metaphorosis's review against another edition

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As I suspect many do, I came to Gene Wolfe via the [b:The Shadow of the Torturer|60211|The Shadow of the Torturer (The Book of the New Sun #1)|Gene Wolfe||762497]. I was late to the party, but I liked the book well enough that I picked up the rest of the series, and eventually several of his other books. Most of them have left me with a similar feeling - that this is a very competent author, but that the stories miss the emotional connection that carries a story beyond technical skill.

When I saw this on sale, I picked it up. I figured that there had to be something there, that the high technical skill I saw might have greater narrative impact if only I saw enough of it.

I'm afraid it didn't. I had the same reaction to these stories as I've had to most everything else by Wolfe. That is, the sentences are well written, the plots are decent, there's depth of meaning and intent, and yet it doesn't strike any emotional chords with me.

Wolfe is a renowned author, and clearly he knows what he's doing as a writer. But I can only say that after extensive testing, it doesn't work for me. You won't be sorry if you read this book; it's not a waste of time. But it may not change your life, either.

mulveyr's review against another edition

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A great retrospective of Wolfe's short work. The strongest stories were in the first half of the book, but even the worst of Wolfe is always worth the time.

arkron's review against another edition

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Reading a Wolfe story is never easy. They are not for the faint hearted reader looking for a comfy book, wanting to relax by consuming a popcorn story. He frequently tells a story from the perspective of an unreliable narrator: some are unintelligent, some (like Severian from the Book of the New Sun) lie, others suffer from amnesia. He puts loads of riddles in his stories, sometimes easy ones like figuring out the main protagonist's name, but most are complex which I didn't figure out at all - decoding was done by mailing lists, wikis etc. New readers find this confusing, but I consider it as highly rewarding, a kind of surplus in addition to Wolfe's literary style, his often interesting narrative structure, and his recurring topics of identity, humanity, and memory.

I'm not the only one, Wolfe has a dedicated fan base. I second author Michael Swanwick's praise: "Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today. Let me repeat that: Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today! I mean it.Shakespeare was a better stylist, Melville was more important to American letters, and Charles Dickens had a defter hand at creating characters. But among living writers, there is nobody who can even approach Gene Wolfe for brilliance of prose, clarity of thought, and depth in meaning."

Gene Wolfe selected the stories in this volume, but I don't think that all of Gene Wolfe's best stories are included. I'm missing "'A Story,' by John V. Marsch" (1972), "Tracking Song" (1975), "The Doctor of Death Island" (1978),  "The Ziggurat" (1995), "Golden City Far" (2005), and "Memorare" (2007).

But most of Wolfe's canonicla stories are included, and at least those should be read: "The Fifth Head of Cerberus" (1972), "The Death of Dr. Island" (1973), "Forlesen" (1974),  "Seven American Nights" (1978),  and "The Tree Is My Hat" (1999).

A bit surprising for me was the amount of horror stories and stories tending to the dark side of things. I usually don't like horror at all, and some of the stories got a star less because of that.

The ordering of stories is based on their publication date - except the last story. I'm fine with that, although a different approach, e.g. a thematical one, would add some insights and make it easier for Wolfe beginners.

As a final remark, Goodreads doesn't handle shorter works well. That's why I've put reviews for those to my Blog. Links for longer reviews to each story will lead there.

My favourite ★★★★★ stories were

  • The Fifth Head of Cerberus

  • The Death of Dr. Island

  • Seven American Nights

  • Forlesen

Weakest ☆ or ★ stories

  • Redbeard

  • Game in the Pope's Head


  1. ★★★★ • “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories” •  (1970) • review

  2. ★★★ • “The Toy Theater” • (1971) • review

  3. ★★★★★ • “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” • (1972) • novella • review

  4. ★★1/2 • “Beech Hill” • (1972) • review

  5. ★★ • The Recording • (1972) • Uncle Bill dies after the narrator buys a record; narrator is kind of haunted by his uncle. One of Wolfe's most straightforward stories.

