Friday, December 10, 2004

Inside Job

"Inside Job" by Connie Willis, Azimov's Science Fiction, January 2005

This is a crime story. I've been surprised by the number of crime stories I've seen masquerading under the science fiction banner. It may be that they have always been there, but I just never noticed.

In any case, this story, a novella, actually, tends more toward fantasy than science fiction. I've noticed that Azimov's does tend to publish a couple of soft fantasy stories every month, while Analog sticks to hard science fiction.

Back to the point at hand. The story is about a psychic debunker, Rob, who runs a magazine called The Jaundiced Eye with the help of his beautiful assistant, Kildy. Kildy sics him on this psychic who is bilking people out of millions by claiming to be channeling an ancient sage called Isus.

Of course the psychic is a fake as far as Isus is concerned, but turns out to be involuntarily channeling H.L. Mencken, one of the most vigorous and vocal psychic debunkers of the first half of the Twentieth Century. Needless to say, this makes for some interesting performances.

The problem is how does Mr. Mencken convince a psychic debunker who thinks all channelers are fakes that he is real? This conundrum constitutes the crux of the story and kept me well entertained. A stickier question is how does Mencken convince Rob he is real without proving to the public at large that this particular channeler, unlike all the others, is not a fake?

Rob, the living debunker, is well drawn and absolutely consistent with his beliefs, even when he is convinced that Kildy is in league with the channeler. He knows he is falling in love with her. He wants to believe that she wouldn't do something like that. But all the hard evidence points to her betrayal of him. I kept rooting for Rob to accept her on faith, but that would be WRONG.

Kildy is a very smart lady. Does she manage to convince him and live happily ever after? Does Mencken make his point? Ms. Willis keeps the suspense high and resolves it skillfully.

Read the story. It's a blast! And particularly apropos given the recent resurgence of the Intelligent Design irrationality and the seeming increase in the numbers of "Boobus Americanus." (No, that does not refer to a body part.) But that's a rant for another venue.

"Inside Job" is a great story well told.


At 1:33 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Connie Willis has written some wonderful stories. I'll have to be sure to get this issue of Asimov's.

At 8:25 PM, Blogger Bob said...

This is the first of hers that I am aware of reading. I'll have to keep a sharp eye out for others.

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