THE FOLD by Peter Clines

In The Fold, scientists have discovered an instantaneous way to get from point A to point B.  Say you put a dot on one corner of a piece of paper, and a dot on the other diagonal corner.  So using an 8-1/2″ piece of paper, the distance from  point A to point B is about 13″, (depending on the exact location of your dots).  Now….. and here comes the beauty part ….. take one dot, fold the paper so that it lies directly on top of the other dot.  Now the distance between them?  Almost zippity do dah.   Think of physical space for us humans.  If you could create a fold in the space time fabric, you get the same effect.

These scientists have done just this, with their working prototype  consisting of two portals—- two sets of rings quite far apart in an old military base.  It is so cool.  You can stand in front of one set, have a colleague stand in front of the other set of rings at the other distant location and toss a baseball back and forth.  You can walk through the rings, and your next step is in the other location.

Teleportation, except that it does nothing to the physical body.  Does not disturb the molecules or atoms of the body.  Unlike other teleportation ideas, the physical object is not broken down and reassembled at the other point, which gives you those possibilities for oopsies like in The Fly.

However, after a couple of years of trials, all of which went off without a hitch, after one visiting staffer crosses, he goes home to find his house different, and a different women posing as his wife.  But really no.  He just perceived it this way.  He had apparently gone mad.   But the scientific team did not count this as a failure of the crossing, but simply as who knows what, because all of them had made the crossing numerous times, one guy 137 times, with no adverse affects.

The government guy in charge of the budget money for the project has a hinky feeling about it, though.  After he visited the project, he felt there were a lot of secrets that the scientists were not sharing with him, and he convinces his long time friend from childhood to take on the job of visiting the site and observing and giving a report on his own opinions.  His friend, Mike, the protagonist of the piece, has eidetic memory and an off-the-charts IQ.  But he discovered in school that he was different and shunned, and began to make himself seem more ‘normal’, and now works as a high school lit teacher in a small town in Maine.

So he takes what almost amounts to super powers of observation and memory to the site in California, and he, too, feels there is something amiss.

I loved this book up until about two thirds into it, when it brought in monsters.  Yeah, right?  It seems that the head scientist had an old old book by some guy who had mathematical formulas for teleportation, and the team used them and were surprised they worked, but not in the way they expected.  Turns out that the equations created a quantum something, and when an object went through the portal, it was not the SAME object that appeared on the other side, but that same object from a different universe.  So the person who went through was not the same person who appeared. Hence, the crazy guy.  He was not crazy, just a different guy from a different universe who arrived on the other side.  Also this activity opened these portals to other worlds or other universes.  And that began to let the monsters in.

Oh sigh.  Why does it always have to be monsters?  Why doesn’t this stuff allow good creatures and love and beauty through the portals?  So, anyhoo, I lost interest when we got to the monsters, but stuck it out to the bitter end.  Other than the monsters, it was a great book, and I am only pissing and moaning because I am not a guy and am not much into monsters, battles, darkness, but I AM into clever ideas about quantum stuff, and multiverses and mysterious scientific projects.

Clines writes some great stuff.  He has a series about ex-heroes, which does not interest me but which has gotten a lot of praise, and he wrote 14, a book about a strange apartment house, which I absolutely loved, and talked about here.   I really admire authors who have unusual ideas and write well.  I may not have to really  like the ideas, but I do admire the creativity.

I am calling this a sci fi work, but really, it could fall into a number of different genres.

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IN THE DARKNESS THAT’S WHERE I’LL KNOW YOU by Luke Smitherd

“There are hangovers, there are bad hangovers, and then there’s waking up inside someone else’s head. Thirty-something bartender Charlie Wilkes is faced with this exact dilemma when he wakes to find finds himself trapped inside The Black Room; a space consisting of impenetrable darkness and a huge, ethereal screen floating in its center. It is through this screen that he sees the world of his female host, Minnie.

How did he get there? What has happened to his life? And how can he exist inside the mind of a troubled, fragile, but beautiful woman with secrets of her own? Uncertain whether he’s even real or if he is just a figment of his host’s imagination, Charlie must enlist Minnie’s help if he is to find a way out of The Black Room, a place where even the light of the screen goes out every time Minnie closes her eyes…”

This was one freaking weird book.  Well, no, not the book, but the idea.  A guy wakes up to find himself in a black space, which he eventually decides is the mind of a woman he has never met.

OK, I am trying to figure out how to describe more of the plot.  Just let me say it involves some kind of regressive action, him being him being him being him and her and different lives or worlds or …. I give up.

It was great for about half the book, then got just a little too too, and then ended definitely too too.  Maybe I am grousing because I didn’t fully follow it, fully understand it.  I am a simple peasant after all.

It kind of defies genre.  That’s what I like about a lot of the new works — they are not specifically romance, or mystery, or sci fi, etc.  this was originally written in four parts, then eventually put together in one volume and issued as a single book.  The writing was good, and the idea definitely something really different.

