NESFA Members' Reviews


by John Kessel

Tor, ISBN 0-312-86116-8, 1997, 317pp, US$24.95

A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1997 Evelyn C. Leeper

If this doesn't make my Hugo nomination ballot for 1997, there must be some really amazing books showing up later. Kessel manages to write a humorous, witty (no, they're not the same thing), thoughtful, time travel, alternate history, religious dinosaur story, which I think is the first. (Gore Vidal's LIVE FROM GOLGOTHA came close, but lacked the dinosaur.) Having said this much, I now have to try to review this book without telling you too much more, because part of the enjoyment is watching it all unfold. (Or perhaps a better analogy is watching it all come together, like those puzzles with pieces of all different shapes than fit together into a neat cube.)

How does he do this? Well, the underlying premise seems to be one of branching universes, at least in the sense that you can go from *now* to *then*, make all sorts of changes, and come back to *this* now rather than *that* now. So the entrepreneurs of Dr. Owen Vannice's "now" can go back to the Jerusalem of two thousand years ago, build a Holiday Inn, bring several major religious figures back to his present, and still not change one iota of the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the Salem witch trials.

Vannice (Dr. Nice) is returning from the Cretaceous with an apatosaurus when he finds himself in that Jerusalem, and soon becomes embroiled in a plot by zealots to purge their world of the "invaders." (I guess I forgot to say this was also about cultural imperialism.)

Kessel also fills his bizarre story with references to other science fiction stories, current journalistic tendencies, and a wide range of prehistoric, historic and quasi-historic figures. Yet within all this madcap whirl are insights and truths about us and our world. In this regard Kessel is part of a long literary tradition in speculative fiction, including Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, James Morrow, and Connie Willis.

This is a wonderful book, both entertaining and thought-provoking. So in the words of Kim Stanley Robinson on the back cover, "Go buy this book yesterday."

%T      Corrupting Dr. Nice
%A      John Kessel
%C      New York
%D      January 1997
%I      Tor
%O      hardback, US$24.95
%G      ISBN 0-312-86116-8
%P      317pp

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