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    Review of GAUDEAMUS by John Barnes

    Tor, November 2004

    College professor and Science Fiction author John Barnes is wasting his time trying to write when a friend from college appears on his doorstep needing a ride to Denver (hundreds of miles away) and telling a strange story--a story so strange Barnes just might be able to use it for his next SF story--or maybe so strange that it is even true. According to Barnes' friend Travis Bismark, Travis was hired to look into how a top-secret research company's secrets were being leaked. At first it seemed easy--and highly profitable. Travis traced the leaked documents, found who could be responsible (very few scientists would be exposed to all of the documents) and then traced the most likely suspect to where he was meeting with a high-class hooker. Bugging the hooker's apartment turned up something, but not at all what Travis expected. Author John Barnes (the book's author, not the character) gives us the story in dribbles, whetting our appetite for more as he tells of Travis's adventures, the increasing danger he finds himself in, finally leading to the culmination of something that he simply couldn't be making up--or could he. According to Travis, a strange machine that just might be able to pass objects through time, a sex drug, and an on-line comic strip all have the same name--Gaudeamus. It could be that Gaudeamus is just the name for something cool, but that doesn't seem like quiet enough to Barnes--or to Travis. For GAUDEAMUS (the book, not the sex pill, comic strip, or machine), Barnes adopts the old-fashioned device of a retelling of a story. This works--allowing the author to 'discover' what happens next as the reader does. A downside of this technique is that it often distances the reader from the story, making suspension of disbelief that much more difficult. But Barnes doesn't really want people to buy into his story. Rather, he wants them to buy into his concerns and ambiguity about the way the world is headed. GAUDEAMUS is a bit of a message story, but the message is complex. Would the world really be better off if we spent more time enjoying life and less time obsessively trying to discover new inventions? Are people who see flying saucers crazy, or just more observant than the rest of us? Do casual observers really deserve a chance to toss one-line zings at artists who have devoted their career to creating something? All good questions--and questions that Barnes leaves out there more for thought than answering. Bottom line--I enjoyed this story. There were a number of laugh-out-loud moments for me, and the character of Barnes--always on the periphery of something happening but always managing to miss it, was entertaining. Barnes (the author) asks his readers to think, and gives us something compelling to think about.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 2/02/05

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    Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.