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Sunday, July 31, 2011

cover of Connie Willis' 'Inside Job'

Rob is a professional skeptic and debunker who edits and publishes the The Jaundiced Eye, a little publication that tries to keep up with and discredit the various scams of mediums, channelers, psychics, and the like that people are so eager to believe and pay. He is joined in his work by Kildy Ross, a beautiful and wealthy former actress who decided she didn't want to pursue the fame game (as she tells him, she didn't want to play the love interest in "Hulk IV", date Ben Affleck, or end up in rehab). Kildy takes Rob to see Ariaura, a new psychic who claims to channel Isus, an ancient priest of Atlantis; Ariaura is clearly a poor fake, speaking in thees and thous without even getting the grammar right, and Rob can't figure out why Kildy would bother bringing him; but then, in the middle of the session, something strange happens-- another voice speaks out, a gruff, skeptical voice that sounds an awful lot like H. L. Mencken.

Rob has a tough time trying to figure out what is going on-- everything Ariaura-as-Mencken says seems believable, and it's much more realistic than the standard channeler practice of quoting verbatim; they ask questions and can't prove it isn't Mencken, but Rob finally thinks he's got it figured out. He thinks it must be an inside job - that Kildy has been setting him up to endorse this channeler (she's too good to be true, so the skeptic in him doesn't believe she will keep showing up to work with him); so Kildy has to figure out how to prove she's not involved (and that she's in love with him, too, of course), and challenges Ariaura-as-Mencken to prove it's really him without proving that Ariaura-- who is clearly a fake-- is actually channeling a real spirit. And then, wackiness ensues.

I've been aware of this little novella for a while, but unable to find a copy of it-- it's a novella that was apparently a limited edition hardback print run; maybe it will eventually be collected in a short story collection. I finally was able to read it because they made an electronic edition available at a reasonable price.

Strictly speaking, it's a bit of a stretch to call this novella Science Fiction - it's pretty contemporary fiction with a touch of the supernatural. It's got a bit of the screwball comedy Willis does so well in some of her other short stories and novels, although this one perhaps isn't quite as comedic or delightful of my favorites of those. It is also a fun little tribute to H. L. Mencken (who I don't know that much about, but now may have to look up), as well as skeptics and lovers of Truth everywhere.

Title:Inside Job
Author:Connie Willis
Date published:2005
Genre:Science Fiction
Number of pages:159
Notes:read the electronic edition


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