The Teleportation Accident – Ned Beauman
Bloomsbury USA 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1620400227 (Hardcover)
I buy books, especially novels, based on whether or not the story might interest me. This includes anthologies or collections of short stories by authors whom I respect or who I think will provide a fun reading experience. But mostly I buy books based solely on its cover. Covers do matter, as we all know, but some covers are absolutely spell-binding. So even though I had no idea who Ned Beauman was or what he’s done before as a writer, when I saw his novel The Teleportation Accident on sale at my favorite bookstore I just had to buy it. It’s got a grand art deco cover with a girl–a flapper with pert dark hair–being diced several times by the workings, we find out later, of quantum mechanics. It could have been a dud, but lucky me. The Teleportation Accident turned out to be one of my more serendipitous (and happier) discoveries of recent years.
The Teleportation Accident is not exactly science fiction, but like the novels of Thomas Pynchon and Philip K. Dick, The Teleportation Accident involves quirky, non-heroic heroes caught up in the gyrations of the historic moment, including advancements in science and technology. The novel starts out in Germany in the early 1930s and followel the dreams and idiotic obsessions of Egon Loeser, a failed theater set designer as he pursues the affections of a now-grown-up former pupil named Adele Hitler. (If that doesn’t bring a chuckle, then you’re incurable.)
Egon Loeser is also obsessed with an earlier Italian set designer by the name of Lavicini who in the 1600s had developed a device for moving actors across the theater stage instantaneously: a teleportation device. A real teleportation device. The novel’s action swirls around the decadent theater-going crowd (some of whom are sycophants of Bertolt Bricht). Loeser tries to build his own teleportation device, but it’s nothing more than a strap-on vest an actor wears attached to invisible piano wire that yanks him up into the air above the stage and whisks him over to the opposite side of the stage. The results of a test-run are hilarious, involving a stretched-spine and dislocated arms and legs. The action moves to Hollywood and Hollywood’s own decadent crowd, where Loeser meets an actual inventor of a teleportation device who turns out to be one of literature’s classic mad scientists. (He might also have been the prankster who put a Model T on top of one of the buildings at Cal Tech. How, possibly? Teleportation, maybe? Loeser is intrigued!)
Beauman’s writing is light-hearted and light-handed and The Teleportation Accident should be read by anyone who wants to see what someone outside the science fiction field can do with many of the standard tropes and conceits that science fiction has to offer. If you’ve read Thomas Pynchon, then this novel should be a cinch. It has many of Pynchon’s weird characters but it’s not nearly as complex or literarily adroit as Pynchon’s narratives. I think you’ll like it. And what happens to the mad scientist will make you laugh. It did me.