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The Hemmingway Hoax: The Many Deaths of John Baird

The Hemmingway Hoax by Joe Halderman

So finally I have reached the last story in the Eighth Edition of the Year’s Best Scifi. I slowly worked my way there over the course of a year and am now at the final story. What is the last story? It’s a novella called The Hemmingway Hoax by Joe Halderman.

So what is it about? It begins with a scholar, Jon Baird, writing a draft of an article in a café. There, a fisherman named Sylvester Castleman who makes conversation with him. They discuss Baird’s job, his fascination with Hemmingway and this tale of these lost unpublished Hemmingway manuscripts that are yet to be found. Hearing this Castleman, who has a history of being a conman, suggests a grand plan about how they, together, can fake these manuscripts and make millions. Though hesitant at first, Baird reluctantly agrees.

This con should be easy and possibly the most boring heist in history, but somehow it’s revealed that if this con comes to completion, the world will end in the future. Not in one timeline, but in many timelines. These beings known as the Entities are time keepers of sort trying to keep stuff like this from happening. After trying to talk sense into Baird, but Baird is defiant. So the entity kills him. Apparently the Bairds are all interconnected somehow, and if one dies in one timeline, the other Baird’s will stop their pursuit. Or at least that was what the Entities thought. But it turns out that Baird is a different sort of paradox altogether. Every time he is killed, he wakes up in the life of another Baird in another timeline, keeping all the memories of his previous life as well as the new ones. Out of spite, he continues on with con through many lives as he is killed over and over again. And each life in the next timeline is different and sometimes worse than the one before.

So the good? I kind of love this concept. There’s an indie pseudo horror film from 2007 I love called The Deaths of Ian Stone. It has much of the same plot and was clearly inspired by this novella. Like that film, I love the concept here. It is imaginative and so fun. To see Baird navigate all these lives where things can be the same or wildly different as a being is insistent on killing him until he stays dead is fascinating. I also was impressed with how faking Ernest Hemmingway work was actually entertaining. This also very unpredictable, with a lot of twists and turns you don’t see coming.

The bad? During some of the violent part of a couple timelines, there’s some much unneeded description for the injuries and dismemberment of private parts, both male and female. They are every small moments, but they caught me off guard. I’m fine with gore. I actually love over the top horror every once in an awhile as long as it’s not for complete shock value. And the two scenes I’m talking about felt like shock value. Also the ending is a bit obtuse and ambiguous. I like that about it, but everyone won’t enjoy it.

Overall, it’s an imaginative fun scifi tale that is really worth your time. Its great scifi that keeps you guessing and makes you think. If you haven’t read it, you need to go ahead and give this a read. This weird odyssey is a great read.

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Overall Rating: The Many Deaths of John Baird

5 smoothies out of Five.


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