Teleportation seemed like a pretty cool concept until Tal M. Klein got ahold of it.

There’s something deeply disturbing about the safest mode of transportation in 2149 in the author’s delightful and brainy debut, The Punch Escrow (Inkshares/Geek & Sundry, 356 pp., ***½ out of four stars).

Featuring themes similar to Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, the dense sci-fi feel of a Michael Crichton thriller and clever Douglas Adams-like charm, the book posits an intriguing future that is both inviting and horrific.

Joel Byram is a New Yorker who spends his days playing video games for fun and tricking apps into being more human (and therefore more user-friendly) for money. He’s also trying to save his marriage to workaholic wife Sylvia, who has a super-secretive gig with International Transport, a powerful company that controls all the teleportation centers around the globe.

On the way to Joel teleporting (or “punching,” as in the title) to Costa Rica and meeting up with his spouse for a second honeymoon, an incident causes something to go very wrong, and he’s replicated. On two sides of the world, the Joels have parallel stories that ultimately sync up and lead to revealing a deadly secret behind teleportation that, if public, could throw society into chaos.

 

Klein stuffs his narrative with solid characters, though the impressive world-building does wonders for giving them extra personality. As much as the two Joels are the same person, Klein finds ways to give each one individuality, and they’re surrounded by a cast whose various motivations are unveiled gradually but in satisfying fashion.

There are some serious negative aspects to the 22nd century Klein imagines, but he’s also thrown in some positives as well. Mosquitoes are used as a solution to air pollution. Innovations in 3D printing allow people to re-create whatever they want instead of going shopping. Nanotechnology keeps people extraordinarily healthy and lets them live way into old age. And cars not only drive people around but also sass them — these conversations lead to some of the more humorous moments in Punch Escrow.

At the same time, the book digs into the inherent philosophical and ethical questions behind some of these inventions, as well as exploring a fascinating geopolitical landscape. The Last War has created a world of corporate…