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Endangered Species
Gene Wolfe
Orb, 506 pages

Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe is one of the most respected writers in the field, and one of the few authors in the genre whose stories have been accepted in mainstream publications such as The New Yorker. Nominated 19 times for a Nebula Award, he has received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. He is known for strikingly audacious novels such as The Fifth Head of Cerberus, but most readers will probably have learned to appreciate his writing in The Book of the New Sun series, and the associated Long Sun series. Wolfe lives in Barrington, Illinois, USA.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Innocents Aboard
SF Site Review: The Knight
SF Site Review: A Walking Tour of the Shambles
SF Site Review: Peace
SF Site Review: Sword and Citadel
SF Site Review: Shadow and Claw
SF Site Review: In Green's Jungles
SF Site Review: Free Live Free
SF Site Review: The Urth of the New Sun
Gene Wolfe Tribute Site
Gene Wolfe Tribute Site
Gene Wolfe Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Endangered Species Single-author story collections tend to come in two styles. One is the greatest hits variety, containing the award-winners and big sellers. The other is more complete, a retrospective of the totality of a career, not just the highlights. Endangered Species is more the latter than the former. The thirty-four stories inside showcase not only the fully-developed skills, but also the early experiments in style and subject, the bits and pieces of inspiration that eventually grew together to form the body of work of one of the most accomplished writers in SF.

Readers who are familiar with Gene Wolfe through his novels, especially the connected series of novels that make up works like The Book of the Long Sun will find many of the themes that loom large in those works present in many of the stories in Endangered Species. There is the love of language, the religious imagery, the mingling of physics and engineering with myth and legend, and the re-casting of classic story forms into the stuff of science fiction and fantasy.

Take, for example, "The Last Thrilling Wonder Story," a bit of meta-pulp fiction that plays with early SF adventure conventions, making fun of both the author and his characters. "The Detective of Dreams" has the style and feel of a classic nineteenth-century detective story. "In The House of Gingerbread" is a modern-updating of the classic fairy-tale, and proof that real horror can still be found in stories we might have thought we'd outgrown.

What is most evident here is a writer who is truly infatuated with words and story. While it can be a little overwhelming in the novels (more than one person I know found it useful to have a very good dictionary nearby while reading The Book of the New Sun), in these stories the language is more straight-forward, the narrative less dependent on layers of meaning for its affect. The story itself is the author's focus, not as much the manner of telling.

This can result in one of the few flaws to be found in Endangered Species, some stories end abruptly, as if having made the point there was nothing else to say. It's a minor irritant that would disappear in Wolfe's later, longer work, and it's always interesting to get a glimpse of the process by which an artist finds the style that best suits what he has to say. Gene Wolfe has always been a writer with something to say, and the gift of story-telling to the degree that he can, in his novels, layer one story inside another in order to create works of great depth and complexity. These stories reveal the building blocks upon which that style and artistry were built. For anyone with a love of story-telling in general, and the work of Gene Wolfe in particular, Endangered Species is must read.

Copyright © 2005 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson is still a little embarassed to admit just how long it took him to figure out that one of the main characters in The Book of the Long Sun was an alien vampire. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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