The Fold, by Peter Clines

I listened to this sci fi thriller recently, and while the premise was promising at the start, in the end it ended up being more frustrating and annoying than enjoyable for me.

Our story starts with the protagonist, Mike Ericson, highschool teacher, getting a request from his old friend at DARPA to do a special top secret task. Why would a highschool teacher be needed for this, you ask? Well, it turns out Mike has an eidedic memory, meaning (in the novel, anyway, this has never been demonstrated in real life) that he can recall anything he’s ever seen or read with perfect clarity. Why is someone with this super-power like ability working as a highschool teacher? Because he’s a Mary Sue. More on this later.

Mike’s friend Reggie has been trying to get him to work for him for a decade, but due to Mike’s Mary Sue-ness, he refuses to take any job or do anything with his powers. This time though, he agrees to take a look at the project, because Reggie’s level of secrecy intrigues him. His job is to investigate the ‘project’, whatever it is, and use his super mental abilities to decide of its worth continuing to fund the project.

When he gets to the meeting they’re having, he finds out that the project is run by a group of scientists who are trying to teleport matter. And here is where I first knew I was in for trouble.

The scientists go on to describe their many failed attempts at teleporting matter, leading to the eye-rolling of our protagonist and him whispering things to Reggie like (paraphrasing) “You brought me here for teleportation? Of course it failed, are you an idiot?” This sounds like a reasonable way to react. Except.

The teleporter didn’t fail.

This is what the scientists considered failure: They teleported some test blocks, which dissintigrated to dust immediatly after coming out the other side. They also teleported a dog, which came out the other end inside-out and dead.

Yes, you read that right. They successfully teleported matter, and consider it a failure worth abandoning the project over. As does every government, business, or military entity in this meeting.


I actually had to go back and re-listen to that part before writing this to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding something. But nope, it’s right there. The team of scientists seeking funding for their project SUCCESSFULLY TELEPORTED MATTER THREE SEPARATE TIMES AND CONSIDER THIS A FAILURE AS DOES EVERYONE IN THE ROOM.

Can you imagine what world these people live in where they are not instantly having money shoveled toward them? Where the government isn’t locking down everything until the technology is perfected? Who cares if the matter ‘crumbles to dust’? If you can actually teleport instantly even one atom, you’ve just invented instantaneous communication.

Anyway, the scientists describe how they’ve moved on to another project, where instead of teleporting, they make a portal through space-time between two locations. A door that can be stepped through. They use the tired analogy of folding a piece of paper to shorten the distance between two points to explain how it works.

And, this door works.

Yes, a portal through space and time that works. You can step through one end, and come out the other side in another room a kilometer away. Yet they are still somehow worried about funding. And people are still hesitant to fund them. I don’t know what world this book is based in anymore.

But anyway! Mike observes with his video recorder eyes and so on and there is a bunch of filler and slow lead-up to


us eventually learning that the door they made isn’t actually leading to another room, but to another universe where things are mostly the same, but little things like someone’s hair being a different color or your office being on the opposite side of the hall start cropping up. People think they are having memory problems at first, but really, once you go through the portal, you’re in a different universe and who knows what else is different about the world and your life.

This is a really cool and interesting concept. And I started to realize why the author gave Mike his super memory power–so he’d be able to tell when he’s in a different universe! All kinds of creepy things could happen. It would be unsettling to never know what details of your life were real anymore once you stepped through the door. You’re friends might not know you anymore, plus there is the philosophical weirdness of, say, your wife not ‘really’ being you’re wife (who am I really sleeping with?).

Except it never really went that direction. Mike never goes through the doorway until the very end, and its not even hinted at that he may have ended up in a universe that is not his own. The other characters change from going through, sure, but it’s never a major plot point except to make one of the woman scientists sleep with Mike. She was cold, and now she’s screwing him! What a twist! But our Mary Sue has to get laid.

We also find out that the reason Mike is a school teacher instead of doing literally anything he wants to, is because he ‘wants to be normal’. Yes. It’s the tortured super hero who’s gift is really a curse trope, and it just makes you role your eyes so hard it hurts. He never reads books because he’ll remember everything and become too smart. He purposefully ‘kept himself dumb’ so he could have an easier time interacting with all the ‘normal’ people around him. Are we supposed to like this guy? He’s an asshole, too, and is read that way by the narrator very clearly. Is it some huge temptation for authors to make their leads arrogant dicks? Why?

So Mike has all the benefits of perfect memory, and none of the downsides of being unable to interact with people normally. He has ‘quirks’ which people supposedly find ‘annoying’. Like rattling of strings of facts that aren’t related to anything. That’s supposed to be his fault, I guess.

Anyway, this whole thing with the door leading to other parallel universes that you get stuck in because the odds of you ever returning to your own are so small with an infinity of universes, it’s a pretty cool concept. A lot could be done with it. But guess what the climax of the story is? Think of the least interesting thing you could do with the concept of a portal to parallel universes…

The door opens to a bad universe with monsters who come through, and they shoot the  monsters with guns and have to blow up the door with bombs.

