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by Stephen Fry

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-45955-3
Publisher: Random House

Would the world be better off if Hitler had never lived? British TV personality and novelist Fry (The Hippopotamus, 1995, etc.) inflates a speculative idyll into an overlong, glibly caustic--and often hilarious--social satire. Interfering with history is a shopworn science fiction conceit that, as everyone from H.G. Wells's Time Traveller to Captain Kirk of Star Trek has discovered, is not time well spent: The most absurd paradoxes (murdering your grandfather, etc.) must be resolved to leave everything more or less as it was before the story began. In his third novel, Fry fashions an elaborately contrived plot so that the nebbishy Michael Young, a snide, pop-culturequoting Cambridge University doctoral student in German history, will meet the guilt-ridden German physicist Leo Zuckermann (whose father was an Auschwitz physician) and use Zuckerman's fancy laptop time machine to drop infertility pills into Hitler's father's morning beer. Then, after some Spielbergian special effects, Young wakes up across the Atlantic to find that he's been circumcised and is now majoring in philosophy at a brutishly conservative Princeton. America is in a Cold War conflict with a German hegemony that spans most of Europe and Asia. In place of Hitler is Rudolf Gloder, a far more intelligent Nazi who encouraged his nation to develop atomic weapons in advance of the US, smashed Russia's Communist revolution, and found a way to make Jews persecute themselves. Young, determined to return the past to its untampered state, learns what history always teaches: Even in a world without Hitler, things can always be worse. An amusing, sophomoric, hyperbolic, academic send-up, timed to coincide with Fry's upcoming role in a film about Oscar Wilde.