I read his Physics of the Dead  quite some time ago,and loved it.  You can see what I said about it here.  What I said about it was a whole lot more than what I have said about this offering, because, well, because waking up inside someone else’s head where the walls seem to be the physical mind of the person, and there are multiple universes is hard to have a conversation about, wouldn’t you say?

Side note:  Doesn’t ‘universe’ mean one verse?  As in uni being the prefix for single, or one?  So therefore, I should be saying ‘there are multiverses’, not ‘there are multiple universes’.  Food for thought, as if waking up in someone else’s mind isn’t enough food for thought for one post.

 

TERM LIFE by William H. Boyd

The official plot description:  ”

Gus Bishop lives in a trendy downtown Austin condo. He works in computer security for a high tech Austin tech company and drives a high performance car. Yet, something is missing. Every woman he wants eludes him, and his company is under the threat of being hacked. But after an internet search, Gus meets a strange man who represents a unique insurance company.

Through big data analysis and some computer hacking of its own, this company insures its clients not from death but from a life that is no longer worth living. When Gus buys the policy, he must come to terms with his greatest fears and failures.”

Gus is a geek, overweight, single, uncomfortable around women, but really good at his internet security job.  He has made enough to buy a condo in downtown Austin (Texas, that is.  The Great State Of), and a fancy sports car, an Arbarth, (which I never heard of).   One of his coworkers talks about having a bucket list, and Gus realizes he does not have one.  Is it because he has done everything there is to do?  Or there is nothing he wants to do?  Or that nothing is worth the bother of doing?

This kicks off a book-length musing on the value of life in general, the perceived value of oneself and one’s own life, questions about death and dying when one wants to, perhaps when one is at the top of one’s game before the downward slide.

Gus is talked into taking a strenous and actually dangerous guided tour of the difficult cave system in an Austin Park, where he faces his fears and wins, and as a bonus, meets a sweet gal who is a former vampire, (and how often does something like that happen, eh?), and now he can say he had an item on his bucket list and checked it off.  Now he needs more items.

He meets a strange man, an insurance salesman, who offers a different kind of policy, an ensurance policy, which would ensure that he would die at the optimum time.  This would give a person peace of mind to know they would not suffer, like his father did, of a long, drawn out painful illness.   He meets with the guy several times, and after a lot of philosophical conversations, agrees to but the policy.

As part of his work as a computer security guy, there is a whole story and lots of information on computer security, digital radio, most of which I didn’t know and found terribly fascinating.  There is a concurrent thread running about security hacks on his company, his clever method of locating the source of the attacks, and the importance of knowing who your friends are.

Geekdom, computer info, an inquiry into relationships and their value — gee, what’s not to like.

Arbarth Sports Car

DAUGHTERS OF BABYLON by Elaine Stirling

Well, this was fun.   A little bit history, (Eleanor of Aquitaine), a little bit woo woo (Mexican brujas [witches or shamans],  a little bit paranormal (appearances of djinns), and a little bit of confusion on my part (because sometimes all the spark plugs are not firing properly).

Silvina Kestral agrees to clear out the house of an eccentric dead actress amidst the ruins of a medieval priory in the French Pyrenees where she comes across references to the Daughters of Babylon, and comes across a tall dark stranger in the attic.  A Mexican cane cutter with a party of witches and a sense of rhyme,  a 19-year-old, badly married queen named Eleanor of Aquitaine, and a modern day poet, feature prominently.

It’s all about poetry, portals to other dimensions, (I think).  The blurb says “Literary historical mysteries, split timeline puzzle mysteries, magical realism mystery: whatever term you choose to label them, the ability of these genre-blending books to trap the reader in a labyrinth of intrigue and wonder.”  Yep.  I was intrigued, all right.

More blurb:  “Crusader battles in the Holy Land, painful love affairs and courtly romance, a remote French community not far from Carcassonne where events in the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine still resonate powerfully today: some of the ingredients of Daughters of Babylon might appear familiar at first. But spiced with Gabo-style Mesoamerican magical realism courtesy of the Mexican nagual and his witches, … we begin to learn from the understanding of cyclical deep time known to the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans, and we see that at some level these times are not separated at all. The links between these times have been induced for a noble purpose; they are not coincidences, nor contrived ‘leakage’ across time due to a dramatic event. This book describes a maniobra, a magical deep time maneuver of extraordinary complexity.”

Enjoyable  story, with a soupçon of implausibility if you are of a pragmatic turn of mind, but I think if we call it fabulism, we can get comfortable with the whole idea.

 

 

 

WAY STATION by Clifford D. Simak

A 1963 sci fi novel about ALIENS!   Yea, aliens. I love sci fi that has aliens in it.  A lovely, almost gentle story about a Civil War soldier who is approached by a representative of an alien culture to use his rural farmhouse as a way station for alien travelers.  It seems that galactically speaking, folks have been touristing and sightseeing around the galaxy by some nifty form of teleportation, and in order to reach the farther areas, the system needs booster stations.

