by Brian W. Aldiss
This scattered novel by British sci-fi veteran Aldiss drives a dull stake through the Dracula legend. In the year 1999 the skeletal remains of two humans are unearthed that predate all previous paleontological finds by 55 million years.
For some reason this discovery gets Texas inventor-industrialist Joe Bodenland involved. He then stumbles onto a ghostly time train in the desert. He travels back to Victorian England to get Dracula author Bram Stoker so that together they may try to prevent a nuclear explosion in the year 2599 that leads to the final subjugation of mankind to a race of vampires.
Usually fate is an inflexible master in time-travel stories, but the unlikely tandem of Stoker and Bodenland bounces around rewriting history and redressing wrongs whenever they find them.
Aldiss makes his demons grotesque enough, but his quotidian characters are cartoonish and inconsistent. Stoker, for instance, is a decorous gentleman throughout the book except for one jolting passage in which Aidiss has him mauling prostitutes.
The various story lines never really come together, and the prose often reads like it was snatched half-cooked out of the oven. Consider this dialogue, which occurs, believe it or not, during a couple’s Hawaiian honeymoon: ” ‘Weak, am I? We’ll see about that He grabbed her wrist and twisted her around until she sank to the ground. ‘Baby. I’m all action when I get going, and I’m going right now.’ ” That’s not rough for replay: it’s just the type of bizarre eruption this novel’s characters are subject to.
Seventeen years ago. Aldiss wrote Frankenstein Unbound, in which Bodenland entered a time slip and met Mary Shelley and Dr. Frankenstein. Writing this book may have given the author a cozy sense of closure, but for readers, it’s a fangless task. (HarperCollins, $18.95)