Tag Archives: Gene Wolfe

Some thoughts on Gene Wolfe

There’s a thread on Mad Genius Club about the worst books you’ve read. I’ve suggested God-Emperor of Dune, probably the dullest book I’ve slogged though to the end, referred to as “God-Awful of Dune” for a reason.

A couple of other commenters suggested Gene Wolfe’s “Book of the Long Sun”.

You’ve gut a malfunctioning generation ship ruled by AI personalities that have set themselves up as gods, war, rebellion, sentient robots, mutants with psionic powers and the ability to possess people, an invading society of Amazons that come off like a female Taliban, and vampiric shapeshifters who want the humans in the ship to escape to their planet rather than a safe planet so that the humans can be preyed upon. How can all that possibly be boring???

But it is.

A bit harsh But…

I find Wolfe can be infuriatingly frustrating at times; when he’s good his books are so immersive and compelling than it’s worth persevering when another of his books seems heavy going. Wolfe always takes “show, don’t tell” to extremes, and always shows you his worlds through the eyes of his characters, and if they don’t understand what’s going on, neither should you. There were parts of Book of the Long Sun that seemed exceptionally slow-moving on the first reading, such as the interminable section in the tunnels beneath the city where very little seemed to happen. But this was a book that made more sense on a second reading.

Even then, it does lack the accessibility and magic of the earlier “Book of the New Sun” and the direct sequel “Book of the Short Sun”, even though both of those are as every bit as complex and enigmatic. Is the central character, Patera Silk less compelling that Severain of Book of the New Sun or Horn of Book of the Short Sun? Or is it something else?

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Diversity in SF, a zero-sum game?

Does diversity in Science Fiction and in gaming really need to be a zero-sum game? That’s the impression I get from long-winded rants accusing feminism of ruining SF. James May’s argument seems to me as full of holes as a Swiss cheese; in particular his praising of Iain Banks suggests that he doesn’t do irony, or he hasn’t actually read much Banks. Banks’ genderfluid and decidedly non-imperialist Culture is about as “Politically Correct” as it gets.

Though I am not any kind of conservative, and find many aspects of the conservative world-view troubling, an SF world purged of all conservative voices in the name of social justice would be all the poorer for it. We’d lose the likes of Gene Wolfe or Jack Vance, for starters. But is anyone bar a tiny but loud group of zealots actually arguing for such a thing?

Even if it’s not to my taste, I’m sure niche subgenres of SF that read like engineering textbooks crossed with libertarian tracts will continue to exist for as long as there’s a market for that sort of thing. It’s just that they will no longer be the default.

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There’s something Wrong On The Internet again, and that something seems to be an awful incoherent reactionary petition aimed at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I won’t link to the thing; you can always Google if you enjoy being outraged at entitled prejudiced drivel. While the author of the petition, someone I’d not previously heard of, appears to be a sexist dick, I’m rather disappointed that one of my all time favourite SF authors appears to have signed the thing.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 13 Comments

Beware the Sexist Genre Police

Today’s eye-rolling dispatch from the trenches of the ongoing SF culture wars comes from an opinion piece by someone called Paul Cook writing for Amazing Stories entitled When Science Fiction is Not Science Fiction.

With his ridiculously narrow definition of what is and isn’t science fiction he reminds me a lot of the self-appointed “Prog Police” who troll progressive rock forums declaring that everything that doesn’t sound exactly like Emerson Lake and Palmer did in 1973 is not “proper prog”.

It doesn’t help that he starts out by dissing one of my all time favourite SF novels, Gene Wolfe’s complex many-layered “Book of the New Sun”.

Severian’s travels and adventures and storytelling (Book Two has a long fairy tale inserted in the middle of the novel that goes absolutely nowhere and adds nothing to the novel) are straight out of a YA rite-of-passage fantasy.

Gene Wolfe’s erudite style can be quite hard work sometimes, and SF critic Dave Langford once said that Wolfe excelled at “making him feel thick”. In which case Cook has a bad case of Dunning-Krugers here. Not only has he failed to understand anything of the book’s depths, but he doesn’t even realise the fact.

Once he gets to Lois McMaster Bujold, we get a side-order of added misogyny.

… the attention to detail that only women would find attractive: balls, courts, military dress, palace intrigues, gossiping, and whispering in the corridors. All of this is right out of Alexander Dumas.

With all this ridiculously passive-aggressive whining about SF novels being thinly-disguised romances, he manages to ignore the fact that much of his beloved “Military SF” is essentially Commando Comics in Spaaaaace, generic action-adventure stories that happen to set somewhere in the future.

He signs off with the usual disclaimer beloved of all trolls.

Of course, I’ve offended everyone who’s read this far–simply by having an opinion. But this essay has been about truth-in-advertising. I’m too old to put up with indulgences by books claiming to be one thing, but are really something else. I like my science fiction advertised as such, nothing more.

And then the comments section became a rotten tomato gallery, as often tends to happen when someone posts something egregiously stupid on the internet. Amazing Stories’ mods didn’t really cover themselves in glory when they shut down comments within 24 hours due to the number of negative comments. If you can’t handle the comments (which were not YouTube-style personal abuse, but mostly well-reasoned rebuttals to the article), then don’t write nonsense on the internet.

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