cover image Corrupting Dr. Nice

Corrupting Dr. Nice

John Kessel. Tor Books, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86116-2

In the mid-21st century, time travel is as common as air travel is today, and so is the wholesale looting of the past for people and artifacts. The eponymous Owen Vannice, a billionaire paleontologist trying to smuggle a dinosaur from the Cretaceous period, becomes the target of Genevieve Faison, a professional confidence woman. He also becomes the focus, A.D. 40, of a Zealot uprising in Jerusalem, which has been virtually colonized by the time-travel corporations. Surviving kidnapping by terrorists and betrayal by Genevieve, Owen proceeds to marry the woman when she reappears under the name of Emma Zume. It all works out happily in the end, even for one Simon the Zealot, driven to terrorism after time-travelers steal away one Yeshu, whom he followed. The character of Simon and the portrait of a Jerusalem under time-traveling occupation are superlatively well done. Most everything else here, however, suffers from an earnestness that clashes with the urge to romp. Kessel (Good News from Outer Space) dedicates the novel to a slew of film directors (Capra, Wilder, Sturges, etc.) who mixed comedy and drama in their work. The mix here isn't nearly as magical as theirs, but the story remains intelligent and entertaining throughout. (Jan.)