I like a bit of time travel, and I like a bit of history, and I like a bit of comedy, so this book ticks a few boxes for me. This is the story of a history postgraduate student who has just completed a thesis on Adolf Hitler’s childhood. He has a girlfriend who has invented a drug that will sterilise men. Then he happens to bump in to a professor who has invented a time machine, so between them they fix it so that Hitler has never been born. He is the most evil man of all time, right? So what could go wrong?
Now, I love Stephen Fry, and this novel is full of his trademark wit. But there is a massive, gaping plot hole in this novel. Our protagonist, Michael, has entirely changed the course of time, Hitler didn’t happen, entire continents had different futures. George Orwell didn’t write what he wrote in our reality. Huge changes resulted from this one man not being born. But Michael’s parents still met and still fell in love and still managed to have sex at the exact same time that they would have in the previous reality and still managed to create him. Of course the book would not work at all without this plot hole, but a hole it still is.
The book was written in 1996 and some of Fry’s suggestions on alternative technologies seem quite dated (books! Made of paper!), and some are very accurate (screens with icons we can touch in stead of buttons), and some we have tried in this reality that just do not work (speaking to our computers to get them to do things). It is all fun to read, though.
The basic premise of the story has been suggested before. It suggests that it is actually a good thing that Hitler was in charge of the Nazi party. After the First World War conditions were ripe for the Nazi party to strengthen, it was bound to happen. If someone competent and more balanced had been in charge then they might have won the war.
I enjoyed the book because I like to think about all the little things that happen that can lead our lives off in such different directions. Fry chose a big thing and chose to ignore the little things for the sake of a story. But I forgive him.