Elleander morning
(Jerry Yulsman, 1984)

Once upon a time I found books exclusively in libraries (or in my parents' travel-eroded collection). Belatedly, at university, I began to realise that I could buy (and thereby reread more conveniently) my favourite library books. From this innocent starting point, in due course I advanced to the daring practice of buying books I hadn't previously read, and even to the reckless abandon of buying books by authors I hadn't previously read.

I've sometimes had cause to regret these impulses, but in the last year or so I haven't done too badly out of them. Who is Jerry Yulsman? I don't know. But he's written a very readable book here, although some might dislike the (presumably) Jewish-American treatment of English characters and environments.

It's published and shelved as science fiction, but in fact it's a rather old-fashioned kind of fantasy. The English lady named in the title is dying of cancer at the age of 87, and recalls others long dead: a husband in a car crash, two close friends on the Titanic, and her only son in the D-Day landings. The main element of fantasy lies in her ability to transport, in her dying moments, not only her memory but also some physical belongings back in time from 1970 to 1907, giving her the opportunity to relive most of her adult life. She uses this opportunity to change her life in a variety of ways, but decides to make her major impact on history by going to Vienna in 1913 to shoot the young Adolf Hitler.

Around this simple outline are woven the details of many personal relationships (some existing in two alternate versions) and the involvement of Elleander's granddaughter Lesley, who in 1983 belatedly starts to unravel her grandmother's unusual story — and eventually finds that she has a part to play in its sequel. The chapters of the novel flicker with increasing frenzy across the seventy-year gap between Lesley's world (in which Adolf Hitler was an obscure murder victim and the Second World War never happened) and Elleander's two alternate worlds.

The book is fluently written and uses a plentiful variety of characters and locations, quite well drawn. The author doesn't seem influenced by sf, lacking both the attitudes and the sometimes inbred style of the genre. On the whole, this is probably an advantage, although as a long-time sf reader I'm uneasy about some minor details which seem wrongly thought out, like the two skeletons of the same person. In fantasy anything goes: one needn't explain strange phenomena, they merely occur. In sf there's an obligation on the author to make his readers believe that he's obeying a consistent set of laws of nature — even if they may be different from the ones we're familiar with.

Playboy magazine apparently described Yulsman's effort as "brilliant" — make of that what you will. I wouldn't go so far myself, but I'll recommend the book to readers of sf and of popular modern novelists (Richard Condon springs to mind). Less recommendable to readers of historical novels, who might find it too modern (or too American) in its approach; and to Germans, who might be irritated by some of the author's suppositions.

Originally published in Thurb 10 in September 1985