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Numbers Don't Lie
Terry Bisson
Tachyon, 163 pages

Numbers Don't Lie
Terry Bisson
Terry Bisson was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. He attended Grinnell College and the University of Louisville (1964). He teaches SF writing at The New School and occasionally Clarion and Odyssey. With Judy Jensen, Terry Bisson owned and operated a revolutionary mail-order book service, Jacobin Books, from 1985 to 1990. Bisson's many published titles include Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, the long-awaited posthumous sequel to A Canticle For Leibowitz, which he wrote for the estate of Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Terry Bisson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Pickup Artist
SF Site Review: In The Upper Room and Other Likely Stories

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Paul Kincaid

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There seems to come a time in the life of every writer of quirky science fiction when they latch on to a series character. The ancestor is clearly the pub story (think of Tales from the White Hart by the decidedly unquirky Arthur C. Clarke) but these have evolved by ways as varied as R.A. Lafferty's crackpot team of researchers and the denizens of Spider Robinson's Callahan's Bar. Now Terry Bisson gives us Irving and his super-bright polymath pal Wilson Wu.

The three stories gathered in this slim volume (made slightly less slim by the size of the type) conform to the pattern so precisely they could have been constructed by computer. The whole point of such stories seems to be to use a buttonholing style to relate complete balderdash, and to make the improbabilities slip under our defenses by piling on ever more improbabilities. Some people seem to like this sort of thing.

Wilson Wu has, of course, done more than any normal person could cram into three lifetimes, and he has done it all superbly. He is, as the blurb sums it up more economically than Bisson himself ever does, a 'rock musician, Volvo mechanic, trial lawyer, camel driver, aeronautics engineer, and entomological meteorologist', as well as being a better than world class mathematician, as well as being able to patch into any telephone or computer system anywhere in the world at any time. Oh, and he once worked for the winner of the Nobel Prize for real estate. Irving, on the other hand, is our none-too-bright Watson of a narrator who is obsessed with the idea of sex with his soon-to-be fiancée, though he never speaks of it in terms any less coy (and annoying) than 'With all the privileges that entails,' who thinks that meteorology is to do with meteors, and who occasionally puts the world to rights without ever quite realising he is doing so. When the expansion of the universe suddenly goes into reverse in 'The Edge of the Universe,' for instance, he corrects it by walloping a discarded bead car seat cover with a length of two-by-four -- which makes about as much sense as anything else in the book.

The better of the three stories is the first, 'The Hole in the Hole,' in which our heroes are able to step directly onto the Moon from a yard full of scrap Volvos in a backwater of Brooklyn by way of a 'periodic incongruent neotopological metaeuclidean adjacency'. The weakest is the third, in which Irving returns to New York and finds that the impossible happens -- planes land exactly on time, subway trains arrive when they are supposed -- because the former winner of the Nobel Prize for real estate is stealing all the connective time in order to create his own pocket universe. Each of these idiocies is backed up with a succession of mathematical formulae which Rudy Rucker informs us are elegant -- and he should know, since he provided them. They are also related in a prose which is, indeed, elegant, since it is by Terry Bisson after all and he is a never less than readable writer -- it is the book's saving grace.

For anyone who finds gibberish amusing, Numbers Don't Lie is probably an hilarious book. For the rest of us, well, it's for Bisson completists only.

Copyright © 2005 by Paul Kincaid

Paul Kincaid is the administrator of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and reviews for most of the critical journals in science fiction, as well as contributing to numerous reference books.


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