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A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction

by Gene Wolfe

Pub Date: March 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2135-0
Publisher: Tor

A major retrospective from this writer's writer, comprising 31 tales, 1970–1999, ranging from a few pages to novella length, selected by the author (with one exception, included at his agents' behest) and arranged chronologically.

In nonliterary circles, former engineer and Illinois resident Wolfe achieved acclaim by contributing to the invention of the machine that makes Pringles chips. We’re thankful for the chips, but the fiction that followed is even better. Many of the stories here are famous and have appeared many times, among them a story cycle that begins with the H.G. Wells-ish “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories,” continues with the Nebula Award–winning “The Death of Dr. Island” (murder as psychotherapy) and finishes with “Death of the Island Doctor” (a sentimental mediation on islands). Also instantly recognizable are “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” (cloning), “Bed and Breakfast” (on the road to hell) and “A Cabin on the Coast” (dickering with the fairies—the sole entry not selected by the author). Elsewhere, Wolfe shows remarkable prescience, envisioning a future United States where businesses compete by conducting wars via private armies, and another decadent future that astonishes and appalls a bewildered visitor from Iran. Others display typical Wolfian twists and sidebars: a Dark Age hot-air balloon, an author-agent correspondence, a review of a nonexistent film, puppetry, werewolves, witches, spies, a chess-playing computer, alternate worlds where fantasy becomes indistinguishable from reality, dreams and barbarians at the gate. Wolfe's prose is dense and allusive; he frequently employs unreliable narrators, often leaves readers with the impression that he knows things they don't, he interweaves many pieces with a persistent and occasionally obtrusive religiosity.

An ideal introduction to Wolfe’s short fiction.