Thursday, 5 June 2008

Gene Wolfe, An Evil Guest (2008)


I've just finised reading this, the new Gene Wolfe. It's out in September. I got a Bound Proof, or 'Advanced Reading Copy', for reviewing purposes (the review will, eventually, appear here). I don't want to anticipate that review (which I haven't yet written), but speaking very generally the book struck me as extremely Gene Wolfesque (or Wolfe-y), which ought to be enough to recommend it to the die-hard fans and which may be enough to put off the Wolphobes. Aspects of it are infuriating, or indeed, just not very good -- endless stretches of flat dialogue, for instance, and hardly any descriptive prose. Other aspects are strangely striking and even brilliant (difficult to give examples without going into lengthy detail), and there is a distinctive tone or quality to the work which is quite unique. Usually I finish a novel with a good sense of whether I liked it or not (well, duh), and with the confidence to essay an opinion on whether I think it's a good novel or not. In this case ... not so much. Which in itself is an indicator that Wolfe is at the very least a writer unlike any other.
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For now, though, I want to mention one small thing. Context: here's the back-cover blurb to give you a sense of what's a-going on. "Lovecraft meets Blade Runner ... Set a hundred years in the future [but actually in 1930s Chicago or New York with a handful of added high-tech props and a smattering of interstellar travel -- ed], An Evil Guest is the story of an actress who becomes the lover of two men, a mysterious sorcerer private detective and an even more mysterious and powerful rich man." Now, as Wolfe likes to do with his SF, for instance with the Short Sun vampires, he throws in various supernatural bogeymen and monsters. There are, for instance, werewolves. The private eye/wizard chappie Gideon Chase (a name I kept reading as Gideon Coe, which shows my radio-listening prejudices), tells the astonished actress Cassie Casey, our heroine -- that's her in the cover art, up top -- how to spot werewolves in their human form.
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"There are several signs; when an individual exhibits two or more, it's safe to assume lycanthropy. Hair on the palms of the hands is the classic indication, mentioned as far back as the Middle Ages. One almost never sees that today, because they shave it off. Luckily there are a number of others. The ring finger is often the longest on the hand. They're sensitive to odours, and insensitive to light. There's often a swift loping walk, even in women. It's hard to describe, but once you see it you'll remember it. They tend to dress in wolf shades: gray, black and white." [206]
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So to be clear, any two of these indicators and you're a werewolf: you have hairy palms; you possess a sense of smell; your ring finger is longer than your middle-finger; you dress in black, grey and/or white; you walk about. That means you (yes you sir, madam) are a werewolf. Don't try to deny it.

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