it for the mystery and the thrill of it. I haven’t been this entertained by a sci-fi thriller since Patrick Lee’s underrated and phenomenal Breach trilogy; I will be glomming through Clines’ backlist very soon.
The Fold is all kinds of fun, and perfect for end-of-summer reading. Trust me: close your eyes, and walk through the Albuquerque Door for a good time. Just…be careful of the green roaches and monsters on the other side.
In Book Smugglerish: 7 alien-dimensioned green cockroaches out of 10.