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Meta-review: Gaudeamus

by John Barnes

(Tor, $25, 317 pages, hardback, November 2004; ISBN: 0-765-30329-9.)

Review by Peter D Tillman

What this is, is a long shaggy-bar story, with a fictional version of the author as narrator. cover scanThe 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,

"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,, 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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