REVIEW: “Wheel of Echoes” by Sean McMullen

Review of Sean McMullen, “Wheel of Echoes”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2020): 72–81 – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

A producer in a recording studio comes across an old, 17th century recording device that contains the voice of Shakespeare performing Hamlet. A young voice actress, Kirsty, and an esteemed scholar of Shakespearean literature, Prof. Wilson, are invited to examine it. While Kirsty can appreciate the recording for what it is, the professor goes bonkers on account that the discovery will invalidate his work, as well as the work of countless other Shakespearean scholars. According to Professor Wilson, that is simply unacceptable.

“Wheel of Echoes” is one of those stories that has a great premise but a rather disappointing execution. An archaic recording of Shakespeare – and the fact that he may have been a lousy actor – is a genuinely neat idea. For about a third of the story, McMullen weaves an engaging mystery that culminates in the exciting revelation of the recording device. But as soon as that is done, the plot slips rapidly into implausibility. The characters are largely relegated into stereotypes whose actions are difficult to justify – or even understand. Prof. Wilson, especially, is depicted as an outright caricature of the “stuck-up academic,” unrealistic to the point of malintent. The story feels more like an expression of the author’s personal biases against academics than a serious examination of what would happen had such a device been discovered. The finale was a major letdown.

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