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Oct 2011
Return to the Whorl - Gene Wolfe - Tor, 2001
* * * * *
Well, my plea was answered - my father very kindly ordered this book all the way from the United States, so I have now completed Wolfe’s New Sun/Long Sun/Short Sun magnum opus (alas, another case of “House!” in author bingo). It is an effective and satisfying end to the whole sequence, though as is so often the case with Wolfe, the denoument is a bit of a let-down.
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I've got seriously behind due to exams and other distractions, so here's an extra-long catch-up.
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Jan 2008
In Green’s Jungles - Gene Wolfe - Tor, 2000
* * * * *
Hurrah, Wolfe is finally back on form, at least for one book. Sidestepping the reader’s expectations, constantly pushing on with the plot, and hinting at a grand resolution of the whole New Sun / Long Sun / Short Sun series, this is SF writing at its most exciting.
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Mar 2007
Soldier of Sidon - Gene Wolfe - Tor Books, 2006
* * *
For me, a working memory is an absolutely essential requirement for our humanity. Without it we lose fundamental parts of our personality - our knowledge of our relationships, our personal history, our characteristic opinions. All that is left is our physical body and instinctive responses, a human shell. Alzheimers, CJD and other forms of dementia are in my opinion the worst way to die and I am deeply grateful that none of my friends or relatives has so far suffered from them. It is also why, with regret, I cannot take the idea of an afterlife seriously. The evidence that memory is a consequence solely of neuronal physical structure and chemical activity is overwhelming and grows with every new case of dementia, head trauma or stroke. I can conceive of some aspect of me continuing after death, but without memory, my shade would not, in any meaningful way, be me.

Which perhaps explains why I find Latro, the hero of the classically-set Soldier in the Mist series, the most sympathetic and tragic of Wolfe’s characters. He suffers from a head wound which has left him unable to form long-term memories, with the result that he can only remember events that have happened in the last day or so (this is medically accurate - there is a process called Long Term Potentiation that converts short-term memories into long-term ones, and which can be disrupted by damage to the brain). The texts of the books are in effect a diary that he keeps to remind himself of who he is, a task complicated by the fact that for him, gods, ghosts and demons are as real as people.
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10 Nov 2006
On Blue’s Waters - Gene Wolfe - Tor, 2000
* * * *
The religious element of Gene Wolfe’s writing is particularly apparent in the three linked “Sun” series that form his magnum opus. The plot-arc of Severian, the hero of the Book of the New Sun, is clearly modelled on a Catholic interpretation of the life of Jesus, though somewhat complicated (to put it mildly) by the fact that he starts out as a torturer. The Book of the Long Sun’s Patera Silk is also a Christ-figure (and for me a much more engaging character than the po-faced Severian), but his story is in fact closer to that of Moses particularly at its ending. In this, the first part of the Book of the Short Sun, the focus has shifted to Silk’s follower Horn, suggesting a comparison with the life of St Peter. Though as always with Wolfe, there are complications.
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25 Feb 06
The Wizard Knight - Gene Wolfe - Gollancz, 2005
* * *
Gene Wolfe is an author I admire despite having had mixed experiences of his books. He writes a deceptively simple prose that is noticeable more for what it leaves out than what it says. For example, he will describe a scene during which the narrator becomes extremely angry. The emotions of the narrator, however, are not mentioned in the text and you have to infer them from his subsequent actions. The same is true of his plotting - the major events of, say, a battle are hardly ever described directly and the reader has to deduce what happened from reports or hearsay. This sideways approach allows Wolfe to get away with stories making use of some terrifically hackneyed tropes of SF or fantasy, such as colony ships, androids, computer-generated personalities and, in this case, the entire tired infrastructure of Arthurian knightly high fantasy, which would in the hands of any other author would be drearily predictable and tedious. At its best, the allusive nature of Wolfe’s writing can invoke a sense of wonder, complexity and scale like no other author. It can also, however, allow him to be tedious, self-indulgent and whimsical in his plotting and characterisation. Sadly these flaws are apparent in the two books of The Wizard Knight.
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