(Tor, $25, 317 pages, hardback, November 2004; ISBN: 0-765-30329-9.)
What this is, is a long shaggy-bar story, with a fictional version
of the author as narrator.
protag is one Travis Bismarck, who appears to be a real-life friend
of Barnes. The book opens with (literally) loopy scene-setting that
circles around the actual start in amusingly recursive spirals, as Barnes's
old pal ficto-Travis, who is some sort of technical PI, relates his
current case, and how it went weird.
Now, I'm assuming that Barnes's RL isn't too different (in its non-fantastic
quotidientity) than the fictional JB -- the broad outlines match, it
isn't a very flattering portrait, and it's just easier to write what
you know. I was pretty consistently entertained by Barnes's "what is
reality?" mind-games, but you might not be:
"I found that every now and then I'd be pulled out of the book by
the character of John Barnes talking about being a science fiction
writer. I couldn't help but wonder if he really thinks about SF conventions
like that, or the fans, or the genre. Every time I came upon some
Barnes POV stuff I'd get jerked out of the story. At times, reading
the book was like peeking into someone's diary and wondering, would
I get caught."
-- Gayle Surrette, sfrevu.com/review-id.php?id=1762
"Barnes has done a bang-up job creating a rich air of verisimilitude
and a thickness of believable details. His self-portrait is unsparing
and modest, even self-abasing, and the humility and skepticism of
the narrator allow us easy entrance into the wacky doings described
by Travis. Generous dollops of humor and satire -- Barnes and Travis
have a lot of wry opinions about academia, entertainment and other
demented aspects of our culture -- grease the telling as well."
-- Paul Di Filippo, www.scifi.com/sfw/issue397/books.html,
the best review I saw online.
Anyway, if you're in the mood for a clever, cozy, twisty, sexy, crackpot,
meandering, recursive, wonderfully implausible piece of metafiction
that's full of wisecracks and is just a whole lot of fun to read --
plus, it's short! -- go for Gaudeamus. A fine, semi-mindless
read for a mental winter vacation. Caveat: if plot holes and logic-lapses
offend you, Gaudeamus might not be for you. Then again, it moves
so fast, you might not even notice....
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