Yep. That’s the climax. Fighting ‘bug men’ who make clicking sounds like the predator. (why do aliens always make clicking sounds these days?)

There’s not much else to say about that.

It’s very clear that the author is a thriller writer, and not a sci fi writer. He went to great pains to avoid even trying to explain the science of anything, which is fine, I’ve done the same in my own work at times. But, some of it is just too ridiculous to accept.

We find out toward the end of the story that the scientists don’t actually understand how the door works. They just built the thing, turned it on and it worked and they’ve been spending the intervening years trying to figure out why it is actually working at all. I liked this idea, and was thinking it was going to turn out that it didn’t actually work at all in their universe, but that someone had built the door in an alternate universe where it DID work, and that door had opened into their universe.

But it turns out that they had input some formula from a mysterious old book written by some Victorian mad scientist, and that is what made the door work. What?



I don’t usually rant this long about any books or movies, but this one was just so close to being interesting and good, and kept letting me down, so I guess it had a bit of an effect on me.

It’s clear the author knows how to write a page turner, so I wouldn’t be surprised if his other non-scifi books were much better. But this one was quite frustrating to read.

I would not recommend it to well versed scifi fans. If you just want an exciting thriller and don’t really care if things make sense, then you may enjoy it.

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber

I recently discovered that my favorite movie in recent years, Under the Skin, was based on a novel by Michel Faber. I’d never heard of him and decided to try this unusual, sci-fi drama.

The plot centers around a Christian Missionary, Peter, who is traveling to a distant world to minister to alien creatures. This sounds comical almost, and quite naive, but it fits the character well. The story is written in a very serious way, despite what the plot might make you think.

When Peter arrives on the alien world, after going to sleep on a ship and ‘jumping’ with some kind of space bending technology, he finds his task of spreading his religion to be easier than he imagined.

This part of the story, though, however interesting, is not the focus of the writing. The plot comes to center around Peter’s relationship with his wife and the world he left behind back on Earth. His focus on the things at hand on this new world, and the distance, both physical and emotional, are separating him from everyone and everything else.

I’ve said many times before that characters are vivid. By this I mean I can picture them clearly in my head, that I can imagine mannerisms and hear voice with ease. But these characters Faber has created are something even beyond that. They are so real that it feels they must have been based on actual people that Faber knew intimately. The personalities are so rich and deep, I found pieces of myself in almost each one.

The alien world, and the aliens themselves are also quite detailed and creative. I was able to imagine them quite clearly, which is often a problem for me in these kinds of stories. But even though the faces of these creatures were completely inhuman, Faber was somehow able to paint a clear image of them in my head.

This was a beautiful and deep story, and I very much enjoyed listening to it. The narrator did a great job as well. I love finding sci fi stories like this, where the focus is on characters and story, instead of action or explosions or war.

Despite my great enjoyment of this, the end was not very satisfying. Though many questions were answered, I felt it lacked a certain force, or meaning. But maybe that fits with the theme of the story. Its not about any specific event or struggle, but about life. Life goes on, and on, and things fall apart. And then they stop.

A great story and I recommend it to sci fi, or literary fans. Check it out!


I watched this thrilling sci fi movie while on a plane over the ocean, and the turbulence really added to the tense feel of it.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play astronauts working on repairing the Hubble telescope, when an accident sends them into a dire situation.

There is a kind of deep, uneasy fear that comes from watching someone tumble into the empty void of space, with nothing to reach for or hold on to. It is like the fear of falling that is hardwired in our animal brain–but slower, more horrible. This movie tantalizes you with that unease throughout. Constantly, someone is nearly slipping into a never ending fall to a slow death.

This film is beautiful–amazing really. To the point where I don’t really understand how it was done. Not that I’m an expert on special effects, but I found it stunning. When eye-widening sights are combined with a story you can actually follow and characters you care about, the result is powerful. We get one, 90 minute long action sequence, where you’re on the edge of your seat for most of it, and feeling for the characters the whole time.

I really liked the simplicity of this film. It is cut down to the basics–two people trapped in space trying not to die. There is no mystery, no puzzling villain with undecipherable motivations, no nonsensical plot twists, brow-furrowing betrayals. It is pure and clear action with an understandable plot. It is easy to underestimate how much of a bonus it is to have a clear plot and character motivations!

This was very enjoyable to watch, and felt much shorter than its already short (these days anyway) 90 minutes. I’d probably even watch it again at some point.

Recommended to anyone interested in space travel, sci fi, or just a good, tense thriller.

Check it out!


I watched this drama / thriller featuring Jake Gyllenhaal a couple weeks ago, but haven’t posted about it yet cause I’ve been traveling back and forth over the pacific ocean.

In this movie, Jake plays an out of work sociopath who starts out stealing chain link fences to sell for scrap metal, then finds his calling in hawking footage of accidents and crimes to news stations.

The concept of this movie is really intriguing, and it portrays the news stations as greedy companies who market and sell tragedy. What really sells this film though, is Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance. He manages to be unnervingly creepy and likable at the same time, and you really feel like you can see the manipulative workings turning in his head through  the look in his eyes.

