The Punch Escrow

The Punch Escrow is a tremendously fun and accessible work of hard science fiction. Tal M. Klein's debut novel takes place in the year 2147, when technological advancements have solved--or at least ameliorated--some of humanity's most pressing challenges. Illnesses and even aging can be reversed by advanced nanotechnology. Clouds of genetically engineered mosquitoes transform pollution into water vapor. Printers can replicate handmade Turkish coffee on a molecular level. Klein's future is thoroughly imagined, and further supported by lengthy footnotes on subjects from quantum foam to steam reforming.

Most importantly, though, Klein's future has adapted to commercialized teleportation, allowing protagonist Joel Byram to take a pricy shortcut to meet his wife early on in the novel. Joel is a "salter"--he interfaces with artificial intelligences, tricking them and telling them jokes in order to make them more intelligent. His wife, Sylvia, works for International Transport (IT), the organization that controls teleportation technology.

Joel's world falls apart when a terrorist incident during teleportation results in his accidental duplication. The two Joels must think on their feet in order to dodge IT and the religious extremists out to end teleportation. The pair must also navigate the difficult ethical and philosophical questions that emerge from their simultaneous existence, much of it swirling around which one of them is the "real" Joel. The Punch Escrow is first and foremost an entertaining thriller, but its head-tripping brainteasers might stick with the reader well after the novel ends. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

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