Friday, February 14, 2020

"The Fold," by Peter Clines --Fiction Review

Happy Friday, internet strangers! Today we’re talking about “The Fold” by Peter Clines, the second book in the Threshold series. So another book by Peter Clines? Yes, he’s one of my favorite authors purely because of how much I loved “14,” and one day, that restraining order will expire.

“The Fold” is also science fiction/horror in the same bent of the neo-Lovecraftian subgenre. Like most of Lovecraft’s later work, while being a kind of soft-science fiction, Peter Clines’ “The Fold” doesn’t rely on magical influence to tell its story or evoke its horror—in other words, everything is presented as being scientifically consistent within the story’s universe.

Peter Clines

***The Non-Spoiler part of this review***

What I love about this book:

The easy stuff first, I’m a big fan of classic Lovecraft stories, and newer versions of the subgenre and “The Fold” scratch that itch, much like its predecessor. It isn’t just a simple retelling of “14,” though—first of all, the cast of characters changes in this novel, and the setting is entirely different. The plot isn’t about a group of characters investigating a mysterious old building—a trope Lovecraft liked. It’s about a group of scientists who seemingly invented a teleportation gate that they don’t seem to know quite as much about as they should—another trope Lovecraft liked—where the science experiment goes horribly wrong.

Pacing wise, I really like Peter Clines’ propensity with “14” and now the “The Fold” to start off slow and give you time to get a lay of the land before suddenly ramping up at the end of the novel. I understand that a lot of people are off-put by this, but my argument for why I like it is this: a disaster rarely slowly unfolds. It explodes, suddenly and horribly out of control. That’s what makes them so scary. “The Fold” captures that feeling in its closing chapters. 

Again, the characters of this novel have that gift of gab that I associate with Peter Clines, and his dialogue never fails to delight me. I never find a conversation in this book where I think to myself, this could have been skipped. Everything talked about feels compelling, and if not that, then it is funny or charming, etc.  

What I don’t love about this book:

I guessed the whole twist of the story after reading the synopsis and the prologue, which is one of the reasons I like this book about ninety percent as much as “14.” The publisher’s summary even touts, “…and a terrifying final twist you’ll never see coming…” For starters, that’s a cliché in book marketing material, secondly, if you read “14” to the end and got its whole deal—then yes, you will, and if you didn’t, then you’re just not paying attention. 

Also, another issue I have is with the characters—I know I said above that they talk all pretty and whatnot—but I find them less memorable than the characters in “14.” Part of the reason for this, in my opinion, is because all of the characters in “The Fold” are all very similar for no other reason than they are the kind of people who could be working on a top-secret teleportation project for DARPA. What I mean by this is they’re all scientists, engineers, computer experts—super geeks.

Even Mike, our protagonist and stand in everyman like Nate in “14” isn’t really an everyman character. He’s a hyper genius with an eidetic memory, playing at being an everyman character. This makes everyone sorta run together, and unless you’re really focusing, the specifics of who did what and when fuzz over quickly.

 It wasn’t until a second reading of the novel that I noticed the detail that one of the scientists looks like Humphrey Bogart. Other than the character’s accent that Ray Porter gives him in the audiobook version of the novel, his looks really are the only thing that is memorable about the character—that and his propensity for being mad all the time and certain everyone else is always wrong.

***The Spoiler part of this review***
***Ye be warned to turn back now***

The quick and dirty synopsis:

Leland “Mike” Erickson is an English teacher in New England just finishing up a school year with his class when an old friend visits him. The friend, Reggie, is someone high up in DARPA and wants to recruit Mike for a project, which Mike shows little interest in but agrees to visit Washington DC to hear more about it before refusing. Reggie wants to hire Mike because he’s actually one of the smartest people on earth, possibly ever, and Reggie knows this from their time together as friends in college. Mike has a true eidetic memory, perfect recall of everything he’s ever seen or heard.

In Washington, Mike finds out that the project Reggie wants him to observe is an honest to god teleporter. The first version, a straight teleporter, as in breaks a person down into energy, moves that energy to somewhere else, and then reassembles them, was a colossal failure. The second project, though, the Albuquerque Door is a success, but the scientists working on the project say they need more time for testing and more funding, while simultaneously maintaining that every test using the door has been an unqualified success. This is where Mike comes in, Reggie, believes something must be wrong, but obviously wants the project to succeed and get more funding, this is why he recruited Mike to be his man on the ground.