If you aren’t already disgusted with TV news, you will be after watching this. Regardless of how realistic it is or not, the fact that it’s believable should tell you something. This story really highlights the exploitative and manipulative nature of the news, and Gyllenhaal’s character is like a personification of those characteristics. He exploits his one employee, in the most extreme way possible. He manipulates and coerces the TV executives. And he fits right in in that world.

This is a fast paced, exciting, thoughtful, and slightly disturbing and dark movie that will make you question the morality of what you see on TV, if you don’t already. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys dark movies, or anyone who wants to see an especially good performance.

Check it out!

Sense 8

I finished this gorgeous series by the Wachowskis a couple days ago and am still a bit stunned by how great it was.

Eight different people spread across the globe are all psychically connected and experience each others lives in flashes, at first, becoming stronger and more connected as the story progresses.

The diversity of the characters is what really makes the show, I think. There’s a trans woman hacker in San Francisco, a closeted gay Mexican actor in Mexico city, a bus driver in Nairobi, a cop in Chicago, a business woman in Seoul, Korea who is also a cage-fighter in her off time, a safe-cracker in Berlin, a DJ in London, and a bride-to-be in Mumbai. All of these people, from such different lives, all become close companions due to their psychic connection.

The show is shot on-sight in every one of these cities, which has a powerful effect for the show. The world feels so real, because it is real. The crowds and events happening during the show are for the most part actual events that were going on during filming. The whole series is beautifully shot and most every frame is a joy to look at.

The over-all plot is a bit thin, and at times confusing, but that’s not where the gold in this show is. It’s in the characters, and their individual stories, and how they help each other through troubling times with their unique experience from their own lives. There are so many heartfelt and powerful scenes, and yes, some of them may seem sappy or cliche to some folks, but that doesn’t make them any less impactful. Life is sappy sometimes.

If you are going to have problems seeing gay and trans people showing their love to their partners on screen, then this show may make you uncomfortable, and you probably need to grow up.

I’ve heard that some people found the first couple episodes to be slow. I was sucked right in, but if you find your self wanting more to happen, give it till the third episode, and if you’re not enjoying it by then, then it’s probably not for you.

I really enjoyed this one, more than I have any show in quite a while, and I am excited to see these characters again in season two! Netflix has done it again, and keeps doing it. I really hope this one continues to do well enough to keep getting made!

Check it out!

The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu

Ken Liu is one of the major names in modern short science fiction, and I’m a big fan. When I heard he had a novel out I jumped at the chance to buy it–only to be disappointed when I found out it was a fantasy novel instead of sci fi. But I got it anyway, and I’m glad I did.

The Grace of Kings is not your average fantasy novel. It feels almost like an alternate history novel, a realistic alternate world, with very few unexplainable happenings. That a pantheon of different gods and goddesses take part in the story does very little to detract from the realistic feel of it, and adds a lot to the charm and culture of the world Liu has created.

This is a large scale story that takes place over many years, with many characters and many places. Yet all of the characters and places, despite their number, manage to remain vivid and full and memorable.

One thing I really enjoyed, and what sort of seemed to be a theme in the novel, is the misinterpretation of intentions, and the importance of perceptions throughout the story. We get to see two opposing characters, both wanting to work together, but both misinterpreting the other so often that it becomes impossible.

The number of different opinions and ways of doing things between the characters in this novel makes the world feel real, even despite the mythical way the story is told.

If you are a fan of intrigue and politics and characters in stories like the Song of Fire and Ice series, but not so much a fan of the brutality of it, then you might enjoy this novel. If you enjoy stories with a historical feel to them–the stuff of legends, then you might enjoy this as well. If you just like plain good storytelling, you’ll like it to.

I’m a fan and hope to see more in the series soon–but Mr. Liu, please write a sci fi novel next!

No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy

I’m not sure why I read this. The only other thing I’d read of McCarthy’s was The Road, which I read back when I thought I wanted to write a post apocalyptic novel (barf). For some reason I pulled this one off the shelf at half priced books and read a couple pages, then decided I had to buy it.

McCarthy has a strange writing style. He doesn’t use quotation marks. He often doesn’t use apostrophes for contractions. He often writes long sentences filled with many ‘and’s and no commas.

But the story was engaging, and the characters were real. The themes of growing old and the inevitability of death and the recklessness of youth were poignant and dark.

I’m sure most people have seen the film, I have.  But I felt the book really drew out a deeper feeling. It felt more visceral and real. The action was messy and consequential and the characters changed in reaction to it.

The story is simple. A man stumbles across the aftermath of a shootout, and finds a bag full of money. He takes it, and chaos begins as everyone involved tries to recover the cash.

But from a simple story, McCarthy is able to draw out powerful themes and create interesting, memorable characters, once again proving that you don’t need a crazy twist or surprise betrayal to have a good story. You just need well crafted characters who do things that make sense for reasons the reader can understand.  It’s amazing how far that will go.

I enjoyed this book, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. You’ll need to be accepting of an unconventional writing style, but if you can accept that, it’s definitely an enjoyable story. Recommended for crime, western, and action fans.