Fri
Aug 30 2013 12:00pm

Apollo in the Labyrinth: Shadows of the New Sun

Shadows of the New SunLet’s say you made a bet. “Gene Wolfe can’t write a creepy story about...” you search and flail, hoping to come up with the most absurd thing you can think of, something nobody would be able to write a spooky story about. “...a refrigerator!” you shout, in a moment of inspiration. There, you think. That has to stump him. Alas, friend, no, Gene Wolfe can’t be caged by any force known to humankind, past, present or future. Witness “Frostfree,” a story about a time-traveling appliance sent into the past to help break curses(?!), and is in part a thoughtful Wolfean exploration of gender roles(?!).

It’s a fitting way to kick off Shadows of the New Sun, a collection of short stories edited by J.E. Mooney and Bill Fawcett honoring the Wolfe himself, from a list of luminaries like Neil Gaiman, David Brin and Nancy Kress. The stories themselves dance around Wolfe’s themes and narratives in a fitting homage. My admiration for Gene Wolfe is no secret, and I’m far from alone— some of the genre’s best writers are here; they’ve eaten the analeptic alzabo and the Wolfe is in them now.

I’d never read Michael Swanwick before, but I’ve got to tell you, after reading “The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin,” I am certain going to read more of him. “She-Wolf” is a contender for my favorite story in collection, in part because it is set in the world of Wolfe’s Fifth Head of Cerberus. If The Book of the New Sun is Wolfe’s Shadow of the Colossus, then Fifth Head is his ICO: a more personal story, and a spiritual predecessor. Swanwick manages to find a tone that evokes Wolfe without mimicking him (Veil’s Hypothesis joke intended) and incorporated the questions of identity at the core of The Fifth Head of Cerberus with panache. Awfully impressive. Fifth Head of Cerberus is made up of three novellas, and “She Wolf” mostly puts me in mind of the first, eponymous part; I’d really like to see Swanwick tackle the other two, create a trilogy of linked short stories the same way Wolfe braided the three novellas together— I’m just curious to see more of the worlds of Sainte Croix and Sainte Anne, and Swanwick really adds to the universe Wolfe first showed us.

I say “The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin” is my favorite in the collection, but there is really an embarrassment of riches. David Brin writes a short story called “The Log” about a dark future where a slave caste of gulag laborers live along side genetically modified elephants and wooly mammoths, creatures adapted to live in deep space, to chew up space rocks and harvest the crystalline trees that condense sunlight into readily available energy. Come on, what, that is great, but in the true spirit of Wolfe, it isn’t the big ideas or weird setting that are the focus; it is the personal element, it is the spirit of Russian endurance, it is the universal language of human suffering and ultimately the triumph of hope.

Or oh, Aaron Allston’s “Epistoleros,” too—I’m just leafing through the book and everywhere I open, there is another gem. A pun on gun-fighters and letter-writers? Right there, you’re speaking my language; that kind of pun is Wolfe up and down. The fact that it is an alternate Wild West story where the immortal paladins of Charlemagne are the vanguard of the expanding French forces in America is just gravy. Delicious gravy.

I really enjoyed Songs of the Dying Earth, a similar collection of stories in honor of Jack Vance, so I had high hopes for this as a Wolfe fan. Wolfe has such a distinctive voice— I should say, he has several distinct voices, as the man is an accomplished ventriloquist— but simply aping his style would leave the stories ultimately hollow. Fortunately, that isn’t what we get here; instead, as I mentioned, we have people deftly working with his themes and subjects, writers who focus on the subtle craft of capturing the heart of Wolfe’s writing. Or not capturing it; setting it free.

Sorry for all the double negatives and contradictions in the previous paragraph; reading Wolfe and reading about Wolfe put me in mind of labyrinths, crooked sentences, twisting winding mazes made of words. Which, ultimately, is the conundrum at the heart of things; Wolfe is an Apollonian figure, a sun god, but he is hidden Chthonic, hidden in the labyrinth. Odin, lover of poems and gallows. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king…and Wolfe does rule. He even has two eyes. It was nice to read a collection in honor of him, and it was even nicer that it was a fantastic collection.

Shadows of the New Sun is available now from Tor Books


Mordicai Knode really likes the naming conventions of the Shadow Children in the Fifth Head of Cerberus. The identity politics of the Other! You can talk about more Wolfe with Mordicai on Twitter or Tumblr.

12 comments
Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
"...he Wolfe is in them now..." ha ha ha, I crack myself up when I get all excited about a book & my review becomes over-wrought. YES.
Colin Bell
2. SchuylerH
@1: You haven't read Swanwick? Well, you can't go wrong with the collections but in terms of novels, Stations of the Tide is a Nebula-winning SF novel featuring a mystery on a bizarre planet while The Iron Dragon's Daughter is an ambivalent response to the tropes of fantasy fiction, particularly with regards to the commercialisation of the genre.
Mordicai Knode
3. mordicai
2. SchuylerH

Yeah, much as Advanced Readings in D&D is filling some of the gaps of the "older" canon of SF/F, there are still plenty of gaps in the newer canon, too. I guess that comes with the territory; one of the great things about living in the future is that there are more wonderful books than anyone could ever read.
David Gunter
4. spdavid
That company named for a rain forested dark and mysterious region saw fit to deposit this book in my mailbox today.I will consume it soon.the dilemma is this fine company also saw fit to deposit Dust-Hugh Howey,The Bone Season-Samantha Shannon,Crux-Ramez Naam,that Mamouth Book of Time Travel SF,and Transcendental by James Gunn.What's a reader to do?
Tim Buller
5. samzo77
I was jealous of my brother, who some how received his copy on Monday. Mine should be arriving soon, and I am really looking forward to it!
Mordicai Knode
6. mordicai
4. spdavid
&
5. samzo77

Stop back & let me know which of the stories was your favorite!
David Moran
7. David Moran
I feel like I probably need a little more Wolfe under my belt to truly enjoy this? Y/N?
David Gunter
8. spdavid
6. for sure once I finish The 5th Wave which I'm on now and I may not be able to resist Dust.The Wool books are too damn good.(can't wait for them to get the movie treatment)
Mordicai Knode
9. mordicai
7. fordmadoxfraud

The stories stand on their own, but there is an additional level of enjoyment in tracking references. Not neccisary, by any means, & reading this then the Wolfe itself could have that same effect, in reverse.

8. spdavid

My wife is listening to that audiobook right now so I hear out of context snippits.
David Gunter
10. spdavid
@mordicai The 5th Wave?It's pretty good,I'm about 3/4 the way through.It's YA but mostly because the main characters are 18 and under.It has it's teenagery moments but overall a great read.This too I understand will go movie.If you read it you'll find you come to these points where it doesn't make sense then the book will come along and help you out so that it does.And it's a solid Sci fi story if ever there was one.
Eugene R.
11. Eugene R.
I was rather fond of the Joe Haldeman contribution ("The Island of the Death Doctor") for both adding to the "island-doctor-death" menagerie of stories and for including not only Wolfe characters but also Wolfe-as-character. But "Epistoleros" was the hands-down best title.
Mordicai Knode
12. mordicai
10. spdavid

I like YA sometimes! & I think it is cool that "alien invasion YA" is having its moment.

11. Eugene R.

Yeah, the nature of fiction was a fun them to explore...but really the thing about your comment is that yep, "Epistoleros" was perfectly clever; just right "in genre." Where that genre is Wolfeian.

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