Gary's Reviews > The Punch Escrow

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein
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did not like it

Fiction can do quite a lot of things, but most often it aims to entertain or to express ambitious ideas. Great authors do both of those things brilliantly and produce great works, but great authors are few and far between. Good authors tend to excel at one of those aims to the detriment of the other, or excel adequately enough at both to find artistic and/or commercial success. I can forgive an entertaining novel for lacking ambition. I can forgive an ambitious novel for falling a little short of its goals. But I have no patience for a novel that fails spectacularly and aggressively at both. Those are just bad books.
Wherever you see a “high average” book on Amazon or Goodreads (such as this one – a 4.13/5 on GR at the time of my writing this) and you scroll through the reviews, there is always a least one prick among the 4 and 5 star gushers who has to poop in the punch bowl. Truly I tell you, I am almost never that guy. I can count the number of 1 star reviews I’ve written on one hand, with room to spare. 2 stars are a little more common, but not by much. More often than not, if I’m not as high on a book that everyone else loves, there are at least enough redeeming qualities to warrant a third star. So I promise you, if you see a lone star at the top of one of my reviews, there is some really intense dissatisfaction in play. In fact, my dislike for this novel is so intense that I am actually considering adding a second star to at least one of my other 1 star reviews out of fairness. I’m probably not going to do it, but I am thinking about it.
Teleportation – a longtime staple of the science fiction genre that is nonetheless ripe for further exploration – is the subject of The Punch Escrow. Set in the year 2147, Joel Byram is the husband of one of the leading scientists in teleportation technology. While teleporting to Costa Rica to meet his wife for a second honeymoon, a terrorist attack on the facility leaves him in limbo, causing his wife to panic and create a duplicate of him, not knowing that the “original” Joel rematerialized at the embarkation point. It’s not a bad setup for the story, but what follows doesn’t do it any justice. The plot is so thin that if you removed all the asides and digressions and info dumping and pointlessly elongated dialogue exchanges you would barely be left with a short story.
But plot development is the least of this novel’s problems. Fiction lives and dies by its characters, and The Punch Escrow has none to speak of. Don’t get me wrong, there are human-like entities present, all of whom have jobs and backstories and use language to communicate with each other, but the novel mistakes these basic descriptive requirements and behavioral traits for actual character development. Their sole reason for existing seems to be to dispense either snark or plot information. Joel is the protagonist, I guess, because he does both. Character choices and responses are obvious and predictable. I find it unfortunate that a novel positing that technology can reduce human beings to nothing more than exchangeable bits of information fails to depict a single recognizably human character as a counterpoint.
The setting feels just as inorganic and contrived as the characters, as if the author plugged some data into a random science fiction future generator and this was the result. In terms of theme, the novel seems to mistake presenting the implications of its premise for actually exploring those implications. I can’t fault the novel for failing to live up to its ambitions when it clearly doesn’t even know what it means to try. Mr. Klein’s prose has that really distracting, hyperactive attention deficit style that is becoming more and more popular among new writers (and readers) of genre fiction, a trend that portends no less than the death of the art form.
In short, beyond a handful of clever quips and an interesting scientific nugget here and there, I can’t find much of anything to redeem this novel.
You’re going to love it!
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this ARC.
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Reading Progress

July 26, 2017 – Started Reading
July 26, 2017 – Shelved
July 26, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
July 26, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-35 of 35 (35 new)

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message 1: by Philip (new)

Philip You're going to love it!

Haha! Sounds like it. :)


message 2: by Alissa (new) - added it

Alissa Wow! An enthusiastic 5 star review and a critic 1 star review from my friends about the same novel over the span of a few days (I understand what you mean, rating books 1 star hurts but it's necessary when due).
I'm very curious. And undecided. You both hit interesting points and with so many books out there one has to be careful in picking, unless it's palate-cleansers and it's clear this is not the case here.


message 3: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Philip wrote: "You're going to love it!

Haha! Sounds like it. :)"


I have to admit I'm confounded. I see all these reviews and it's like everyone else read a different book.


message 4: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Alissa wrote: "Wow! An enthusiastic 5 star review and a critic 1 star review from my friends about the same novel over the span of a few days (I understand what you mean, rating books 1 star hurts but it's necess..."

I tried to DNF it, Alissa, but I kept picking it up again because I thought I might end up seeing what everyone else apparently sees. Didn't happen for me; in fact, it kept getting worse. But I expect my opinion will continue to be in the minority.


message 5: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov " Don’t get me wrong, there are human-like entities present, all of whom have jobs and backstories and use language to communicate with each other, but the novel mistakes these basic descriptive requirements and behavioral traits for actual character development. Their sole reason for existing seems to be to dispense either snark or plot information. "

Excellent statement of dislike, Gary.


message 6: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary HBalikov wrote: "" Don’t get me wrong, there are human-like entities present, all of whom have jobs and backstories and use language to communicate with each other, but the novel mistakes these basic descriptive re..."

Thanks, HBalikov. When I read fiction I always look for character first. Usually if an author can't get me invested in the characters, the other problems pile up from there.


message 7: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom McLean You guys, I think Gary didn't like it.


message 8: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Tom wrote: "You guys, I think Gary didn't like it."

What makes you say that? ;-)


Bradley Uffner A company trying to kill me because I'm the undisposed copy of a teleported person? Teleporters work by copying me and murdering the original? I know! I'll save my life and escape them by jumping in the nearest teleporter! Brilliant!


message 10: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Bradley wrote: "A company trying to kill me because I'm the undisposed copy of a teleported person? Teleporters work by copying me and murdering the original? I know! I'll save my life and escape them by jumping i..."

