Door Number Three, Patrick O’Leary

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Door Number Three, Patrick O’Leary, Tor, 1995, ISBN 0-312-85872-8, $23.95, 383pp.

There seems to be a resurgence in time-travel novels, although they seem to be taking unusual shapes and forms. Or maybe I’m just hitting a bunch in a row: John Kessel’s humorous take on time, Connie Willis’ upcoming novel set in the same world as her award winning “Time Watch,” and now this unusual novel, a combination of conspiracy paranoia, aliens among us, questionable reality, and time shuffling. It’s a strange combo, but it works magically.

First off, I have to give credit where it is due. Lawrence Person told me to read this, and although we don’t always agree on literature, Lawrence knows my taste in SF and can often identify books that I will enjoy (it was he who pointed me in the direction of William Browning Spencer’s Zod Wallop, I believe). This time Lawrence was number one with a bullet! Door Number Three pushes several of my buttons, most importantly the study of dreams and the fluctuation of reality.

The subject matter reminds me of Philip Dick. What is the nature of humanity? Why do we do the things we do? These are Dickian subjects (at least in the SF genre), and O’Leary tackles them within a framework that Dick might have used. However, the style with which he describes his world and ideas is what Dick would have used it he were still alive. Trying to describe this, I have to resort to the simple description of this as a 90s novel–in 20+ years time, we will be able to definitively identify this as being written shortly before the turn of the century.

The basic story concerns John Donnelly, a psychologist whose new client, Laura, claims to have been in contact with aliens and if she can convince one sane person of this, they will let her stay on earth. But the real story is about John himself, his life, his family, and his personal adaptation to life. As such, it is not “true” science fiction, or, at least, science fiction as it is assigned as a label by most people. If the fantastical elements were less, or if O’Leary had been a little more post-modern with his prose, this would have been the latest hip college novel, rather than a forgotten debut on the SF shelf.

It is a strong novel, which should appeal to most readers. Be open to it, however, because many things are not as they first seem. And at a little less than 400 pages, there’s a lot of space for twists and turns.

[Finished 13 September 1997]

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