On Gene Wolfe

Gene WolfeI first discovered Gene Wolfe through one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, who wrote about Gene in a collection of nonfiction called A View From the Cheap Seats. I had not yet read any of Gene’s work when he passed away in 2019. His passing prompted me to finally read his work and I started with his more popular work The Book of the New SunIt was through this four book saga that I grew to love his writing. I later picked up a collection of short fiction title The Best of Gene Wolfe and I knew that he was going to become a favorite of mine.

His writing is unique in a way that seems to tell a story that is just a glimpse into a larger universe vastly different from our own (or perhaps in a very different time than our own). The Fifth Head of Cerberus is a great example of this and is a short story that can be found in the collection mentioned above or in other collections. Though this is something that I really enjoy about his writing, I can see how it could put others off of it because there are many instances where the reader may feel like they don’t know much of what is happening though the characters do because they are inhabitants of that universe. Much is inferred from his prose and perhaps that is one aspect that draws me to it. There is a mystery that can unravel the more attention to give it, but it will never quite reveal itself to you in its entirety.

As a gift to myself (as a reward for losing weight and getting healthier0, I recently purchased a Folio Society print of The Book of the New Sun which is a beautiful edition and includes an introduction by Neil Gaiman himself.

It’s a little difficult to discuss how his work has impacted me because, much like his stories, it touches on aspects that I am not overtly certain of myself. I don’t have any personal stories in relation to him or his work like other authors in this series. I simply enjoy his work. I wish I had known about him and his work earlier then perhaps I would have such stories. From what little I do know, he seemed like a down-to-earth guy who enjoyed life and sharing joy. I will likely learn much more about him as an author the more I delve into his stories. All I can really say is that I look forward to reading more of his work and likely rereading it for his work has aspects that I hope to one day instill in my own writing.

Ready Player Two

Ready Player Two Book COver

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how there could be a sequel to Ready Player One, but Ernest Cline wrote one and I read it. Ready Player Two was released a few months ago and the story picks up the week or so after the ending of the first book. I went into this book with little expectations because unfortunately I saw several comments stating this sequel wasn’t too great, but of course I wanted to form my own opinion, which I am posting here (spoiler free). I have mixed feelings about this story but I did enjoy it and I read it quickly.

First, the beginning was a bit slow. Starting with what I consider two prologues explaining a little of the aftermath of book one and then going into the setup for what becomes the main storyline of this book, I felt it took a while for the action to get going. I also felt like this longer setup really altered one of the main characters and made them less likeable, or perhaps made me re-evaluate this character because I don’t remember them acting or being this way in the first book. I may need to revisit the first book to see if this is the case, which may alter my enjoyment of the first novel which I really thought was great (hence my uncertainty about a sequel).

Once the story gets going though, it reads like the first book with exciting events happening at a quick pace. This book is, not surprisingly, chock full of more 1980s pop culture references. I admit there were a few areas where my interest in the particular pop culture wasn’t too high and it made the events of those scenes less enjoyable, but it was still engaging and I’m sure those who are fans would get a kick out of it just like I enjoyed other scenes encased in pop-culture worlds inside the OASIS I would love to visit. The downside of these references is the blatant absence of any pop culture outside of the 1980s. I understand the main creators of the OASIS were obsessed with their own era, but this book is supposed to take place in the 2050s or 2060s. There are a few references to more modern pop culture in this book which may be why the lack of any other non-1980 references is so apparent. Also, the few, modern pop culture references are kind of jabs at a specific storyline that basically is the plot structure of this very book, which is either ironic or slightly disappointing.

A few characters that are introduced kind of become sideline characters when I was hoping they would become more prominent, but this story centers around those of the previous book. Again, the overall story I enjoyed and I liked a few places Cline went with the story because they were unexpected and daring considering the content and the modern times we live in, but some of the topics he chose to focus on are the reason I have mixed feelings.

One reason I am recommending the book despite the mixed feelings is that the story keeps you interested and wanting to know what happens next. There is very little I would call predictable and there are a few things I could discuss in more detail but would bring in a few spoiler-related content, so I will refrain and have these conversations individually. After seeing the less-exciting comments about the book, I was afraid that this sequel was riding on the success of the first book and movie of that book. I am happy to say that it does stand on its own. I understand why some fans would not like this sequel though I think many will like it. There are merits for all arguments for both sides. It is impossible to please everyone.

I think if you liked Ready Player One, then you are probably going to read Ready Player Two regardless of what I or anyone else says, which is a great thing in itself and I encourage that. Perhaps you are reading this recommendation after having read this book to avoid potential spoilers much like I refrained from reading any reviews for the same reason. I hope you enjoy or enjoyed the book, or at least felt like you got something out of it that you weren’t expecting.

Happy Reading.

The Best of Gene Wolfe

The Best of Gene Wolfe Book CoverI began The Best of Gene Wolfe a few months ago thinking a book of short stories was the perfect way to keep reading habits while attending a graduate program. I enjoy short story collections and it was a great way to fit in some reading between coursework. This was also a great way to experience more of Wolfe’s work.

