Inside Job: Hugo Award-winning novella

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSF book reviews Connie Willis Inside JobInside Job by Connie Willis

I have a goal of eventually reading all of the major SFF award winners, including novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories, so that’s why I picked up Connie Willis’s Inside Job when I saw that it was available on audio. Inside Job won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 2006. Just a couple of months ago, by the way, Connie Willis received the SFWA Grand Master Award (January 2012).

Inside Job is a story about Rob, a professional debunker of pseudoscience, and his new partner Kildy Ross, a beautiful and famous actress. They attend séances and visit faith healers, psychics, and palm readers, always figuring out how these hucksters are cheating the gullible and publishing their findings in their magazine, The Jaundiced Eye.

Mostly it’s the same thing over and over: an earpiece, hidden wires, a confederate in the right place. Their latest case, however, is the toughest one ever. When they attend a seminar by the new psychic in town, Ariaura Keller, she begins channeling the spirit of H.L. Mencken, the famous skeptic who reported on the Scopes Trial and famously said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

Rob and Kildy are determined to discover how Ariaura is channeling Mencken. But, more puzzling, why would a psychic who makes money tricking her audience be regaling them with monologues by H.L. Mencken? The resulting investigation is exciting, suspenseful, full of delicious logical quandaries, and often very funny.

Eventually the reader wonders if there’s such a thing as being too skeptical. At some point, you have to have faith in something or someone. What kind of relationship would you have with your loved ones, for example, if you kept demanding irrevocable proof when they said they loved you?

Inside Job
was a quick read and a fun and educational story with likable characters and a delightfully silly plot. I listened to Audible Frontiers’ version which was narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris, who I liked very much. The audio version is 2½ hours long and costs about $7 at Audible.com. Or you can read the full text of Inside Job for free at Asimov’s.

Inside Job — (2005) Publisher: Connie Willis is the master of the science fiction novella, from seminal efforts such as “Blued Moon,” “Fire Watch,” “The Last of the Winnebagos,” and beyond. “Inside Job” takes its place on that permanent shelf, a tale of spiritualists, séances, skeptics, and a love that just might be able to rise about it all.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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