vendredi 9 septembre 2016

Storeys From The Old Hotel by Gene Wolfe : a review

   His best collection of short stories in my opinion. As the title hints, there are often, maybe always, more than one storey in these stories. And often, it is quite hard to categorize them between sci-fi, fantasy, historical romance or none of the three.
   Let's take a quick look at some of the best stories of this collection.
   Slaves Of Silver and Rubber Band (1971, 1974): two mystery stories with the famous Sherlock Holmes, but it takes place in a far future and his Watson is a bot (still somewhat stupid). Both are excellent, but even better the last one. Wolfe is a terrific mimicker. Because, of course, he's not only mimicking; he gives much more than he has to.
   Westwind (1973): a moving quest story. Emotion is rare enough, I feel, in Wolfe's work, so it is even more precious. The odd thing with this is his more moving stories are usually led by a female character and not of the young or gorgeous sort.
   The Packerhaus Method (1970): one of his oldest fictions. And one of his very good ones. The plot is really good but pretty sneaky, as often with Wolfe, and will give you a thrilling twist about the end if you contrive to grasp its meaning.
   The Marvelous Brass Chessplaying Automaton (1977): a mystery story located in a kind of ancient germanic kingdom. Just... marvelous ! Wolfe is almost always successful in making mystery stories but in this case, he is at the top of his craft writing.
   In Looking-Glass Castle (1980): a story taking place in a dystopian USA when womankind is in command and male people are almost gone (their nickname is “pigs”). In those days, Women have clones, several if they are rich enough, have no relation with men, or at risk of being excluded from society, even worse, and engage in pig hunts. Wolfe doesn't say what happened to men. Don't take me wrong : although the gender war may usually seem rude and lacking of nuance, in this case, it's a beautiful, subtle and moving narrative. My guess is the girl is mad.
   Cherry Jubilee (1982): again a mystery story but this time in a star cruiser. Wonderful tale. I am always not sure of the whodunit but it doesn't matter. A kind of Mystery Of The Yellow Room but here, the killing happens in a coffin launched in outer space.
   A Solar Labyrinth (1983) : a huge masterpiece, and yet a miniature. There are so many levels in this tale of a maze maker that we could write a library about it. In a way, it is the Book of The New Sun condensed within three pages, perfect achievement in addition. Wolfe could indeed entitle his short story : Shadows of the (New) Sun.
   Death Of The Island Doctor (1983): fourth and last of the variations around these three words : island, doctor and death. The simpler, the lighter, the shorter and the more touching of the four.
   The Choice Of The Black Goddess (1986) : a very entertaining quest story about a treasure hunt. It takes place in a desert island and features sailors and comedians... and a goddess? Good characters and very interesting plot.
   There are other big stories in this book and I think all of them are worth reading. As you could see, another interest is that the collection covers a wide range of time, from the very first, Trip-Trap (1967) to In the Old Hotel (1988), which is also the range of time when Wolfe was at his best.
This collection is not necessarily better than his first, The Island Of Doctor Death And Other Stories And Other Stories, but this one is definitely more touching.

Storeys From The Old Hotel

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