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From: CoxRathvon@aol.com
Subject: Re: (whorl) Finding the Wolf(e)
Date: Fri, 14 Feb 1997 11:58:32 

[Posted from Whorl, the mailing list for Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun]

Yipes, I hope I haven't diverted our Wolfe-chat into a literary sidebar
that's too... hifilutin.  I guess my list of favorite authors (Calvino,
Borges, Nabokov, Barthelme) does include some modernist Heavy Hitters.  I
should add that I don't always try to bust my brains when I read.  I like
Tony Hillerman's mysteries set in Navajo country, and some of Sue Grafton's
alphabetically titled mysteries.  I like P.G. Wodehouse, which is about as
fluffy as you can get.  Heck, I crack up over Dave Barry.

As for sf, I grew up liking Tolkien and Bradbury. In high school and college
I went for Heinlein, Clark, and Asimov.  More recently I have liked LeGuin,
Vance, Cordwainer Smith (getting a bit brainy again there), and Lafferty (who
absolutely kills me, though I have read only half a dozen short stories in
anthologies and would love to find more).  

I can't remember how I got into Wolfe.  I think I just pulled "The Fifth Head
of Cerberus" off a library shelf one day with a shrug--and was soon agog over
it.  I know what Dave Lebling means about it being "mannered"--but I guess I
have a taste  for that sort of style, as my bent for Nabokov shows.  The
thing that slayed me about "The Fifth Head of Cerberus" was the way "self"
defied being pigeonholed.  What is the true nature of "self" if you're a
clone? or an artificial intelligence? or a shape-shifter borrowing an
identity? or a shape-shifter who's *forgotten* about borrowing an identity?
  These variations on an elusive theme made me laugh and gasp at the same
time.  On top of that, I thought the prose was terrific.  And I wondered, who
is this guy Wolfe?  And why aren't the critics who love Updike and Doctorow
talking about him?

After "Cerberus" I tackled the New Sun series and definitely read it too
fast, missing almost everything.  I did the whole thing over again with
slightly improved understanding, meanwhile reading everything else of Wolfe's
I could find.  I think I've tracked down everything except Wolfe's "Letters."
(Yes, Dave, I have my hand raised for "Pandora by Holly Hollander.")  I
really love "There Are Doors" and dozens of the short stories.  I also like
the Latro books a lot, and "Peace."  I think "Castleview" finally went too
far for me--I actually burst out laughing at the end because I couldn't
believe how many loose ends Wolfe was just leaving there!  I still don't know
what the hell a lot of it was about.

For me the Long Sun series is right up there with his best stuff.  I remember
approaching "Exodus" with sort of a wary feeling.  I guess I felt that there
had been a lot of ambitious setting-up and that "Exodus" had a lot to prove.
 About two-thirds of the way through--maybe at about the point of Silk's
dinner with Siyuf and Quetzal et al.--I lowered the book and said aloud,
"He's delivering!"  I could feel the threads coming together, and the
characters deepening, and the climax approaching with a lot of force.  For
me, it was working as pure page-turning sf excitement--even though, as we've
been saying, there's so much else going on with Wolfe.

Sorry to gab on and on.  I know there are a lot of Long Sun puzzle pieces yet
to ponder.  I'm very appreciative of the Time Line, the list of theophanies,
etc.  See you all later!

--Henry Rathvon

Questions or problems to whorl-owner@lists.best.com

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