Gene Wolfe's The Land Across: "Lonely Planet Meets the Necronomicon"


I haven’t read any Gene Wolfe but he sounds great – what do folks recommend as the best introduction?

Geez, Wolfe is a bit of a life-time study. His greatest works, I think, are the early ones: Peace, The Fifth Head of Cerberus, and the magnificent The Book of the New Sun. Fifth Head might be a good place to start - all his books require, and richly reward, multiple re-reads.


Steven Brust: The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature states that all literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool, and the reader will enjoy the work to the degree that the reader and writer agree about what’s cool – and this functions all the way from the external trappings to deepest level of theme and to the way the writer uses words. I came up with it when I had to do an interview for Locus and hadn’t enough sleep the night before, so I had to invent something interesting to say. Its Godfather is Gene Wolfe and some advice he gave a writer when judging a writing contest. I heard the advice and it got me to thinking. Most of the things Mr. Wolfe says get me to thinking. Why aren’t you interviewing him?

Chris Olson: Well, uh. . . Mr. Wolfe’s work, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t contain flying reptiles with a penchant for sarcasm. . . .

Steven Brust: Man, couldn’t he do a helluva job of it though, if he wanted to?

I’d say try the New Sun books and see if you like them. Very well written, original storylines, and you’ll learn a ton if you are paying attention.

Try “Soldier of the Mist” and the following 2 books if you want something more historical.

Holy crap! How did I miss a new Gene Wolfe novel? Awesome.

You know what’s better than reading a Gene Wolfe novel and/or short story? Knowing that there is another one to read. Made my day!

I’ve read a few Gene Wolfe books, and short story collections, and I have to say, I find him near incomprehensible. Some of it is okay, but a lot of it involves absurd intuitive leaps just to follow. And a lot of times, it’s downright absurd.

One short story (I wish I could recall the title, as it was the one that finally soured me on attempts to read his stuff) involved a crashed time traveling space ship (how the protagonist figured out it was time travelers is one of those absurd intuitive leaps) that crashed into a lake by a cabin in the woods where the protagonist and his son were staying. Woman from the ship kills the son, and about a day later the protagonist captures her and promptly falls in love with her. Yeah, no thanks.

His books employ the device of using an unreliable narrator. You cannot take anything at face value. Sometimes the narrator has memory issues, or lacks exposure to the bigger world, sometimes they are crazy. Depends on the story. I love it. Each story or novel is a puzzle to piece out and you get much out of the rereads.

Yes, that’s it. Wolfe does not employ conventional narratives. While I can see how that might throw some people for a loop, I relish it. You definitely get a lot out of rereads.

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