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.

The Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Sower book coverI have been meaning to read Octavia Butler for some time. She is an author who I have heard about from several sources and I finally got around to reading one of her books. I started with The Parable of the Sower. I had no idea what it was really about, and I’m sure if I had known, I would probably not have read it at this time. Though I really did enjoy the book despite my reasons for saying I would have put it off a bit longer.

The Parable of the Sower is basically a pre-apocalyptic novel. The events of the story show a fairly realistic degradation of society into the fairly popular apocalyptic scenarios we see today with such shows as The Walking Dead or Mad Max (they did make a new one) or what have you. I honestly envisioned the events of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road taking place a decade or two after this story. But this book isn’t all doom and gloom. It definitely doesn’t shy away from darker material, but uses it only in a realistic way. It doesn’t contain anything simply for shock value and it is overall a compelling read that is excellently written. I kept picking it up despite the need to decompress at times.

This book is part one of a duology titled The Books of Earthseed. Though we see the world slide into chaos through young Lauren’s eyes, we see a resilient character build a community around her beliefs that may shape the future of humanity. The story begins in 2024 and spans about 4 years. This book was published in 1993 when 2024 seemed a long way off. Now, here at the start of 2021, we are close enough that the events of the book seem near impossible (but not entirely, unfortunately). Though the dates within the book began as a solemn foretelling of a potential future, it will soon become a (hopefully) alternate timeline story of what may have been. A future I hope we all avoid. Except, of course, for the part where we have settlements on the moon and Mars.

The second book is titled The Parable of the Talents. I will not be reading the sequel right away for two reasons. The first is that this first book wraps up well and can be read as a standalone novel. The second is that I hope to read something a bit more uplifting before returning to this story. Again, I really did enjoy this book despite the subject matter. I don’t often read end-of-the-world type books though I have read a few and enjoyed them. This one was no exception. If anything, it has encouraged me to read more by Octavia Butler. Her novel Kindred is more well-known and I may try it some time this year.

If you are a fan of these types of books, such as Wanderers by Chuck Wendig or Stephen King’s The Stand, then you will likely enjoy this book as well. If you have never read Octavia Butler, like I had not until now, I suggest trying her books even if you don’t choose to start with this one. I look forward to reading more by her myself.

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.

In Other Worlds

In Other WorldsIn Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood includes three previously unpublished lectures, several book reviews, and a few miscellaneous discussions. I would state the core theme of this collection, aside from the obvious one of SF, would be Utopia/Dystopia. These are often labeled as sub-genre of SF and Atwood gives them a unifying name of Ustopia as she argues that every dystopia has elements of utopia and vice-versa.

Her lecture “Dire Cartographies: The Roads to Ustopia” focuses on these themes and goes in depth into her thoughts on them as well as the history of how they became such a popular way of storytelling. Many people consider her novel The Handmaid’s Tale a dystopia. She neither agrees or disagrees, because she argues that everything within the novel could have been found in the world at the time she wrote it in 1984-85.

As with collections like these, and perhaps one of my favorite parts of reading collections, is that I discover books I had never heard of before and which were influential to authors I respect and admire. There were several in this collection I was glad to discover and have added to my ever-growing to-read list. Interestingly enough, many of the books mentioned in this collection that I hadn’t known were written in the late 1800s. She also has a few, fun sections about H.G. Wells.

Atwood discusses how she first became a fan of SF, which started as a young, voracious reader who would read anything and everything she could when such materials were sparse during the second World War. She often created her own fictional characters and adventures during this time. Thus begins the life of a writer.

There are a few shorter discussions near the end of this collection that comment on the covers of the SF magazine Weird Tales during the 1930s and beyond. She lightly delves into the known history of SF using stereotypical male and female images and plots. Many of which are the stories that failed to endure. Speaking of covers, the cover of this book surprised me a bit. The more I look at it the more confused/intrigued I become.

This book is dedicated to Ursula K. Le Guin, who has argued that Atwood actively tried to not label her works as SF despite the fact they contain primarily SF elements. I don’t think this is a dig or critique by either author. It seems like they had a large amount of respect for each other. I honestly wonder what type of relationship they had, if they had a personal relationship at all or if it was merely professional. I may look into this at some point as they are both talented authors who have created amazing works while persevering through a time when SF wasn’t considered literature (the argument is still ongoing) and when there were little-to-no women who were writing SF. I believe they have both become larger-than-life figures and an inspiration to many people around the world.

I know collections such as these aren’t usually a typical read for many people, but I think this one would be fun for anyone interested in the subject of SF or are fans of Atwood. The nice thing about collections is the ease of reading. You can pick them up and read one or several and put it down. Perhaps you’ll give this one a try.

Happy Reading.

Beyond Gender: Exploring Ursula K. Le Guin’s Thought Experiment in The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness has been used to progress the discourse on gender and sexuality since its publication over fifty years ago. Many critical responses to the novel center on these topics despite their function as a veil to Le Guin’s original intention. Gender and sexuality are barriers the reader must push beyond to fully understand the novel’s triumph. There is no doubt that this book raises questions and makes us rethink our preconceptions about gender and sexuality, and this confirms one success of Le Guin’s thought experiment, but the primary intention was to go beyond gender and sexuality to reveal a human characteristic. Continue reading