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November 8th, 2003

John Kessel: 'It's All True'.

over at scifi.com, you will find 'it's all true' a short story by john kessel.

apparently kessel has running time travel/alternate history series that he has been writing in and out of for a while. i say apparently, because i've heard that his collection pure product holds these stories, but i've not read it, so i cannot say for sure. at any rate, 'it's all true' is a time travel story, of sorts.

personally, i'm a bit of a hard sell on time travel, as more often than not, it's used in bland, cliched ways. that doesn't mean that it can't be used, as fritz lieber's changewar series showed. but mostly, it's not my thing. the only way it does work for me is when it is not the focus of the story, which is the case with 'it's all true', which focus' instead on orson welles and the traveller. i have to admit, i probably wouldn't have read this story if it didn't have orson welles in it. welles fascinates me, and so does his representation in fiction and biography, and in this story, kessel presents the arrogant, moody welles, spliced with a few moments of charm. yet, despite this, kessel manages to keep the reader sympathetic to welles' future, rather than leading him or her to believe that the director/actor deserved his fate. it's a rare balancing trick, and is the strength of the story, guiding the reader through it.

it's not a perfect story: it's easy to pick the fate of the magnificent ambersons print for example, and the narrator of the story is nothing more than a narrative tool to lead the reader to welles. personally, i would have thought that doing away with the time travel plot would have produced a stronger story, and perhaps a stronger narrator, but that's something that has more to do with taste than anything in the story. but by offering the portrait of orson welles as a man who was on the verge of ruining his career through his own personality, and through his interactions with people around him, it's a fine little story, and worth the time to hit and read it.