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Humpty Dumpty: AN OVAL
Damon Knight
Tor Books, 287 pages

Humpty Dumpty: AN OVAL
Damon Knight
In 1922, Damon Knight was born in Baker, Oregon. His first story was published by Donald A. Wollheim. In 1956, he founded the Milford SF Writers' Conference along with Judith Merril. An adjunct to it is the Clarion Workshop. In 1965 he founded Science Fiction Writers of America, serving as its first president. He has written approximately 100 short stories, 13 novels, 11 collections and edited 47 anthologies. Knight is married to Kate Wilhelm.

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A review by James Seidman

Humpty Dumpty: AN OVAL is a weird book.

Damon Knight tells the story as a first-person narrative told by Wellington Stout, a lingerie salesman. Stout was on his way to Rome for his stepdaughter's wedding when he stopped off in Milan to deliver a package as a favor to his brother. Unfortunately for him, when he met the package's recipient in a restaurant, a stray bullet punctures his skull.

When he wakes up in the hospital, he quickly learns that he can't trust anyone. The doctor tells him that the bullet is still in his head, but someone else suggests that the doctor may have actually implanted the bullet. After Stout sneaks out of the hospital, he discovers that many different factions are after him and the lost parcel. He finds himself dodging everyone from the secret society of dentists that secretly rules the world to representatives of several other worlds that want to conquer the Earth.

On the possibility that the parcel was actually a decoy and the important information was actually on a business card he gave to a woman, he returns to America. Thus follows a cross-country trip, complicated by the inconvenient storm of meteorites that have started destroying cities and highways. That's the least of Stout's problems, as he learns that the bullet in his head has shattered reality itself.

Stout has become unhinged, floating around in time. Various people and aliens try to control him, attach invisible tubes and cords to him, and otherwise manipulate him. The world is literally falling apart. People from the future abduct him for interrogations, or sometimes just to chat. Meanwhile he must somehow single-handedly prevent not only the conquest of Earth but also the disintegration of reality itself. As he continues his search for his business card, he even worries that the bullet in his head has driven him insane.

Humpty Dumpty is a story that is told much more through the symbolic metaphors of Stout's experiences than through the disjointed and delusional story line. It is definitely what I would call "high literature," a story that exists on several different levels of meaning, with the plot being perhaps the least compelling. If you decide to read this oddly stimulating book, budget enough time to read it twice slowly.

Copyright © 1997 James Seidman

James Seidman is co-founder and president of a small start-up company, which means that getting review copies of books is the only way he can afford to indulge his craving for science fiction. He lives with his wife, daughter, two dogs, and twenty-seven fish in Naperville, Illinois.

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