The very idea of teleportation is, in Tal M. Klein’s The Punch Escrow, a clever bit of misdirection. We’ve seen it in fiction so many times, so many places. We’ve seen it go wrong almost as often as it’s gone right, yet we’re quite comfortable in a future where it’s commonplace. Our narrator, Joel Byram, has a sweet, smart, snarky voice that’s fun to read. In 2147, the world looks pretty good, even without the Mona Lisa, lost in an excitingly-described teleportation accident.
Uh oh. Between the dark shadings in Joel’s voice, it’s easy to guess something is going to go wrong. The clever bit is that the first things to be proved wrong are our assumptions about teleportation. As Joel points out, it’s an incredibly violent proposition. To be sure, it seems to be almost pristine. But, down and dirty, it involves annihilating your body as it is converted into data that is transmitted to another point where a new copy of your body is (hopefully) rebuilt. Viewed this way, what we take in the SF genre to be a straightforward process is really quite fraught with the potential for errors.
It doesn’t take long for things to go wrong, in spite of the titular protocol that essentially performs a checksum to verify a good copy. Fortunately for Joel, his fiancé is a maths genius who works for International Transport. Alas, that may prove to be problematic as well. Joel is no genius himself. He’s a “salter,” who earns his living by using his wits to come up with arbitrary arguments he aims at any available AI, with the intent of improving its wits. For a certain personality type, it’s the ultimate job: he’s a professional smart-ass, paid by the snark. Where snark meets Big Teleportation, danger and thus entertainment, follows.
The Punch Escrow is punctuated by engaging footnotes that offer selected and well-written dollops of the hard science behind Klein’s solid world-building. It’s refreshing to find science fiction with actual science in it, made more so by Klein’s super-fun prose voice. The pulse-pounding plot elements lock into place nicely, and readers are in for a wildly cinematic ride even as they are enjoying the world-reveal. Klein offers some amazingly resonant emotional notes for his well-crafted characters, more often than not keyed into the science of the story itself. It’s not surprising that the book is already in production. For readers, the best news is that it hardly matters whether or not it ever makes it to the actual big screen. It plays like one as you read it, but offers enough details that it begs to be re-read upon completion.
For all the newfangled aspects of The Punch Escrow, perhaps the most pleasing aspect is very old-fangled, which is to say that this feels like a classic science fiction novel. It has the science, the thrills and the satiric humor that mark some of the best work of the previous century, without any sense of being deliberately “retro.” The Punch Escrow does what the best SF is supposed to do; it transports you to a future that feels real, with smart science and an equally smart sense of story. Your encounter with teleportation manages to teleport you with no technology involved.
Tal. M. Klein told me a great story about how his book came to be. It is absolutely not what you think it might be, and it was just the beginning of a conversation that was as engaging and surprising as the book behind it. As you might expect, he’s pretty stoked about the whole movie aspect, and as you might also expect, he’s got more than a grain of salt ready for the actual completion. You can hear our lightning round interview by following this link to get the flyover view, or listen below.
When you’re ready for the high-science version with grace notes about footnotes, follow this link to download the file, or listen below!