Numbers Don't Lie
by Terry Bisson
Review by Edward Carmien
Tachyon Publications Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 1892391325
Date: 28 September, 2005 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Bisson, a deft hand with short prose, is both charming and gritty in these pages. He has a knack for presenting mundane mechanical detail in a way that makes it arcane yet important. The humor here is undeniable, as Irving by turns introduces the reader to Wilson Wu, an irrepressible genius fond of career hopping, yet devoted always to the chase of mystery when one presents itself.
"Everyone should have a friend like Wilson Wu," Irving explains, "just to keep them guessing." Wu is said to have worked his way through high school as a pastry chef before dropping out to form a rock band, then earning a scholarship to Princeton (maybe) in math (perhaps), moving on to being an engineer, going half-way through medical school, and becoming a lawyer, which is where our Watson, Irving met him.
Though the characters here are consistent, it is undeniable that Numbers Don't Lie is episodic. One is just as apt to enjoy this book in thirds as one is to enjoy it in one gulp. Its only weakness as prose fiction is a result of its episodic nature—by the third movement, a reader will sense the structure of what is coming and be a bit less surprised by the unfolding of the plot.
Even so, this is a great dose of Bisson, one I highly recommend for those teaching the short fiction form as well as those teaching science fiction. Readers who enjoy short fiction will appreciate this "novel" the most, but even readers devoted to the long fiction form can enjoy Irving's path to joy in Numbers Don't Lie. This Tachyon Publications edition (dedicated "To my reviewers: Smart, good-looking, and generous, every one"—were truer words ever written?) is steeply priced for the length of the text, but such is the economic reality of smaller presses like Tachyon, who are "saving the world...one good book at a time."
Do the math, learn a little about Volvos, and enjoy Numbers Don't Lie.