Enrico Fermi died in 1954. Leo Szilard died in 1964. Robert Oppenheimer died in 1967. Didn’t they?
It is Millet’s (George Bush, Dark Prince of Love, 2000) happy conceit that they did, but, by some weird blip of the time-space continuum, they’ve come back to life and landed in northern New Mexico. These three men, writes Millet in a characteristically poetic turn, made possible “the moment when a speck of dust acquires the power to engulf the world in fire.” All are a little put off by the contours the world has taken since they shuffled off the mortal coil; as Oppenheimer grumbles, “In my day there was ignorance too: ignorance is timeless. But at least we were ashamed of it.” Tooling around Los Alamos, Santa Fe and neighboring burgs in cheap sunglasses and borrowed rides, the three are eventually found out, one by one, by a suitably retiring librarian, Ann, who is inclined to be maudlin, unlike her landscaper husband Ben, servant to the nouveaux riches of the high country. Ann meets Fermi and Oppenheimer in the produce aisle of the corner grocery, Oppenheimer wielding a Daikon radish that “resembled a club, and she thought blunt instrument.” With Szilard in tow, the fissionable four set about trying to unmake the atomic era, wending their way across a landscape made ever so slightly ominous by the knowledge that the sky can fall at any minute. Along the way, the scientists have plenty of opportunities to ponder the mysteries of contemporary culture, especially when it develops that a whole lot of born-again Christians take it into their heads that the three are the Holy Trinity—think Trinity Site—and that Oppenheimer is “the risen messiah,” to which Szilard sagely remarks, “People are free to interpret our work as they choose. That is both their right and their privilege.”
Whatever it takes to put the genie back in the bottle, in other words. Lively, provocative fiction, graced by good writing and a refreshingly offbeat worldview.