Enoch Wallace agrees, (well, fudge, wouldn’t you?), and the aliens transform his home into a way station, the same on the outside, but totally transformed inside.  While in the building, Enoch does not age.  He only ages when he goes outside.  He does not farm, nor have any animal stock, and goes out once a day to collect the mail and pass a few words with his friend the mail carrier.  Of course, as the townspeople age and die, Enoch remains the same age, but somehow in this pastoral community, it is just accepted, and life goes on.

Enoch is constantly receiving visitors inside from the galaxy, strange and most of them not at all human like.  They stay a day or so and often bring him gifts, bizarre  objects whose meaning usually eludes him.  He keeps them in a storage area in the now almost limitless basement.

It is now a hundred years since the way station was established.  Enoch has been keeping a map or timeline or analysis based on an alien mathematical system of how close the earth may be to another war.  He predicted the two World Wars, and now it seems the earth is moving toward a final, totally destructive war which will annihilate humanity.

The book uses this premise to examine the idea of cooperation, war, the tendency of sentient beings everywhere to  be combative and at odds with each other.  The seemingly mutually cooperative galaxy civilizations are now starting to have problems and the traveling system is in jeopardy of  being dismantled, at least this branch of it, and the way station being closed down.

Other than a  transportation system that obviously kills the transportee and assembles a duplicate at the end point, which surely is an example of spooky action at a distance, hahaha, the futuristic technology is fun, the aliens are great, and ya gotta love gadgets that do stuff that is totally meaningless to the recipient.  Yeah, kind of like me and a smart phone.  I can totally relate.

 

MY BRILLIAN CAREER by Miles Franklin

Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin was born in 1879 in rural Australia. My Brilliant Career, her first novel, was published to much excitement and acclaim. She moved to Sydney where she became involved in feminist and literary circles and then onto the USA in 1907.  She used Miles Franklin as her pen name because she felt she would have a better chance of getting her work published.

My Brilliant Career is the story of Sybylla, a headstrong young girl growing up in late 1800/early 20th century Australia. Sybylla rejects the opportunity to marry a wealthy young man in order to maintain her independence. As a consequence she must take a job as a governess to a local family to which her father is indebted.

It is written as though an autobiography, and may possibly be partially so.  It gives us a fascinating look into turn of the (last) century outback Australia, the mores, customs and daily life then.  Sybylla’s family is well off, her father a clever horse breeder and trader, the owner of several large spreads, and they lived happily on a remote farm. but after having gotten the notion into his head that he could do even better if they lived near a large town, he moved his family off Sybylla’s girlhood home to a place that suffered drought after drought, his fortunes failed, he became penurious and a drunkard.

Sybylla is a feisty soul, and a torment to her mother.  Her grandmother writes to say they could use some help back at the old place and sends for Sybylla, where she is once again happy.  But eventually her mother writes to say the father is at the bottom of his affairs, and had borrowed money from an old childhood friend and could not even pay the interest, but the friend said if Sybylla came as a governess to his home for his kids, they would call the debt squared.

Sybylla goes very unwillingly to this family, also in a remote area, to find them a squalid, dirty, ignorant and uneducated bunch.  The filth, and squalor absolutely destroy her, and she falls desperately ill, at which point she is sent back home, much to her relief.

During this time, she has the opportunity to marry a wealthy, handsome neighbor of her family’s old farm, but turns him down because she does not love him.  She is determined never to marry, but to be an independent person, but nevertheless, although she achieves this independence, she is not really happy, and talks about how her dreams have become nothing but daily drudgework.  She sarcastically refers often to her ‘brilliant career’ as a writer having melted into obscurity.

I loved the book for its window into that 1900 world of Australia.

THE SONG OF THE MOCKINGBIRD by Bill Cronin

A story of a blocked writer who after some sessions with his long-term therapist, believes that his troubles all stem from a secret kept by his mother and father, of a half-sister he never knew he had until his teens, when she called his mother asking for help and to live with them.

He has been a successful writer, with 25 books to his credit, but has fallen into a depression of such magnitude that he can’t write, and has alienated his long-suffering wife to the point where she moves out and files for divorce, his agent and publisher are threatening legal action if he doesn’t finish the second of a trilogy for which he has already been paid over a million dollars in an advance, and the only reason he didn’t kill him self with a gun where he pulled over on the highway was because a police officer interrupted him.

His mother died many years ago of cancer, he hasn’t seen or heard from his half-sister in 17 years,  and his father is an asshat of the first water, having always denigrated his writing and saying that writing would make him crazy.

So he goes on a quest to learn the family secret by finding the one still living sister of his mother, and locating his half-sister.

Not a bad story, not terribly original, but definitely well told.  There is a second in what is apparently  a series in what is called the Jack McNamara Chronicles, the next one about another sister of his mother.