Tal Klein discusses sci-fi world building and his debut novel ‘The Punch Escrow’

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - 11:52am

With his debut novel “The Punch Escrow,” author Tal Klein constructs a thrilling and thought-provoking narrative that blends the realms of love stories, hard science fiction and reeling suspense in one cohesive and addicting work. Set in the near future, the world of “The Punch Escrow” is characterized by teleportation as the dominant means of transportation as well as the shadowy corporation that controls it. The novel follows protagonist Joel Byram after he is accidentally duplicated mid-transport and must confront the ensuing consequences to his autonomy and his marriage. In an interview with the Daily, Klein discussed his fascination with teleportation, his writing process and the cinematic potential for the world of “The Punch Escrow.”

Klein’s novel exists in the genre of hard science fiction, a niche category of sci-fi defined by its commitment to scientific accuracy within the fictional narrative. Before writing his novel, Klein spent three years doing rigorous research to understand the intricacies of his imagined technology and ensure its feasibility. The pages of “The Punch Escrow” are distinctly characterized by the massive footnotes at the bottom of almost every page, in which the protagonist explains the real science behind the seemingly imagined concepts and tech. Klein’s fluid movement between literary voice and scientific fact sets his novel apart from others in its genre. Teleportation in the novel acts as a catalyst for the novel’s major conflict. As a marketing executive, teleportation holds certain interest for Klein beyond its scientific challenges.

“I think the thing that really attracted me to teleportation was that I was told it was impossible. And, you know, I’m a startup guy. I’m an entrepreneur, and I started companies, and I market products, and whenever someone tells me something is impossible I see that as a challenge… I wanted to find an origin story for the commercialization of teleportation, like when did it become anthropologically accepted by society, and then put a plot inside that world,” he said.

“The Punch Escrow” also deals largely with the theme of societal control by a dominant and secretive corporation. This theme is largely present in contemporary society, with Snowden’s revelation of the NSA’s civilian monitoring programs and the practice of internet companies collecting and selling user data. When asked about these literary themes in conjunction with their presence in the real world Klein explained, “I think one of the things we have to accept is that as society evolves, data becomes currency, telemetry becomes currency… I don’t advocate for that kind of world in the book, and I don’t warn about that kind of world in the book — I see it as a pragmatic continuance of the current vector that our society’s on today.”

“What I do see is a large disenfranchisement in the world with this notion of governmental control and I think the way I drew corporations in my book is not so much corporate takeover of governments — it’s more presented in the context of people revolting against the notion of being managed by things they don’t understand. And corporations, although they may be capitalistic and greedy, are at least defined by profits and losses which are tangible things we can grasp onto,” he added.

While Klein is a successful chief marketing officer, he is new to the process of writing novels. In describing his writing process, Klein remarked on the surprises of being challenged after already achieving professional success. “What surprised me is how humbling the editorial process can be. It’s ruthless. And I’m 40, so I felt like I’ve gotten to an age where I no longer have to be humble.” Regardless, Klein emphasized the welcomed humility of the process and his reignited passion for writing: “If I could change anything, I would have started writing novels earlier in life, because I’ve found a lot of zen in the process of writing.”

Klein and his team recently negotiated a landmark deal with Lionsgate for “The Punch Escrow” and two subsequent books. As the books don’t necessarily have to be sequels, Klein is excited to explore aspects of his imagined world that were only hinted at in “The Punch Escrow.” What’s next for Klein is another period of heavy research, furious writing in the stolen hours of the night and hopefully “The Punch Escrow” on the silver screen.

“There’s a lot of things that happen in ‘The Punch Escrow’ that I spent a lot of time researching that obviously didn’t make it into the book… So right now, I think in a lot of ways what I’m doing is a lot of research. Right now I’m researching 'The Last War,' and I’m reading a lot of books on letters from the front, soldiers from World War I and World War II. Lionsgate calls this project ‘The Future,’ they don’t call it ‘The Punch Escrow,’ because they bought a world,” he said.