Peter Clines’ The Fold – A Pulp Fantasy Thriller Devoid of Science

the foldThe Fold by Peter Clines
First Published on June 2, 2015
Paperback First Edition on March 1, 2016
Penguin Random House
Source: from publisher via Blogging for Books
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“Far out in the California desert, a team of DARPA scientists has invented a device they affectionately call the Albuquerque Door. Using a cryptic computer equation and magnetic fields to “fold” dimensions, it shrinks distances so that a traveler can travel hundreds of feet with a single step. The invention promises to make mankind’s dreams of teleportation a reality. And, the scientists insist, traveling through the Door is completely safe. Yet evidence is mounting that this miraculous machine isn’t quite what it seems—and that its creators are harboring a dangerous secret.  [And] it may only be a matter of time before the project destroys…everything.” Source: Penguin Random House

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Review

A man is born who is perhaps one of the most intelligent on the planet (if you believe in IQ scores and such quantitative measures of human worth). Yet he chooses to put this brilliance aside in order to live a ‘normal’ life as a mere English teacher. But then one day, this man is recruited by an old friend, now DARPA rep, to conduct an inspection of a field site in the desert where experiments are being conducted with some curious, mysterious effects.

The Fold has an excellent premise and may be a fun romp, depending on your disposition. If you’re in the mood for an inventive storyline topped with some action and sprinkled with blood, booze, and sex, this book will not disappoint. If, however, you are looking for an insightful exploration of scientific concepts, or for masterful writing that leaves you pondering or dreaming, turn the other direction, walk back until The Fold disappears from your horizons, and start looking again then.

First, I’ll admit that from the start, I didn’t like Clines’ tone. I  was quite annoyed at Clines’ uber-technocratic quantitative framework (i.e. the premise that “IQ tests” accurately measure human ‘intelligence’ and offer a method for ranking people against each other, in hierarchical fashion, thus proving our protagonist, Mike, as the best man of all).

  • From within this framework, even life-long scientists, experts in their field, are cowered and shown to be much less able to solve their own problems than a super-genius with a high IQ and eidetic memory.
  • Also, in this world, it’s a cop-out to choose to teach high-school English. Genius is better used solving the world’s ‘true’ problems (as Mike confirms when he quits his teaching position).
  • Finally, Clines offers many underhanded jibes at ‘government workers’ (i.e.: “Your integrity’s safe. Or as safe as it can be for any government employee”). The digs don’t even make too much sense, because they most often come from the scientists who are directly funded by the government, leaving one to wonder why these moments were inserted – perhaps, just to fill up space, because that seems to be the ethos of most dialogue in the book.

(Disclaimer: I’m a teacher, and therefore, a ‘government employee’, and I trained in math and engineering but I LOVE science and scientists…)

Essentially, I felt Clines mocked scientists (strange, for science-fiction) and science (of which naught was explained or even sketched in broad terms, though Clines offered an excuse for this glaring omission, relating to the stupidity of the scientists). And the language didn’t help: basically, all scientists had incredibly limited vocabularies, and did not seem to know or feel inclined to explain anything at all– fine, I may swallow that we can’t know about the tech and physics behind the device in question, but I can’t do this if I’m not convinced there is a foundation at least that the author is familiar with.

Discordant notes were struck not just by our researchers’ lack of scientific credibility; dialogue was often empty of meaning, and rarely served as a mirror into the relationships between the engaged individuals. Mostly, I found it antagonistic – everyone always telling everyone else to ‘fuck off’ or calling them some kind of put-down – basically, this book fully subscribes to the overdone thriller ‘meme’, where everyone is incessantly busy proving themselves while mad at the world and at everyone else. Meanwhile, the remainder of the writing felt like generic, empty-of-significance typical pulp without pretensions to profundity or deeper messaging.

Most disappointing of all, however, was the lack of science. I was truly intrigued by the premise (for which the book earns an additional heart above 1 from me). But I didn’t realize I’d be reading a fantasy thriller, in which the science is a matter of hand-waving and worse, misrepresenting scientists and science. An example: anytime the tech in question is mentioned, the underlying physics is described as “an equation” or as “pages of equations”… ex: “It works. The equations work. The math works. The Door opens…” – this is as much as we learn from Clines about the universe he is creating. My personal beef (math-teacher pet-peeve) with this is that math is not about equations and cannot be described in these terms; there are often equations involved, yes, but they are, 99.999% of the time, just tools, not the ideas/structures of mathematics themselves.

Overall, The Fold is a pulp fantasy thriller that might satisfy a lazy day in the sun (or a dreary one by a cozy fireplace), but without much depth–literary, scientific, or otherwise.

2 comments

  1. Exactly how I felt about it, right down to its status as “beach reading,” but then I reconsidered. I think it would tick me off even if I were on a beach.

    Liked by 1 person

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