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Date: Sat, 19 Apr 2003 14:24:44 -0400
From: "Fernando Q. Gouvea" 
Subject: Re: (urth) Short Story collections

I've been following this discussion with some interest, because I do like
many of Wolfe's short stories. They are a very diverse bunch of stories, of
course, with the novellas at one end of the spectrum and stories that are
little more than jeux d'esprit at the other. Still, here's my take on the
various collections:

The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories includes
several essential stories and several others that are fun but light. The
best, I think are the title story, "The Death of Doctor Island", "The
Eyeflash Miracles", "Tracking Song", and "Seven American Nights". In
addition, I have a soft spot for "La Befana". Finally, there's "The Toy
Theater", which I think is just brilliant, an elegantly cut gem that ends
up making a significant point about whether it's worthwhile to sacrifice
one's life for one's craft.

Castle of Days includes the short stories that originally appeared in Gene
Wolfe's Book of Days. As several people have pointed out, "Forlesen" is an
amazing story. I also like "Beautyland" (which has since lost some of its
power because it was too correct), "How I Lost the Second World War and
Helped Turn Back the German Invasion" (this one seems not to get much
respect, but I still think it's great fun), and "The War Beneath the
Tree". Castle of Days also includes "The Castle of the Otter", a collection
of secondary pieces about the Book of the New Sun, of which the best, I
think, is "These Are the Jokes" (which is brilliant).

Endangered Species includes several stories that stand out for me,
including "The Cabin on the Coast", "In the House of Gingerbread", "When I
Was Ming the Merciless", and "The Detective of Dreams". Several others are
at least interesting: "The Last Thrilling Wonder Story", and the two "The
Woman Who Loved" stories. Pound for pound, this is probably the weakest of
the collections.

Storeys From the Old Hotel, though meant as a kind of collection of less
significant stories, actually contains several that I think are among his
best: "Westwind", "Parkroads", "A Solar Labyrinth", "Cherry Jubilee", and
(I'm sure choosing this one will annoy people) "In Looking-Glass Castle".

In Strange Travelers, there are several strange stories that I haven't
completely processed yet. Still, "No Planets Strike" seems very fine to me,
"And When They Appear" is disturbing but well done, "Ziggurat" is again
disturbing but packs a punch, and "Counting Cats on Zanzibar" is very
good. "Bed and Breakfast" is fun but minor. Some of the others I'm not sure
what to do with yet.

That's quite a good bunch of stories, I think, of many different types and
styles. Perhaps not as good as the very best sf short story writers, but
pretty close.



Fernando Q. Gouvea                      
Department of Mathematics          Editor, FOCUS and MAA Online
Colby College                      Mathematical Association of America
Waterville, ME 04901               http://www.maa.org

Genua had once controlled the river mouth and taxed its traffic in a way
that couldn't be called piracy because it was done by the city government.
  -- Local-body politics explained
     Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad


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