Making History

… is not a good recommendation of Stephen Fry’s many talents. I was unsure if he’s simply in unfamiliar territory writing semi-serious semi-science-fiction, but I have been assured his other written works are actually quite good – I picked the most mediocre by bad luck, it seems. It’s a book that aims pretty high, taking on some moderately tough, although eminently fashionable, subjects and the basic premise is pretty interesting, but it’s let down by characters I struggled to empathise with whatsoever, and some extremely ropey science (relating to time-travel, so much can be forgiven, I admit).

Part of the problem for me is that this is ground covered extremely well by Connie Willis in Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, both of which are gripping, well-researched and with a far more convincing scientific foundation. The other nagging feeling I have is that Fry was really writing a sceenplay, which he then novelised. I had that impression early on, but in a few places the writing style actually switches to a pseudo-script format – this is used as a device to show the rapid passage of time, but really made me wonder if that’s the explanation for the lack of character background and the magic-wand science. The plot is also about the right length and pacing to fit into a two-hour format. Hmmm.

Of course nothing can actually reduce the great man in my estimation – but I’ll be choosing the next title of his to read with some caution.

Posted Thursday, July 10th, 2008 under books, scifi.

One comment so far

  1. I think the underlying point is a sound one – questioning the common axiom that Hitler was the source of all evil by pointing out that if he hadn’t, someone else would have. It’s a while since I read it, but I remember there being logical inconsistencies (even accepting the basic conceit) in the time travel, who remembered what and who became ‘alternate’. I also remember a scene where he is deduced in an interview to be a Cambridge undergraduate purely because of some incongruities. A fun scene, but pretty contrived.

    ‘Liar’ is brilliant, and I enjoyed ‘Hippopotamus’ muchly (though the aptly-named ‘Wallace’ character was eerily familiar…).

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