If you've ever wanted an episode of Fringe with more contemporary pop-culture references and a more obvious sense of humor -- yet with all the mind-bendy science and disturbing images, this just might be the book for you.
Reggie Magnus is in a bind -- he's some muckety-muck in DARPA and a secret project he's been funding to develop teleportation has diverged a bit from its original design and started generating unbelievable results. At the same time . . . he knows something's just not right out there at the development facility -- he has no idea what's wrong, but he knows something is. What's a guy to do? Well, considering that he's spent billions (yup, with a "b") on this project, he needs to make sure he delivers something. Thankfully, Reggie's got a genius friend with a few months free to send out to California, see what's going on -- hopefully fix the problem and help Reggie to justify the budget for this program.
Enter Mike (Leland Erikson, actually, but he answers to Mike -- long story). He is a genius, with a photographic memory (a frighteningly detailed one), a curious streak a mile wide, and....three months off to do this since he's a High School English teacher just done for the summer. So, he goes to California, meets some legendary scientists (and a few others no one has head of), and then excitement ensures.
While I was reading the second chapter, I scrawled the note: "The tonal shift between chaps 1 & 2 was enough to give me Whiplash (and I'm talking the kind where J K Simmons slaps you repeatedly, not the kind you get a TV lawyer to help with). Think it bodes well for the book." And it did. After the jarring sensation between the first two chapters (think of the typical NCIS/Bones/etc. type opening wherein someone going about their routine, daily life stumbles on to a body before we join our heroes bantering around the office), things calmed down. The plot unwinds at a good pace -- building up a good head of steam until everything goes cuckoo bananas. Eventually, all the pieces come together -- but the explanation doesn't end things, it only sets up a action-packed, mind-scrambling conclusion.
Like Mike, we get a nice orientation to the research facility and its team. Most come thi-i-i-i-s close to being right out of Central Casting, but Clines tweaks them just enough to keep them from being a frightening cliché. Ditto for Reggie, actually. This is not to say that Clines spends all that much time fully developing these characters -- he comes close with Dr. Arthur Cross and Jamie Parker.
Jamie's your basic attractive blond with severe emotional issues, when she's not being a ultra-professional uber-computer scientist, that is. Dr. Cross is the 4th most popular scientist in the world -- behind Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking and Bill Nye. He writes books for popular audiences and heads up research projects like this one (to over-do the Fringe comparisons, he's William Bell). When he's not being dark and mysterious, he's the kind of scientist you want to learn from, dropping lines like: "Almost any concept or idea in the world can be expressed through comparison with a classic Warner Bros. cartoon," and then goes on to demonstrate just that.
Actually, it may not be character development. Those two might be the characters we spend the most time with. This sounds like a criticism, but it's not really. It's not that type of book, all it requires are characters to move the plot along, not people you get too invested in.
Now, Mike is another story, he's fully fleshed out. He is sort of a Robert Langdon type character -- brilliant, in the right place at the right time, driven, and courageous enough to jump into danger, yada yada yada. -- but with one significant difference: I liked Mike from the moment I met him, and I never, not for one sentence (over two books) liked Langdon. He's charming, down-to-earth (in his own way), and is desperate just to be a regular guy. It's hard not to respond to that.
It's an engaging story, told well, filled with likeable characters doing out-of-this-world things. Solid SF work. Give this one a shot.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the nice folks over at Blogging for Books for this review. Not sure they got their money's worth, but I came out pretty good on the deal.