BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology that celebrates the work of Gene Wolfe that, despite the quality of the stories, suffers from serious topic focal problems.
PROS: Two new pieces of fiction from Gene Wolfe; a high powered lineup of authors.
CONS: Too many of the stories seem to be outside the remit of the anthology.
BOTTOM LINE: An anthology that doesn’t quite reach its goal of celebrating the work of Gene Wolfe.
An apprentice torturer wanders across the world, with a destiny that will lead him to save or destroy his dying Earth…A young man snatched from our world to a pancake stack of planes inspired by Norse Mythology, who then learns to be a Knight…a soldier whose memory is repeatedly lost wanders across the ancient world talking with mythological beings…a phantom castle appearing in a mid-west town presages a modern day collision with Arthuriana…
These (and many more) are the worlds and characters of Gene Wolfe, one of the literary giants of science fiction and fantasy. Shadows of the New Sun is an anthology edited by Bill Fawcett and J.E. Mooney dedicated to celebrating his work. The anthology is book-ended by a pair of new stories from Wolfe himself, a light opening piece called “Frostfree” and the poignant anchor story, “The Sea of Memory”. Beyond his own work, there is a high powered lineup of authors at work here: Neil Gaiman, Joe Haldeman (who has one of my favorite stories of the set,”The Island of the Death Doctor”), Timothy Zahn, Nancy Kress and many others. The roster of authors selected for his anthology shows that appreciation for Wolfe runs wide across the field — certainly wider than I would have thought. (I would never have expected a story from Timothy Zahn, for example.)
Some of my favorites, in addition to Wolfe’s own stories and the one by Haldeman, include Michael Swanwick’s “The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin”, set in the world of The Fifth Head of Cerebrus, and Nancy Kress’ “…And Other Stories”, which mixes levels of reality within the stories and the books in a way that’s definitely informed by Wolfe’s own work.
Although I enjoyed the stories, by and large, I do think, though, the anthology represents something of a missed opportunity. When reading the stories in the collection, I wondered time and again just what the story in question — irrespective of its merits — had to do with Gene Wolfe. Some stories certainly use Wolfe’s narrative techniques and penchant for language, unreliable narrators, allusions and wordplay. Other stories use Wolfe’s settings, or settings that resemble his work, and the Haldeman story mentioned above even has Gene Wolfe himself as a character. However, too many of the stories, as well-written stories as they were appear to have at best a tangential or a completely opaque relation to Gene Wolfe and his work. They simply don’t seem to belong here, and it weakens the power of the anthology and its mission. For example, even though I liked David Brin’s “The Logs” and found it a moody, interesting piece, I can’t figure out what it has to do with Gene Wolfe whatsoever. This may be a failing on the reviewer’s part, where the allusion to Wolfe’s work and style is too subtle even when I was looking for it.
In the end, while the stories themselves make this a worthwhile anthology to read, Shadows of the New Sun is not quite, in this reviewer’s opinion, the tribute to Wolfe’s life and work that it could have been.