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Sunday, July 13, 2008

B.G. is going to be pissed...

But before I explain why... apologies again for the horribly delayed posting. We'll keep trying to stay updated. Thanks for checking back with us.

And now to the crux of the matter:

Pirate Freedom (Gene Wolfe)

I must disabuse you of any idea that this might be a recommendation. Rather, this is quite the opposite. Which is sort of against the whole point of this blog. Neither of us wants to rip on books that are bad (see here). We really just want to chat about some books we liked (not review them, just chat), occasionally recommend books we think are fantastic, that sort of thing. There are lots of other places you can go read about books that sucked (but seriously, who wants to?).

However, Billy Goat likes Mr. Wolfe's works too much for me to pass on this. And I also have not found any of Mr. Wolfe's novels to be less than good (until now). This is a clear demonstration of Rule Number One: no author is ceaselessly brilliant.

So. Gene Wolfe:

The Book of the New Sun, a series of four novels about Severian, the Torturer's Apprentice, set in the distant future. Ex-cell-ent! Wonderfully turgid.

The Book of the Long Sun, a kind of companion quartet, set in the same universe. The writing is a little more clear, but with Mr. Wolfe's typically cryptic and convoluted plot. I actually never finished the series, but it contains some of the most wonderful writing in science-fiction.

Not as good is The Urth of the New Sun, but it still has such amazing creativity that I can't honestly criticize.

And on the fantasy side: Soldier of the Mist and its two sequels. These are novels set in the ancient Mediterranean, narrated by a man with no memory (the opposite of Severian, I suppose). The setting, the history, the characters -- brilliant. Billy Goat tells me these novels are semi-obscure; I urge you check them out.

I thought for sure Mr. Wolfe would finally succumb to Rule Number One with Free Live Free. This is sci-fi in the near-modern day, much grittier and almost like "real" fiction. Hardly my favorite, but Mr. Wolfe pulls it off with a stunningly creative ending. Alas, to explain why I like the novel would be give you unforgivable spoilers.

And finally (though I have not yet exhausted the Wolfish canon), I came to Pirate Freedom. It's a novel, quite simply, set in the Spanish Main. Pirates! Ships! Guns! What's not to love? And yet, somehow... there's not much there. It's such a quiet novel, admittedly with some intriguing plot twists (very typical of Mr. Wolfe), but a decided lack of swashbuckling-ness. It's almost as if Mr. Wolfe tried too hard to be faithful to the historical period--which was interesting in its own right, but hardly anything like the piratical archetypes that one would long for in a novel.

Worst of all, the novel ends up being narrated from the modern-day, by a priest who somehow ends up back in time (Mr. Wolfe's notions of cyclical time are always present in his novels, but this one compares quite well with Free Live Free. Just in case you've read it.)

OK, OK, I don't mind if the main character is translated back in time to start things off. Works for Mark Twain, works for me. But do we have to spend part of every chapter back in the modern day youth center? Like, really? 'Cause I'm just here for the pirates.

I think perhaps Mr. Wolfe would have been better off just writing a novel set in the Spanish Main. Skip the sci-fi aspect, keep the characters true to the time period -- I think he could have done a fantastic job. But alas, this novel is the inevitable result... of Rule Number One.

That's it, folks, rant over! I hope Billy Goat will offer an indignant defense of his main man in the comments. And let's all encourage him to offer us a series of posts on the good novels of Gene Wolfe (of which there are many).


Joel said...

Haha! It takes much more than a bad book by my favorite author to piss me off. Notice, even, that I allowed for the possibility of a bad book, not just a bad review.

Despite your attempts to label me as Wolfe's devoted minion (which isn't completely out of place, admittedly), there have been stories by Wolfe that I haven't liked nearly as much as the stuff that got me hooked. For example, I thought the Short Sun books, while full of interesting and good writing, were much weaker overall than the two series that preceded them (which were what hooked me originally). There have been a number of other issues I've had with his writing, as well. I guess this is normal when you try to read everything an author has ever written.

To be honest, I have been putting off reading Pirate Freedom. I read some things about it from the Wolfe discussion list that have lowered my expectations and my enthusiasm. This review doesn't help, either. :) I'll get around to it eventually, I suppose.

This review really makes me want to read Free, Live Free however. I've been putting that one off because the genre doesn't interest me as much as some others, and the book just looks boring.

Mister Troll said...

Genre? Free, Live Free is sci-fi. Isn't that where it gets filed in the bookstore?

Still, the style of the novel is a lot more like "real" fiction, which doesn't generally appeal to me. So definitely I could understand where you're coming from.

But this is Gene Wolfe: odd but interesting characters, obscure plot twists. I definitely don't think it was a spectacular book, but it was worth the read.

When can we expect your posts on the other Gene Wolfe books? Perhaps you can take some time away from moderating down all those posts on the Urth forum.

J/K -- they haven't even let you be moderator yet, have they? ;-)

Joel said...

Yeah, I need to put up a rec for a Gene Wolfe book/story. The Book of the New Sun is the most obvious candidate, but some of his short stories were just as good. I'll see what I can whip up in the next few weeks.