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From: Kieran Mullen <kieran@phyast.nhn.ou.edu>
Subject: (whorl) Re:  Digest whorl.v001.n052
Date: Fri, 28 Feb 1997 11:34:27 

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

    First, there are at least two Kieran's on this list.  I don't want
to cause problems for the other one with my incendiary comments below.

    There seems to be a certain uniform admiration for the intricacy of
Wolfe's writing on this list.  I feel that while admirable, this intricacy
is secondary to Wolfe's sense of story.  In a nutshell, the New Sun and
Long Sun books are well written *stories* that also have hidden
connections in them.  I dislike some of Wolfe's work where the "puzzle"
aspect overwhelms the story.  

    A few initial comments.  First, of course Wolfe can write any damn way
he pleases.  He's under no obligation to make me happy.  Second, of course
Wolfe is more demanding on the reader than the average writer, and that's
great.  Third, of course Wolfe can turn out prose that is elegant,
sonorous, and paints amazing images; his imagination sparkles.  I think he
is one of the best writers alive.  (For me others include Stansilaw Lem,
and Mark Helprin.)  

    The problem is that what I am calling "intricacy" is not an absolute
good.  It is one of many.  For example, a fine storyline is not sufficient
either, if the prose is dull and leaden.  Sometimes it seems that Wolfe's
intricacy can make a story, for me, unenjoyable.  I still find _The Fifth
Head of Cerebus_ to be a depressing and confusing, and ultimately (*for
me*) an unenjoyable book.  _Castleview_ succeeds (*for me*) largely on the
basis of the characters; the Arthurian subtext is subsubsubtext.  Sure you
can tease it out of the plotline, but much of it is fleeting and obscured.

    I can hear outraged readers crying out in Wolfe's defense that he is
more demanding of his readers, his goals more sophisticated, and basically,
I'm plain lazy.  All of these are true.  But if you want intricacy, I can 
weave a haiku based on anagrams of first words of famous stories, and send
it to you encrypted.  What?  You don't want to spend your time on it?  What
are you - lazy?  Don't you realize how I'm pulling on the images of the
entire stories by using only their first words?  Don't you see how the DES
encryption code generated strings that when uuencoded produced symbols from
the periodic table?

    It would be *unreasonable* to expect you to spend time on such a
boring task.  For me, Wolfe's New and Long Sun stories work because his
stories have a sliding scale of connections, from very obscure to
obvious, and his stories are fundamentally enjoyable whether you see all
these levels or not.  For me _Fifth Head_ was just not as good a
_story_.  In his _Endangered Species_ collection he has three short stories
that don't make much sense when read separately, but were originally
published separately.  Here the story has been lost.  The prose may be well
written, but I don't *care* about what's going on.

   This reminds me of some modern composers with whom I have talked.
Their music is incredibly intricate, and if you understand all the internal
and external references, very elegant.  It just sounds like crap, that's

    Now Wolfe can do whatever he wants.  In addition he's a damn fine
writer.  When I'm dead and long gone people will still be reading his works.
But I'm willing to bet on which ones they'll enjoy the most.

   Of course this list will naturally spend more time teasing out the
connections in Wolfe's writings.  It's natural, and it's often what I
find most interesting in the list.  I just feel a little uncomfortable
sometimes that everyone thinks what I would call obscurantism is a Good

                      Kieran Mullen

 Kieran Mullen                         email: kieran@phyast.nhn.ou.edu
 Dept. of Physics and Astronomy        phone: (405) 325-3961
 The University of Oklahoma            FAX: (405) 325-7557
 Norman, OK 73019, USA                 http://www.nhn.uoknor.edu/~kieran/

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

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