Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Best in One

Gene Wolfe; The Very Best of Gene Wolfe (PS Publishing Ltd.; 2009; ISBN 978-1-848630-27-7; cover art by J.K. Potter).

I first encountered Gene Wolfe between the pages of Damon Knight's annual Orbit series, in which I first encountered other life-long jewels such as Kate Wilhelm, Samuel R. Delany and Harlan Ellison. Wolfe and Delany were both more "out there", at least to my very young reading eyes, than Ellison and Wilhelm (and others).

The next encounter with Wolfe came when I first started dating the woman who would later become my wife. She gave me the paperback editions of Wolfe's (arguably) most famous work, Timescape Books paperbacks of The Book of the New Sun (The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor, The Citadel of the Autarch). Inspired by Clark Ashton Smith and Jack Vance and relative to the works of another Timescape-published author, M. John Harrison (the Viriconium stories), it was an amazing read.

Time went by, occasionally Wolfe would come out with something and I would pick it up. Eventually I joined the Urth Mailing List, where a small(ish) group of fans spend an amazing time picking the tales apart and finding stuff that I've never noticed (it goes, for the most part, above me; I have not read these books and stories to the same depth!).

(Here's the thing about Wolfe. He works on many levels. I read the New Sun books as a straightforward science fictin or fantasy series set on a dying planet, like the Jack Vance Dying Earth tales. But, visit again and like a jewell that is rotating, you see a new face, you notice new details. Wolfe is a writer that pays for the attention you give him. Eventually you get to be like the folks on the Urth Mailing List.)

One list member suggested a read of Wolfe's shorter works in May. Wolfe's Shorts? In any case, as I probably will need a running start to get through a month of Wolfe in that period of time, I'm starting earlier, with this volume.

(Caveat time: there is a similarly named volume from Tor which has all but one of the stories that this volume has plus it is missing the introduction by Kim Stanley Robinson. You'll find it easier to buy, as this edition that I have, from PS Publishing, was a limited edition. Signed by the author. Take that!)

The introduction by Kim Stanley Robinson is interesting, but I have a feeling that he is not operating at the same depth as some members of the Urth Mailing List. Hints are dropped of a second volume. Count me in.

The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories: I recall reading this in Orbit, but other than the title nothing stuck with me. What was reality here? Did Edgar Rice Burroughs collide with William Faulkner?

The Toy Theater: A nice little story about puppets and puppeteers. This reminded me strongly of Alfred Bester in terms of plot and character. A good thing.

Made up of: Introduction: "A Story" (Kim Stanley Robinson); The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories; The Toy Theater; The Fifth Head of Cerberus; Beech Hill; The Recording; Hour of Trust; The Death of Dr. Island; La Befana; Forlessen; Westwind; The Hero as Werwolf; The Marvelous Brass Chessplaying Automation; Straw; The Eyeflash Miracles; Seven American Nights; The Detective of Dreams; Kevin Malone; The God and His Man; On the Train; From the Desk of Gilmer C. Merton; Death of Dr. Island; Redbeard; The Boy Who Hooked the Sun; Parkroads—a Review; Game in the Pope's Head; And When They Appear; Bed and Breakfast; Petting Zoo; The Tree Is My Hat; Has Anybody Seen Julie Moon?; A Cabin on the Coast; Christmas Inn.

Counts as three (3) entries in the 2012 Year in Shorts.


Paul Weimer said...

Thanks, Fred.

I am envious you have the "better version". I have the TOR version on my wishlist.

Fred Kiesche said...

The chance to have something signed by Wolfe was too much to resist. Plus, I really like J.K. Potter's cover art.

James said...

I have the chapbook of Christmas Inn. Here's a question. What if I have ALL the stories collected in this volume. Are Wolfe's introductions worth getting the collection?

Fred Kiesche said...

The introduction by KSR is not in the Tor edition, as is one story, but the Tor edition does have Wolfe's comments (afterwords) on each story. I'm finding them interesting.

It is a hardcover now, but I bet you can find it as a trade paperback or paperback this year. And there is the eBook edition, cheaper than the hardcover.