Once at the project, Mike starts his investigation, and right off the bat, he’s given a demonstration of the Albuquerque door—and it works. When he settles in though and begins questioning the scientists and engineers that work on the project, he’s met with hostility and suspicion, even after reassuring them that he’s on their side. More than that, Mike can’t help but feel like people are hiding things from him, holding something back.

As the story unfolds, it becomes more evident to Mike that the scientists and engineers who built the door and supposedly designed it—don’t really know how it works. Eventually, it’s revealed that they really don’t know at all how it works, they just know that it does work. Initially, after their first project was a failure, they were sure they would soon be out of a job, and the Albuquerque door was just a ploy to get more funding and stretch things out longer. Then they used the equations of a long-dead obscure scientist–the same scientist who designed the building in “14”—and the Albuquerque door opened, creating a stable gateway to another building a quarter of a mile away.

Except Mike discovers, that’s not what it’s doing at all. The Albuquerque door isn’t teleporting anything, it’s opening a tear from one dimension to another dimension, very similar to the one it’s in, but in reality, it sends its travelers to a whole new universe. The biggest catch is the more people who are around the portal increases the variability in the universes the Albuquerque door opens up to, which includes those universes that the monsters from “14” have destroyed. Then Mike and the scientists find they can’t close the door anymore, even when they turn off the power, and the monsters start making their way into their universe, which leads to a desperate struggle to destroy the Albuquerque door.         


The fold is an old-time science fiction machine run amok story, mixed with Lovecraftian stylings, and updated to modern sensibilities. The plot is an original piece for this series, and it doesn’t precisely repeat “14,” but it would be misleading to not point out that certain elements are tried and true science fiction arcana.

Parallel universes are nothing new in science fiction, and I believe the mention of certain characters being Star Trek fans early on in the novel is the author winking at the audience and foreshadowing a “mirror universe.” The “mirror universe” idea is a recurring Star Trek plot point where characters sometimes find themselves in an alternate universe, similar to, but different from their native universe. Surprise, surprise usually this happens because of a transporter accident—or teleporter in other parlance.

I like each character in this novel as individuals, but overall as a group, I find them less effective on an emotional level than the group in “14.” This is because of the lack of diversity in the group, they don’t contrast as well off each other as the ones in the first novel. Like I said in the non-spoiler part of the review, part of this is because the median intelligence of every character is necessarily high. However, to tell this plot, I think this trade-off in character is inevitable because it wouldn’t make sense to throw in a radically different character from the others, other than Mike himself, of course. That would be distracting from the story to answer the question of why that person would even be there. Another reason is this story shows people at work, whereas “14” tells a story about people at home. It’s realistic that people at work—if we want to keep our jobs that is—are more reserved in nature and less relaxed than when they are in their home. So it’s harder to get to know the people who populate this story, and when a lot of them die, it’s less emotionally taxing.              

Parting thoughts:

One of the things I don’t like about this book has nothing to do with the plot, characters, or even the author. It’s how the book is marketed. The novel is positioned as a science fiction thriller, and I’ve never really internalized what a “thriller” truly is and is not. I understand what a lot of people think it is, and it’s obviously popular as a genre. It isn’t even exactly that “The Fold” is labeled as a thriller that bothers me precisely—it’s what is missing that bothers me. It isn’t described as a horror story when clearly, that is a significant component of the story. That’s probably why a lot of people don’t like the ending, they’re not expecting the turn into horror.

It isn’t really a mystery to me why this happens—even “14” isn’t positioned as a horror story. It’s called a Sci-Fi, a mystery, or even a thriller—but not horror. The dirty secret is horror stories are a non-preferred genre, viewed as not capable of making as much as the other genres.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at how most sellers of books list horror on their website. They typically don’t even list it as a genre, even my beloved audible shoe-horns it in as a sub-genre under the catch-all fiction genre. Barnes & Noble lists Manga and Westerns as genres while omitting horror. Now I like Japanese graphic novels (never, ever, call them comic books or cartoons or their fans will tear you a new asshole for just thinking it) and a good western—but how has this happened? The genre that Stephen King writes in most commonly isn’t even considered a real genre anymore. The genre that gave us Frankenstein and Dracula, if they were written today, would be marketed with some milquetoast nonsense like, “a thrilling supernatural mystery,” or “a suspenseful page-turner,” but they wouldn’t ever be described as the honest truth—it’s a scary story.     

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