'How could the Outsider have chosen such a bungler? ...When had he ever offered a single sacrifice, however small, to the Outsider? Never! Not one in his entire life. Yet the Outsider had extended infinite credit to him... Certainly he would never be able to repay the Outsider for the knowledge and the honor, no matter how hard or how long he tried.' (Gene Wolfe, Nightside The Long Sun)

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Slow Dawning of Wolfe's Art (and a few words on his politics)

Thought I'd paste my contribution to a comment thread that followed a review of Wolfe's latest novel, Home Fires (especially note a few words on Wolfe's politics, which I've never really commented on before.)

Fifth Head of Cerberus is a good starting place for reading Gene Wolfe.

The Book of the Long Sun is a great work, even if it does drag at times - and its main character Silk is one of the best characters of fiction of all time - this only really dawns on you as you're nearing the end of the tetralogy - it's an accumulative effect. The WHOLE 'Solar Cycle' (New, Long, and Short Suns) are the real masterpiece, not just the famous Book of the New Sun.

Wolfe's prose in all its forms (from baroque, dense, unreliable first-person to economic, crisp third-person) is some of the very best you'll ever read in fiction. Not every moment in every book is great (and a few of his books are skip-able), but there are almost always a number of elements in each book that make them totally worth it. Also, Gene Wolfe's whole body of art is something that builds up in the reader over a number of years of persistent reading. I know so many people think that's not worth it - but with Wolfe it really is. It's pretty awe-inspiring when you realise it's happening to you.

The more recent Wizard Knight duology is also great, contra some opinions. And I would guess just about any collection of his short fiction will thrill you and draw you on to more.

As to his politics, come on. Politics are politics. Authors run the gamut with them. His 'conservatism' (he says he's a Libertarian and there is a difference) doesn't seem to put off folks like Neil Gaiman and China Mieville and Patrick O'Leary, who are cutting edge fantasy artists who love Wolfe's artistry and therefore respect his worldview, even if they passionately disagree with aspects of it. He's not some neo-Nazi fascist after all. His stories show a huge sympathy toward all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds. That's one of the key elements of his body of art and a very attractive one.

'All we are saying... is give Wolfe a chance.


James said...

Why would a SciFi writer abstain from a great writer for his politics? I doubt I and the late James Tiptree Jr. have much in common politically but I can appreciate her writing. She's one of my favorites. How much scifi would conservatives read if they limited themselves to authors they agree with?

As for Wolfe's actual politics, he hsaid, "The form of government I favor is Democracy. The United States is not a democracy and never has been. We have a Republic, which means that every so often we elect people to be in charge of us. And once we have, you can believe, they know it."

James said...

Also, I think it is impossible to understand The Book of the Long Sun without reading The Book of the Short Sun. They are, actually, a single novel.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Good points, James. Can you tell me where that Wolfe quote comes from?

And I thoroughly agree with you about needing to read Long and Short Suns together to understand the whole. I do wonder if artistically they can still be considered two distinct (if interconnected) novels.

I think Short Sun shows more dependence on Long Sun than the other way round. Long Sun makes a certain overall 'point' that is contained within its own tetralogy. Short Sun also seems to make its own 'point' within its own trilogy, but it is built so thoroughly on the society and characters and scenario of its predecessor (Long Sun) that I doubt it can really say what it has to say to a reader who hasn't read Long Sun.

Thanks for commenting!