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All The Lives He Led by Frederick Pohl

01/06/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy All The Lives He Led in the USA - or Buy All The Lives He Led in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 347 page hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 0-978-7653-2176-3).

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Much of North America has been devastated by volcanic ash from an eruption in Yellowstone Park. It’s a shame that we aren’t really introduced to this from the start of Frederick Pohl’s new book, ‘All The Lies He Led’, than me reading about it on the book sleeve although more detail is given towards the end. Then again, the story is in first person and we follow the life of Brad Sheridan who is living in Pompeii as part of a re-enactment staff to earn his keep amongst various virtual reality material for the tourist trade.

Security is also a lot tougher in this future and it is easy to get penalised for not telling the truth. Then again, as the story develops we learn more about the various terrorist plots that have happened only they’ve moved up from bombs to viruses.

Much of this story is about a Bohemian life in this often virtual reality Pompeii and it isn’t until the middle of the book that clues as to what is going on with various terrorist actions and Sheridan unwittingly finding himself in the middle of things. He doesn’t really remember what happens as he wakes up in hospital after being abandoned in a ditch, after being duffed up and drunk, discovering his drinking companion had been killed.

Pohl even goes to the trouble of listing out Sheridan’s problems but I often feel that we’re not seeing the whole picture. Spreading out the events in real time also reduces the concept of danger that Sheridan is in although, to be fair, Pohl is playing this out more like it was in our reality based time than the way things are often condensed in stories. Even so, it can occasionally be like watching paint drying and when things do happen, you wish the characters’ reactions could be a little more intense than act as ciphers. Sheridan for much of the time is on the periphery of the action so we don’t really see what really motivates the terrorists in the first place. Whether an American audience would get anything too subtle for a British audience, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Sheridan isn’t particularly likeable person. I’m not altogether sure if that’s his or Frederick Pohl’s fault. Even if it’s only acquaintances getting killed, it doesn’t seem to have much effect on him other than saving his own skin. There is a definite lack of emotional quality to the character.

Although not quite on par with his earlier material, Pohl does keep your attention to the pose despite the limitations I’ve pointed out. If you let your imagination go behind what is going on, you would wish there’d been an opportunity to explore more about what is going on in this world than be trapped in a first person perspective.

GF Willmetts

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