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Nick Nielsen
HarperCollins Books, 281 pages

Nick Nielsen
From the dust jacket:
Nick Nielsen does not live in East London although that is the address he normally gives when cornered. This is his first novel. After an interesting and occasionally successful working life as a semi-professional arm wrestler, he has now settled down to a career at the informal end of the alcohol distillation business. His friends describe him as generously proportioned and possibly fictitious.

HarperCollins Voyager

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

In the year 95 SEGS (Since Everything Got Smaller), a young civil servant, Trafalgar Hurlock, joins the Ministry of Knowledge to study the corrupted pre-"great sleep" databases. All paper-based data, except for some catering manuals, have been destroyed by a growing population of intelligent, electronic mice with a wicked sense of humour, strange clothes and a hearty laugh. The mice also rearrange electronic data so that, for example, the traditional sayings database has entries like "A stitch in time saves closing the stable door after the horse has bolted."

The population of 95 SEGS also has to deal with hurricane-force winds, and larger and larger houseflies, now approaching the size of cathedrals. Hurlock discovers the grave of one of the giant inhabitants of the pre-sleep world, and an uncorrupted video-will which shows him that not all is as it seems. With a time machine given to him by his later-in-time self, he also gains access to a completely uncorrupted database, convincing him that the Ministry's databases are in far worse shape than was previously thought.

The ELV (Evolution Limitation Volunteers), led by the megalomaniac Bluto O'Barron, Minister of Knowledge, takes off in the aptly named "Titanic" time machine. Their mission is to go back and fix the fly and mouse problems. O'Barron fails to mention that, believing the clean database associated with the Chrononavigational Global Positioning System is too dangerous for the people of 95 SEGS, he has replaced it with the corrupted Ministry database.

After many resultant misadventures, the ELV manage to reach the Grand Central Fortress of the pre-sleep people. Due to severe overcrowding and rampant gangland violence, they have convinced everybody that it is time for downsizing. Robots will rebuild the cities in a 0.15:1 scale, and genetic manipulation combined with a 500-year sleep will shrink all lifeforms accordingly. Unfortunately, the genetic engineer working on houseflies is having some last-minute technical problems, and an electronics engineer has created a self-replicating artificial intelligence with the first artificial sense of humour and packaged it in a computer mouse.

Nick Nielsen's ELV does for time travel what Tom Holt does for classical literary characters in his recent titles Who's Afraid of Beowulf? (1992), and Faust Amongst Equals (1995), amongst others. The premise of the corrupted databases allows Nielsen to make dozens of side-splitting reconstructions of history. For example, the creator of the computer, P.C. Apple, is thought to have died falling "out of the windows at a place called Dos," and Hurlock is fondly "thinking of the scene from 'Goldilocks and the Three Aliens' where the teddy bear bursts out of Goldilocks' stomach." Besides inspiring William Shakespeare, helping found Rome with a trained lettuce-fetching she-wolf carried to prehistoric Italy from England by an anti-gravity sledge left behind by aliens, and causing the mystery of the Mary Celeste, the ELV team also turns a prehistoric shepherdess into a card shark and Glenn Miller into the Pied-Piper of Hamelin.

Now, the time-travel aspect of the story might not appeal to the dyed-in-the-wool hard-SF aficionado, but there are more than enough gags to keep a reader from looking too closely for the inconsistencies and events that would cause major temporal breaches in another novel. Besides, if you can't see the humour for the details, this really isn't the kind of book you should be reading.

The novel does drag a bit when they visit Olvis, king of a prehistoric agrarian tribe, misidentified by the time machine as Elvis, King of the Golden Discs. Between an insane O'Barron, trying to make-over Olvis into Elvis, and the other ELV operatives building the prototype for Stonehenge as a silicon macrochip to replace the broken microchip in the time machine, the humour gets stretched a little too far, as the story goes off on a tangent that has little to do with the main plot.

The resolution of the book is a bit weak, inasmuch as the explanation which the later-in-time Hurlock gives to the 95 SEGS Hurlock is superfluous. It seems an attempt by the author to rationalize what is perhaps best left as a funny, chaotic situation. However, Trafalgar Hurlock's general naïve incompetence and frequent brain meltdowns and gibberish in the presence of the voluptuous Anya Ninety-Five, a.k.a. "Tits", more than makes up for these minor flaws.

Copyright © 1998 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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