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
SPOILERS START HERE:
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.