Skip to main content

Home Fires (SF) - Gene Wolfe ****

Gene Wolfe is possibly my favourite fiction author, full stop, though he won't appear much on this site as his output is primarily fantasy. So coming across a book by him I haven't read, in this case Home Fires from 2010, is something of a red letter day. I think it's fair to say that this novel is a minor addition to his works, but welcome nonetheless, with many of the trademark Wolfe characteristics.

Arguably there are three different types of Wolfe books. There are his collections of short stories, which can be beautiful and frustrating in equal measure. There are his best-known books, the New Sun series, which to be honest I've never particularly enjoyed, though I know many people love them. And there are his real world (i.e. set in ordinary America) fantasy books, which are the ones I can't get enough of. Books like There Are Doors, Castleview and The Sorcerer's House. This title, Home Fires is a bit of an oddity as it fits into the final category, but it's not fantasy. (There is another book, Pandora by Holly Hollander that I'd say is also like this, probably Wolfe's most easily approachable title and a little gem.)

Where Pandora is a mystery story, this is science fiction. Set in a future where there is hardly any oil, most of the action takes place on huge, sail-powered liner. There are significant science fiction themes - the main character and his 'contracta' (roughly member of a civil partnership) have been separated for 20ish years in his time, but only 2 in hers, as she has been fighting in space. There's also a touch of Dollhouse in one aspect of the plot.

I'm not going to give anything more away, but there's enough complexity to keep the intrigue going - it just feels a little lightweight to me. As I mentioned upfront, there are still the trademark characteristics. The reader has little idea what is going on for a fair part of the book. Chapters sometimes end with something totally unexpected. The characters are multi-layered and rarely transparent. It's a bit like a book equivalent of Twin Peaks without the really weird bits.

So do I recommend it? To a Wolfe fan, absolutely. And I will certainly read it again, because if there's one thing certain about a Gene Wolfe book, you don't get it all in the first reading. But if you are new to his work, I would suggest having a go at one of the other titles mentioned above first.

Paperback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

The Bastard Legion (SF) - Gavin Smith *****

Science fiction has a long tradition of 'military in space' themes - and usually these books are uninspiring at best and verging on fascist at worst. From a serious SF viewpoint, it seemed that Joe Haldeman's magnificent The Forever War made the likes of Starship Troopers a mocked thing of the past, but sadly Hollywood seems to have rebooted the concept and we now see a lot of military SF on the shelves.

The bad news is that The Bastard Legion could not be classified as anything else - but the good news is that, just as Buffy the Vampire Slayer subverted the vampire genre, The Bastard Legion has so many twists on a straightforward 'marines in space' title that it does a brilliant job of subversion too.

The basic scenario is instantly different. Miska is heading up a mercenary legion, except they're all hardened criminals on a stolen prison ship, taking part because she has stolen the ship and fitted them all with explosive collars. Oh, and helping her train her &…

Euler's Pioneering Equation - Robin Wilson ***

The concept of a 'beautiful equation' is a mystery to many, but it seems to combine a piece of mathematics that expresses something sophisticated in relatively few terms and something that looks satisfying. The equation that has proved standout amongst mathematicians, as by far the most beautiful (and is only placed second to Maxwell's equation amongst physicists) is Euler's remarkable eiπ+1 = 0. What seems remarkable to me about this is that it just seems bizarre that this combination of things produces such a neat result. (Incidentally, as far as I can see, the only reason for the 'pioneering' in the title was to enable the fancy graphic on the cover of the book.)

Getting popular maths books right is incredibly difficult. When I started reading this book, I really thought that Robin Wilson had cracked it. After an introduction, he gives us a chapter on each of the elements of the equation (except the plus and equals signs), from the more basic aspects like 1 a…