I haven’t read anything by him in a long while, but there was a time when I devoured every book as soon as it came out.
I loved his wit and iconoclasm, all wrapped up in such silky prose.
Here’s a review that appeared in TTA #23 back in 2000:-
Abacus pb, 260pp, £6.99
reviewed by Peter Tennant
Vidal’s latest novel combines the time changing agenda of earlier works with the anything goes exuberance of his 1978 Duluth. Imagine Alice in Wonderlandrewritten by a satirist with a firm grasp of American history and given an underpinning in quantum physics and you’ll have a vague idea what to expect.
Wonderland is the Smithsonian. After hours the exhibits come to life. A brain damaged replica of Lincoln acts as administrator of the institution, while pursuing a scholarly interest in ceramics. The other Presidents follow world events closely, in times of crisis summoning the present incumbent of the office to reap the benefit of their collective wisdom. There are clones and special windows which you can look out of and see the future. The numerous historic tableaux act as gateways into the past, through which residents can step into their year of choice.
Alice is T, a thirteen year old mathematics prodigy and schoolmate of one Gore Vidal, who is invited to the Smithsonian in 1939, on the eve of war, to help Oppenheimer and co build an atomic bomb in the basement. Solving the problem of nuclear fission is child’s play to T, but he realises the doomsday possibilities of such a weapon in the wrong hands and conceives an even more audacious plan. With the aid of his guide in affairs of the heart, Mrs Grover Cleveland, T travels back in time to prevent WW2, then goes on to unravel the final secrets of the Smithsonian and his own being.
This is a book that seems to go off in all directions at once and constantly delights in its own cleverness. While paying lip service to scientific theories it uses them merely as a deus ex machina to other ends, and at all times with tongue firmly in cheek, sending up sensawunda overkill with a what rabbit can I pull out of my hat on this page mischievousness. More important to Vidal are the opportunities for political satire and to address concerns about the American drive to empire found in his mainstream fiction and non-fiction. It lacks the focus of his best work and, as with Duluth, the satire is spread too thin to be entirely effective, but the trip is enjoyable enough while it lasts, with more invention than can be found in an average season of your Star Trek franchise of choice.