  6. ★★★“Hour of Trust” • (1973) • novelette • review

  7. ★★★★★“The Death of Dr. Island” • (1973) • novella  • sorry, no review

  8. ★★★ “La Befana” • (1973) • review

  9. ★★★★★“Forlesen” • (1974) • novelette • sorry, no review

  10. ★★★★ “Westwind” • (1973) • review

  11. ★★★ • “The Hero as Werwolf” • (1975) • review

  12. ★★★★ “The Marvelous Brass Chessplaying Automaton” • (1977) • novelette • review

  13. ★★1/2 “Straw” • (1975) • review

  14. ★★“The Eyeflash Miracles” • (1976) • novella • review

  15. ★★★★★ • “Seven American Nights” • (1978) • novella • review

  16. ★★“The Detective of Dreams” • (1980) • review

  17. ★★★ • “Kevin Malone” • (1980) • review

  18. ★★1/2 “The God and His Man” • (1980) • The god Isid 1000 1000E sends a man from Urth to explore another world. He finds a rigid, Roman similar society with masters and slaves in the hot lands, a native American similar one in the steamy lands, and finally a spiritual one in the cold lands. Good enough for those few couple of pages.

  19. ★★ • “On the Train” • (1983) •  Two pages about an eternal trip on an endless train. Seems to be out of context.

  20. ★★★★ • “From the Desk of Gilmer C. Merton” • (1983) • light-hearted, funny story with a couple of puns to SF of an author undergoing some changes while corresponding to his agent.

  21. ★★★ • “Death of the Island Doctor” • (1983) • review

  22. ★1/2 • “Redbeard” • (1984) • review

  23. ★★★ • “The Boy Who Hooked the Sun” • (1985) • review

  24. ★★ “Parkroads—A Review” • (1987) • can't say much about this one - a review of an imaginary film.

  25. ★ “Game in the Pope's Head” • (1988) • Four people are playing a game, everyone a different. Reality shifts. Didn't understand it.

  26.  “And When They Appear” • (1993) • I skipped this novelette, as I don't feel like reading Christmas stories in summer.

  27. ★★★★ “Bed and Breakfast” • (1996) •  review

  28. ★★★ • “Petting Zoo” • (1997) • review

  29. ★★★★ • “The Tree Is My Hat” • (1999) • horror novelette featuring the friendship to a shark god • review

  30. ★★ • “Has Anybody Seen Junie Moon?” • (1999) • review

  31. ★★★ “A Cabin on the Coast • (1981) • review

theartoflanguage's review

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adventurous challenging dark medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


sunyidean's review against another edition

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Obviously, I loved it. My favorite was The Eyeflash Miracles. Absolutely stunning story on every level.

Here were my other standout stories:

“The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories,” copyright © 1970 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in Orbit 7.

“The Fifth Head of Cerberus” copyright © 1972 by Damon Knight; first appeared in Orbit.

“The Death of Dr. Island,” copyright © 1973 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in Universe 3.

“Forlesen,” copyright © 1974 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in Orbit 14. “Westwind,” copyright © 1973 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in Worlds of IF. “The Hero as Werwolf,” copyright © 1975 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in The New Improved Sun.

“The Eyeflash Miracles,” copyright © 1976 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in Future Power.

“The Detective of Dreams,” copyright © 1980 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCaul

“On the Train,” copyright © 1983 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in The New Yorker. “From the Desk of Gilmer C. Merton,” copyright © 1983 by Gene Wolfe

“Death of the Island Doctor,” copyright © 1983 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in The Wolfe Archipelago by Gene Wolfe.

"Bed and Breakfast,” copyright © 1995 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in Dante’s Disciples.

“The Tree Is My Hat,” copyright © 1999 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in 999.

“A Cabin on the Coast,” copyright © 1981 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in Zu den Sternen, edited by Peter Wilfert (Munich: Goldmann Verlag, 1981).

ineffablebob's review

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I read about the first half of this book. The stories weren't bad, exactly, but they all felt unfinished. You're never given enough information to understand what the characters were doing or exactly what their world is like. I suppose that's intentional and the reader is supposed to fill in the gaps, but it didn't work for me. I prefer the background of a story to be spelled out enough that the story itself makes sense, not being left to guess. The author doesn't need to spell out everything, but there needs to at least be enough of a framework to make sense.

jebeddo's review

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Not too much to say here. Wolfe good. Best of Wolfe gooder. Prose good. Storytelling good. Some of these stories are literally breathtaking.