NESFA Members' Reviews


by Stephen Fry

Arrow, ISBN 0-09-946481-0, 1997, 553pp, A$14.95

A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1998 Evelyn C. Leeper

This book will be printed in the United States, but I was ordering something else from Australia anyway, so I figured I wouldn't wait. I'm glad I didn't.

At first it seemed fairly standard stuff--hero uses time machine (of sorts) to eliminate Hitler. It's been done before, with varying results, but all pretty much of the "no-World-War-II-or-the-Holocaust" sort, and whether or not paradise results, the result is usually arguably better than our timeline in which 54,000,000 people died as a result of World War II.

Fry takes a different approach. His main character, Michael Young, meets Leo Zuckermann, whose father was at Auschwitz, and as a result Zuckermann wants to eliminate Hitler. Because the only time travel capability Zuckermann can invent is the ability to send small packages back in time, they come up with a fairly interesting (though very heavily telegraphed) method of accomplishing that. After Michael Young sends his parcel back through time, he suddenly finds himself somewhere else. He's not in Cambridge, he's in Princeton. And though he's the same person, somehow he's different--or at least the person he is in this world is different. And this world is *not* better. How Fry manages to do all this and make this a humorous novel as well is a feat in itself.

Fry does a good job of showing Young trying to cope in a world with which he is unfamiliar. Unlike the all-too-usual hero who immediately figures everything out, Young makes mistakes. In fact, he makes a mistake practically every time he opens his mouth. He does eventually resort to that tried-and-true approach, finding history books in the library to explain everything to him, and of course to us as a side- effect.

One of the things that Fry does is to make it clear that he thinks our world is pretty good. At one point Young tells another character, "I haven't told you about Microsoft and Rupert Murdoch and fundamentalists and infant crack addicts with Uzis. I haven't told you about lottery scratchcards and mad cow disease and LARRY KING LIVE," to which the other character replies, "You told me about political correctness and gay quarters in towns and rock and roll and Clinton Eastwood movies and kids not having to call their dads "sir" but saying "motherfucker" and "no way, dude" and chilling off in Ecstasy dance clubs. I want some of that. I want to be cool. ... I want to wear weird clothes and grow my hair long without being fined by the college or having a fight with my parents. If you want to do that here, you live in a ghetto and the police round you up and harassle you. ... Give me a chance to use these words and live this life." How you feel about the book may depend on how you feel about this philosophy.

MAKING HISTORY is a good blend of alternate history and British humor that I would recommend to fans of either.

%T      Making History
%A      Stephen Fry
%C      Scoresby, Victoria, Australia
%D      1997 [c1996]
%I      Arrow/Random House
%O      paperback, A$14.95 [1997]
%G      ISBN 0-09-946481-0
%P      553pp

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