I first read Gene Wolfe at the beginning of the year when I read his series The Book of the New Sun, which may be his best known work. His writing is oddly compelling and you get the sense of an entire universe just beyond the words on the page. His writing is unique though I have compared it to writers such as Philip K Dick insofar as his stories leave you with things to think about. His writing, though science/speculative fiction, is incomparable from any I have read (unless I discover a new author whose work can be considered near Wolfe’s).

There are 31 stories in this collection taking up roughly 480 pages. A few run longer at around 40 pages, but most are about 10-15 pages. I enjoyed most of these stories. Some I absolutely loved while others I found a bit underwhelming. My favorite by far is “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” which was reminiscent of the New Sun series.

Each story contains an afterword, just a paragraph, where Gene discusses the story you just read and something about it like how he came up with the idea or how the story influenced his career. One I remember was simply him discussing a view alongside a road and that was one of the main prompts for the story. These afterwords are fun because they are little commentaries by the author that often add a little bit to the story itself even if it ends up being unrelated to the subject matter.

Overall, I enjoyed the collection and I actually read through it a little quicker than I typically do for short story collections of this length. Since this gave me more insight into Wolfe’s work, I feel I can say with more certainty that I am a fan and will continue to read more. If you have yet to discover Wolfe, this may be a great way to determine if you like his style.

Happy Reading.

My Favorite Books This Year (2020)

2020 has been a wild, scary year, but as always, books remain a great way to escape, learn, grow, and find enjoyment. I decided to put a quick “year in review” together of what I read and enjoyed. A few of these items I’m glad to say were on my list of series to read at the beginning of the year. There is just under 3 weeks left of the year, which is plenty of time to read a few more (which I will be doing), but I figured I had plenty to put into a list.

Murderbot Series

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
I started the year off going through the first several installments of The Murderbot Diaries. The newest released in May this year, Network Effect, and the next comes out this coming April titled Fugitive Telemetry. This series is simply fantastic and I am glad I now have it on my shelf.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew QuickThe Silver Linings Playbook book cover
One of my more recent reads, I really enjoyed this one and go into detail about my thoughts on book versus movie on my post about the book.

Talking to StrangersTalking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell’s newest book delves into how we perceive those we do not know and how a few recent events escalated the way they did. Touching on some dark material while illuminating on how we interact to others subconsciously, this book is a great insight into how we move through society and, unfortunately, how we fall into situations of miscommunication.

The Inheritance GamesThe Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
The great start to a mystery I happily compare to Knives Out, one of my favorite films of yesteryear. Filled with intrigue and questionable family dynamics, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De ZoetThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
This was one that has been on my shelf for some time. I picked it up after enjoying Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas novel and wanted to read more of his work. I was surprised with this one, but pleasantly so. The story was much different than expected though the prose was beautiful and enticing.

Every Tool's A HammerEvery Tool’s A Hammer by Adam Savage
An enlightening look into the life of a main Mythbuster, this book was a great insight into building and what goes into creating some of the iconic films we all know and many love. I learned a lot about craft and making things and I really enjoyed Adam’s passion for what he does (even when things don’t turn out quite like he wanted). It was great to get to know more about him.

All The Light We Cannot SeeAll The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This book came as a recommendation and it was a beautiful book to read. The story was interesting as it covered some of the magical, invisible experiences of our world while centered around young characters trying to make it through World War II.

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
A series on my list and an author I had yet to read. This series opened me to Wolfe’s work and I am a fan. I enjoyed this four book series and am about to finish a collection of short stories. I wish I would have read him sooner, but I am glad to have found his work regardless. His prose is not for everyone and I liken many of his stories to a veil with an entire universe hiding beneath. I intend to read more, and I will not be surprised if he becomes one of my favorite authors.

Books of the New Sun

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me GoI wasn’t going to recommend this book, but there are a few things that have led me to change my mind and this recommendation will be a bit different that any of my previous ones.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is not like anything I’ve really read before. In a way, it seems like a combination of several books I’ve read but with a little something extra (or omitted). This book was released in 2005 and was later adapted into a 2010 film.

Kazuo Ishiguro is a name that came onto my radar several years ago but I had never read any of his work. I can’t recall exactly how I came across his name. It could have been from others talking about his books or the fact he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, but now that I’m actually trying to recall how his name came to my memory I think it was some association with Neil Gaiman.

However it happened, I knew of him as a respected author and therefore picked up Never Let Me Go from a library book sale simply because I wanted to eventually read some of his work. Ironically enough, I recently finished a book of nonfiction by Margaret Atwood where she actually discussed this very book. I realized I had it on my shelf and it became my next read.

I enjoyed the book because it was well written and it held an underlying mystery throughout that kept you interested in the story. The book technically would fall into a science fiction dystopia category considering the subject matter, but I will get into that a bit later. For now, I will supply a brief summary adapted from the book itself:

As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at an exclusive English boarding school called Hailsham. It was a place of mysterious rules. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman and Ruth and Tommy have re-entered her life. She begins to look back at their time at Hailsham and comes to understand how they were special.

As I said, the story is written well and there is enough mystery to keep interest, but it can be considered a bit slow story-wise despite being a fairly quick read being just shy of 300 pages. Here is where this book recommendation goes off my regular pattern. After this paragraph, I will include spoilers so if you want to stop here and enjoy the book yourself, please do so and I bid you happy reading. If you have already read the book or don’t care much about spoilers, then feel free to read ahead. Continue reading