The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction • 2009 • Collection by Gene Wolfe

★★★★★

Michael Swanwick has said: „Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today. Let me repeat that: Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today! I mean it.Shakespeare was a better stylist, Melville was more important to American letters, and Charles Dickens had a defter hand at creating characters. But among living writers, there is nobody who can even approach Gene Wolfe for brilliance of prose, clarity of thought, and depth in meaning.“

Reading a Wolfe story is never easy. He frequently tells a story from the perspective of an unreliable narrator: some are unintelligent intelligent, some (like Severian from the Book of the New Sun) lie, some suffer from amnesia. He puts loads of riddles in his story, sometimes easy ones like figuring out the main protagonist’s name, but most are complex which I didn’t figure out at all – decoding was done by mailing lists, wikis etc. New readers find this confusing, but I consider it as highly rewarding, a kind of surplus in addition to Wolfe’s literary style, his often interesting narrative structure, and his recurring topics of identity, humanity, and memory.

Not all of Gene Wolfe’s best stories are included in this volume: I’m missing „‚A Story,‘ by John V. Marsch“ (1972), „Tracking Song“ (1975), „The Doctor of Death Island“ (1978),  „The Ziggurat“ (1995), „Golden City Far“ (2005), and „Memorare“ (2007). But most of Wolfe’s canon is included, and at least those should be read: „The Fifth Head of Cerberus“ (1972), „The Death of Dr. Island“ (1973), „Forlesen“ (1974),  „Seven American Nights“ (1978),  and „The Tree Is My Hat“ (1999).

A bit surprising for me was the amount of horror stories and stories tending to the dark side of things. I usually don’t like horror at all, and some of the stories got a star less because of that.

The ordering of stories is based on their publication date – except the last story. I’m fine with that, although a different approach, e.g. a thematical one, would add some insights and make it easier for Wolfe beginners.

My favourite ★★★★★ stories were

  • The Fifth Head of Cerberus
  • The Death of Dr. Island
  • Seven American Nights
  • Forlesen

Weakest ☆ or ★ stories

  • Redbeard
  • Game in the Pope’s Head

Contents:

  1. ★★★★ • “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories” •  (1970) • review
  2. ★★★ • “The Toy Theater” • (1971) • review
  3. ★★★★★ • “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” • (1972) • novella • review
  4. ★★1/2 • “Beech Hill” • (1972) • review
  5. ★★ • The Recording • (1972) • Uncle Bill dies after the narrator buys a record; narrator is kind of haunted by his uncle. One of Wolfe’s most straightforward stories.
  6. ★★★“Hour of Trust” • (1973) • novelette • review
  7. ★★★★★“The Death of Dr. Island” • (1973) • novella  • sorry, no review
  8. ★★★ “La Befana” • (1973) • review
  9. ★★★★★“Forlesen” • (1974) • novelette • sorry, no review
  10. ★★★★ “Westwind” • (1973) • review
  11. ★★★ • “The Hero as Werwolf” • (1975) • review
  12. ★★★★ “The Marvelous Brass Chessplaying Automaton” • (1977) • novelette • review
  13. ★★1/2 “Straw” • (1975) • review
  14. ★★“The Eyeflash Miracles” • (1976) • novella • review
  15. ★★★★★ • “Seven American Nights” • (1978) • novella • review
  16. ★★“The Detective of Dreams” • (1980) • review
  17. ★★★ • “Kevin Malone” • (1980) • review
  18. ★★1/2 “The God and His Man” • (1980) • The god Isid 1000 1000E sends a man from Urth to explore another world. He finds a rigid, Roman similar society with masters and slaves in the hot lands, a native American similar one in the steamy lands, and finally a spiritual one in the cold lands. Good enough for those few couple of pages.
  19. ★★ • “On the Train” • (1983) •  Two pages about an eternal trip on an endless train. Seems to be out of context.
  20. ★★★★ • “From the Desk of Gilmer C. Merton” • (1983) • light-hearted, funny story with a couple of puns to SF of an author undergoing some changes while corresponding to his agent.
  21. ★★★ • “Death of the Island Doctor” • (1983) • review
  22. ★1/2 • “Redbeard” • (1984) • review
  23. ★★★ • “The Boy Who Hooked the Sun” • (1985) • review
  24. ★★ “Parkroads—A Review” • (1987) • can’t say much about this one – a review of an imaginary film.
  25. ★ “Game in the Pope’s Head” • (1988) • Four people are playing a game, everyone a different. Reality shifts. Didn’t understand it.
  26.  “And When They Appear” • (1993) • I skipped this novelette, as I don’t feel like reading Christmas stories in summer.
  27. ★★★★ “Bed and Breakfast” • (1996) •  review
  28. ★★★ • “Petting Zoo” • (1997) • review
  29. ★★★★ • “The Tree Is My Hat” • (1999) • horror novelette featuring the friendship to a shark god • review
  30. ★★ • “Has Anybody Seen Junie Moon?” • (1999) • review
  31. ★★★ “A Cabin on the Coast • (1981) • review

Meta: isfdb. This collection of 31 short stories, novelettes and novellas by Gene Wolfe was published 2009 by Tor. It won the 2010 Locus and World Fantasy Award.

 

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