(urth) Wolfe at the Beach: Two Reviews

Rex Lycanthrosaurus lycanthrosaurus at fastmail.fm
Tue Aug 28 09:42:25 PDT 2007

It rained a little bit more than I would have liked on vacation this
year so I was able to do a fair amount of reading and not get sand
kicked in my face (though the wife tried). If, however, you wish to read
_Pirate Freedom_ without knowing anything at all, you may wish to skip
the second half of what follows, though I've attempted to remain spoiler

_Shadows of the New Sun_ is a nice collection of interviews and essays,
several of the former of which are conducted by members or alumni of
this list. I'm a big fan of interviews, so mostly I enjoyed them, but
there is a fair amount of repetition from interview to interview. I'd
therefore not recommend reading them straight through, all in a clump,
as I did, but to skip around a bit. The same with the essays, which I
didn't enjoy quite as much as those in _Castle of Days_ (Wolfe's sense
of humor may be a little too quirky for me.) It also strikes me as
strange that when you get to the final interview editor Wright cautions
the reader that "[Wolfe's] occasionally terse responses should remind
any critic or commentator that he or she is in the presence of a writer
every bit as unreliable as his narrators." So--what?--don't take the
interviews seriously or just read them as fiction?

I was also appalled at some of the copy editing in this book. There are
numerous typos, which doesn't seem so strange when you consider much of
the material has been culled from fan sources, but _Shadows_, after all,
hails from a prestigious academic press and Wright calls further
attention to the shoddy editing in the introduction by claiming none of
the interviews have been changed except to clean up typographical
errors. See the fourth full paragraph on p.15 and tell me
someone/something other than a spellchecker has gone over it. My
favorite blunder, however, involves Michael Andre-Driussi, who we're
told "is working on a second edition of the Lexicon, which will correct
many of the errors as well as adding new ones." So I guess that tells us
when Lexicon Urthis 2.0 will come out -- when mantis finishes adding all
the new errors! <gr> 

"As a boy," Gene Wolfe has written, "I was very fond of pirates," and
his latest offering seems written expressly for that boy. In fact, the
intended audience for this one seems even more YA than _Wizard Knight_
though it's not being marketed as a juvenile, but as fantasy. _Pirate
Freedom_, however, has *no* fantasy elements unless you wish to count
Father Chris's temporal displacement (curiously unexamined by the
narrator), nor is there much in the way of metaphysical or spiritual
dithering, considering Chris-the-pirate has taken Holy Orders. Instead,
we're treated to a very straight forward historical adventure with many
asides about the true nature of piracy (as opposed, say, to pop
versions) and the narrative voice will probably remind you of Wizard's
Able. Wolfe seems to have lots of fun with his dramatis personae,
incorporating not only two characters from New Sun, but also naming a
pirate after one of his fellow writers. But far and away, _Pirate
Freedom_ is Wolfe's least challenging and unoblique novel, with
virtually no unsolved mysteries or (for me) lingering resonance. As
such, I took it to be the literary equivalent of a sorbet -- something
to cleanse the pallet in preparation for more substantial fare to come
(though I'm not encouraged by the early word on his next two novels).

  Rex Lycanthrosaurus
  lycanthrosaurus at fastmail.fm

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