(urth) An Evil Guest

Brian Lindenmuth blindenmuth at gmail.com
Mon Mar 24 05:12:47 PDT 2008

Back in the beginning of December Neil Gaiman posted the following on his

"For the last week, a few chapters a night, because you don't want to eat it
all at once, I've been reading Gene Wolfe's next novel AN EVIL GUEST. I
think I need to read it again. (This is a perfectly valid way to feel on
finishing a Gene Wolfe novel.) I'm going to write about it here by way of
setting my thoughts in order. It's set about eighty years from now, sort of,
although the future feels like a high tech 1930s (intentionally, I assume,
because in Gene Wolfe fiction it is safe to assume that things are
intentional), so much so that one finds oneself reading the book trying to
find a key to open it. The obvious key is Lovecraft, whose initials are
dropped early, and further inside the book we find Miskatonic University and
Great Cthulhu Himself (although not quite by name) , although that still
doesn't really help figure out what kind of thing it is one is reading.

The book is the story of Cassie, a minor stage actress who is just about to
become a major Broadway star thanks to the wizardry of Mr Gideon Chase, a
high tech mystery man and problem solver, and Cassie is also about to become
involved with a multibillionaire named Bill Reis, who may be trying to
murder her. (It also has Hanga, the shark god from Wolfe's chilling story
"The Tree Is My Hat" in it, from the Wolfe collection Innocents Abroad.) The
point that I felt I was getting a key to what kind of book this was was the
point where the name Cranston was dropped. As in Lamont, and The Shadow.
Which made sense of a few things, as both Gideon Chase and Bill Reis get to
cloud mens' minds in their own ways, have high tech gadgets and adventures.
And when I realised that then the book sort of shook and shifted in my head
and it seemed right and sensible that the future was a sort of 1930s future,
that the book moves from horror (sort of) to spy adventure (sort of, with
FBI agents and competing government agencies) with a tech sometimes
indistinguishable from magic, that Chthulhu's in there and a stage Musical
called Bride of the Volcano God, that Cassie is a sort of actressy Margo
Lane, that the very real Polynesians of "The Tree Is My Hat" have been
replaced with larger than life characters who feel like they could have
stepped down from a movie screen, that there is at least one werewolf (there
are hidden wolves in most Wolfe books, perhaps all) and a zombie and things
like huge bats that I'm still not sure what they were. It's a pulp thriller
-- and that's a compliment, because Wolfe knows from pulp thrillers (he
wrote a wonderful pastiche of one in "The Island of Dr Death and Other
Stories") and because here he's creating a strange sort of genre meltdown, a
21st century pulp adventure thriller with SF and horror elements that nobody
else could possibly have written."

Hope this helps everybody

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