I had almost forgotten how charming Connie Willis’ writing can be. I started reading her in the mid-1990s with Bellwether, which is another one of those books I have to be careful about picking up because I will have a very difficult time putting it down again, no matter what else I am supposed to be doing during that time. Over the next few years, I read most of her novels and a couple of her short story collections. The ones that have stayed most in memory are Doomsday Book and Passage; I haven’t yet read Blackout and All Clear, the pair that won the Hugo in 2011.
By comparison, Inside Job is a slight work. It’s a novella, and won the Hugo in that category in 2006. The story follows Rob, a professional skeptic, and Kildy, an actress who has decided to ditch a successful Hollywood career for working with Rob at his magazine devoted to debunking psychics, mediums, channelers, spiritualists and other purveyors of hokum. It’s a setup like a movie comedy, and Willis’ work often has that screwball comedy feel to it. Absurd situations come up, powered by witty dialog and quick banter.
The book revolves around Ariaura Keller, a woman starting to make a splash in Beverly Hills by channeling “Isus,” who lived in Lemuria and who has returned to earth in California, just in time to fill the spiritual longings of the tanned and overpaid. That this operation will also fill Ariaura’s coffers goes without saying. So far, so typical for Rob and Kildy. But then something unusual happens during the appearance of Isus, eventually making the skeptics skeptical of their skepticism. Or at least something very much along those lines as hijinks ensue.
Inside Job is funny, it’s charming, and there is a connection to H.L. Mencken. What’s not to like?