Yep.


Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin Great review, Gary. Sorry you got a dud!


message 12: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Melissa ♥ Dog Lover ♥ wrote: "Great review, Gary. Sorry you got a dud!"

Me too. I was really looking forward to this book.


Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin I hate when that happens 🙁


message 14: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Zack wrote: "Just finished it. I wish I could like your review multiple times for the sake of others."

Thanks, Zack!


message 15: by Roy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Roy DeRousse Totally agree. USA Today gave it a glowing review. The concept is interesting. The execution was not. As of about 55% into the book, everything that happened could have been summarized in a small number of pages. The action picked up after that. The book was a real slog to complete. The first person narration did not work for me at all. All of the technical explanations were somewhat interesting but ultimately did not add much to the story. (I figured out the secret behind teleportation before reading the first page.) This might have worked better as a short story.


message 16: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Roy wrote: "Totally agree. USA Today gave it a glowing review. The concept is interesting. The execution was not. As of about 55% into the book, everything that happened could have been summarized in a small n..."

For sure. One of the hardest things about reading the book was how almost everything in the book felt like padding to get it to novel length.


message 17: by Kevin (new) - rated it 1 star

Kevin I felt like all the characters were having the same ethical dilemma which really ruined the book for me.


message 18: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Kevin wrote: "I felt like all the characters were having the same ethical dilemma which really ruined the book for me."

Yes, the author pretty much milked an entire novel out of a single question with a single answer.


Aristotle A well written review. I hope the book is the same. I hope you're wrong.
So here goes.
Page one "It was a dark and stormy night".
So far so good.


message 20: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Aristotle wrote: "A well written review. I hope the book is the same. I hope you're wrong.
So here goes.
Page one "It was a dark and stormy night".
So far so good."


Heh heh


message 21: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom McLean That's the thing. I loved this book, gave it five stars - but I also think Gary's review seems to capture some interesting elements that didn't bother me, but I get his gripes. I think 1 starrers and 5 starrers can get along. Specifically, I didn't mind that most of the characters were less developed since the story was told from a single POV, so that character can't be omniscient to the point of building up other characters. Maybe I'm biased because I work in the field of AI and Klein absolutely *nails* how we in the industry see the future of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing. Anyway, Aristotle, I commend your decision to press on. As you say, Gary's review is well written, but so is the book it pans (IMO).


message 22: by Kevin (new) - rated it 1 star

Kevin Tom wrote: "That's the thing. I loved this book, gave it five stars - but I also think Gary's review seems to capture some interesting elements that didn't bother me, but I get his gripes. I think 1 starrers a..."

My issue was that all of the characters seemed to have the same ethical dilemma in regards to the "teleportation" that took away my ability to suspend disbelief.


message 23: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom McLean @Kevin - I thought it was just because Joel was the one telling the story, so he was interpreting the world and its occupants through his POV and personal issues. Joel reminded me of some of my more narcissistic friends, they always see the world from their perspective, and they think they know what everyone else is thinking.


message 24: by Kevin (new) - rated it 1 star

Kevin Tom wrote: "@Kevin - I thought it was just because Joel was the one telling the story, so he was interpreting the world and its occupants through his POV and personal issues. Joel reminded me of some of my mor..."

Ahhh, that does change things a bit


Aristotle Gary you were way too harsh on Klein. This was a well written book. For a first novel he didn't play it safe and i give him a lot of credit for that. Was it perfect? No. But one star Gary?
My goddess Athena still loves you but will never love teleportation.

P.S. So that's why my Big Mac doesn't taste the same.


message 26: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Aristotle wrote: "Gary you were way too harsh on Klein. This was a well written book. For a first novel he didn't play it safe and i give him a lot of credit for that. Was it perfect? No. But one star Gary?
My godde..."

Just looked over my review again, and I must disagree with you. I think I was being very tactful and restrained :-)


message 27: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom McLean @Aristotle - There are a bunch of people who can't get over the POV shifts. I get it, I follow Gary and he writes great reviews, but I also happened to really love this book. Sometimes specific things just don't vibe with certain people. I like Gary *and* I like this book. Such is life.


message 28: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Tom wrote: "@Aristotle - There are a bunch of people who can't get over the POV shifts. I get it, I follow Gary and he writes great reviews, but I also happened to really love this book. Sometimes specific thi..."

I like a lot of my GR friends I disagree with, too. In fact, most of my favorite reviewers write great reviews that are the opposite of my own tastes.


message 29: by Vir (new) - rated it 1 star

Vir Absolutely agree.


message 30: by Ryan (new) - rated it 1 star

Ryan Gary, how could you possibly one-star the book that brought us mosquito urine rainbows???


message 31: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Ryan wrote: "Gary, how could you possibly one-star the book that brought us mosquito urine rainbows???"

I can and I did! 😈


Kevin R Well said


Theresa Lott My feelings were similar. Just finished it yesterday. I kept wanting more: more description, more connection with the characters, a more fully fleshed out world. Disappointing.


message 34: by Anne (new) - rated it 1 star

Anne I'm glad I'm not the only one-starrer out there. I agree with all of your points almost exactly. I feel like somehow this one got way overrated.


message 35: by Robby (new)

Robby I'm only here to dispense snark.


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