The Hemingway Hoax: Award-winning novella

The Hemingway Hoax by Joe HaldemanThe Hemingway Hoax by Joe Haldeman

While on vacation in Key West, John Baird, a Hemingway scholar, meets a conman named Castle in a bar. After telling Castle about Hemingway’s missing manuscript, Castle suggests that they forge it and make a lot of money. Baird refuses, of course, but Castle enlists Baird’s wife Lena and the two of them talk John into creating a forgery. Under pressure from his wife and his rapidly dwindling finances, John goes along with the plan but, unbeknownst to his co-conspirators, he makes a backup plan to protect himself in case of detection. Meanwhile, Lena and Castle are working another angle and the stage is set for betrayal, adultery, and murder.

Up to this point, Joe Haldeman’s short novel, The Hemingway Hoax, is a thriller, and it’d make a great movie. But Haldeman throws in a science fiction element involving Hemingway’s ghost, time travel, parallel universes, and metaphysics that will probably disappoint some readers because the hoax scheme was compelling enough without it. When the strange stuff starts, the focus of the story changes from the hoax to the parallel universes and readers who were hoping to see John create and publish a successful forgery will be disappointed.

However, fans of the Weird will appreciate the PKD-style deviation from the expected course of events, though they would probably like a few more explanations, including one for why each alternate universe John inhabits gets more violent. (The obvious explanation is simply that it increases the reader’s tension and allows Haldeman to add some explicit sex and violence scenes). Some readers will probably be irked that Haldeman is vague about why John Baird has certain abilities in parallel universes or exactly how Hemingway’s writings are so vital to the omniverse, but I enjoyed thinking about this possibility and the effects that literature could have on world history.

The Hemingway Hoax suffers slightly (at least from my perspective) from a lack of likable characters. At first it’s easy to appreciate John Baird, a mild-mannered academic who really wants to do the right thing. Later, though, we’re disappointed to learn that he’s just as willing to betray his wife as she is to betray him.

Overall, The Hemingway Hoax is entertaining if you go in knowing to expect it to turn weird and, eventually, gory. A shorter version of The Hemingway Hoax was originally published in 1990 in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine edited by Gardner Dozois and it won both the Nebula and Hugo awards for best novella. I listened to the audio production created by Audible Frontiers which is 4.5 hours long. It’s introduced by Joe Haldeman and excellently narrated by Eric Michael Summerer.

Publisher: The hoax proposed to John Baird by a two-bit con man in a seedy Key West bar was shady but potentially profitable. With little left to lose, the struggling, middle-aged Hemingway scholar agreed to forge a manuscript and pass it off as Papa’s lost masterpiece. But Baird never realized his actions would shatter the history of his own Earth – and others. And now the unsuspecting academic is trapped out of time – propelled through a series of grim parallel worlds and pursued by an interdimensional hitman with a literary license to kill. BONUS AUDIO: Author Joe Haldeman explains how, fittingly, the idea for The Hemingway Hoax wasn’t entirely his.

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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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  1. The Best of Joe Haldeman: Demonstrates his mastery of the short form | Fantasy Literature: Fantasy and Science Fiction Book and Audiobook Reviews - [...] vacations in Key West and is tempted by a conman to forge one of Hemingway’s lost works. I’ve reviewed …

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