Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Escaping Infinity

At its core, Richard Paolinelli's Escaping Infinity, presents a Twilight Zone style mystery of a strange hotel that appears in many times and places, and that once you check in, you can’t check out.  The guests at this hotel become so taken by the perfect luxury of the place that they succumb to it like sailors on the isle of the lotus eaters.  Not so for our trusty hero, however.  He immediately notices a number of things out of place and sets out to unravel the mystery and escape Hotel Infinity.  I really enjoyed this part of the book. 

Peter Childress, the architect at the heart of the story, makes for a fine protagonist.  He is clever, determined, and has just the right level of randiness about him.  The romance set up and resolved during this portion of the book is natural, with a truly feminine ingénue who glides back and forth between dame and damsel with an ease that lends her a likable vulnerability without ever painting her as a knuckle biting coward.  The action and puzzles are original and believable.  It’s a great book.

The wonderful middle-section of the book – really three quarters of the book – suffers for the inclusion of a prologue that spoils much of the mystery and a postscript that veers away from the extra-dimensional nature of the Hotel Infinity and into a strange space opera “Happily Ever After” ending.

The funny part is that both the prologue and post-script are well written and great reads.  The Prologue makes for a great short story with characters struggling to react to a catastrophic error.  It touches on everything from acceptance of responsibility to loyalty in the face of disaster in ways that are heartfelt and intense.  The general spoilers in the Prologue leave enough specifics unspoken for the reader to still wonder about the nature of the Hotel Infinity, leaving that short chapter a great little tale in its own right.  The characters in the extended postscript are also great, even if the entire section reads like the unholy marriage of a Mary Sue and a deus ex machina.
The Prologue might have worked better had it been included as an omnipotent POV explanation for the origin of the hotel, and placed after Peter makes his escape.  The Postscript, with its entirely different tone and scope might have worked better as a sequel.  It’s hard to say, really.  Because both are necessary parts of this story – without the origin and denouement the escape sequence might feel like half of a story.

Which leaves this reviewer in the awkward position of concluding that Escaping Infinity might not be the perfect science-fiction story, but it’s a darn good three of them.

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