John Kessel's Corrupting Dr. Nice desperately and obviously wants to be hyper-clever, despite which it's reasonably decent.

We join our heroine in media scam, as she attempts to con a wealthy time-traveller in medieval France; we jump to our hero smuggling a dinosaur out of the Paleozoic; and then we get our Meet Cute when they stumble into each other in Jerusalem A.D. 30 -- a time and place which inspires a few obvious questions.

The remainder of the book concerns itself with two plots arising from this meeting; one is a rather obvious and unconvincing romance, and the other concerns the political and ethical ramifications of time travel. Neither one of the plots is especially compelling -- and one of the biggest flaws of the book is that Kessel imagines that both are just infused with essence of coolness. The dialogue is particularly embarrassing, as it attempts the sort of panache that Daniel Keys Moran pulls off in The Long Run, but fails to achieve it.

Still, the book isn't without merit. The world-building is solid, with a lot of interesting details, like the LEX justice system. Even there, though, Kessel's desire to be writing a cool book shows through -- the world is media-saturated and show-biz-cynical in the same way that you see in the worst of Bruce Sterling's work.

The overall effect of this desperate grab for originality, paradoxically, is that the book feels a bit generic. There's little to complain about, and if it were the first SF I'd ever read, I might have really liked it; as it is, though, it's merely competent and uninspiring. A year from now, I'll likely have nearly forgotten it.


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