Staff Picks Author Study - Gene Wolfe, 2007 Inducted into Science Fiction Hall of Fame

Friday, October 27, 2023

“What is permanent and important is the creations of the human mind….and the physical world. The first of those is what we call fantasy and the second of those is what we call science fiction.” - Gene Wolfe

Imagine a world where you could walk into a library and check out not just a copy of the works of Stephen King, but be able to take home the author of arguably some of the greatest suspense novels ever written. A re-cloned person or “reclone”, E.A. Smithe from the Borrowed Man series is an example of just such a library item. Interlibrary Loan opens with Ern along with his friends Millie and Rose (reclones of cookbook and romance authors) on their way to the Polly’s Cove Public Library as interlibrary loan items. Ern is grateful for the checkout, knowing how low circulating items are handled in the futuristic world Wolfe envisions. Both reclones and books which fail to get used by customers are discarded and burned. Describing himself and his kind to Chandra, the fully human user who checks the reclone out when he arrives in Polly Cove, Ern says “we are like books. We possess the contents of our minds.” When he encounters a fully human who has damaged another recloned copy of himself, Ern reminds us how precarious it is for a book to leave the library. “There are people who tear pages out of books because they’re offended by something the author wrote.”

Interlibrary Loan was Wolfe’s final book, published posthumously in June 2020 approximately a year after the author’s death. Perhaps the author pictured himself as a reclone someday. Along with Isaac Asimov and other futuristic writers of his generation, Wolfe saw a world of new forms of intelligence and consciousness we have not yet realized. I look forward to reading his other works, especially Borrowed Man. This book has certainly given me a new perspective on the library’s interlibrary loan service. With all the changes I have seen in more than 20 years with the library, the idea of reclones envisioned by Wolfe would be an interesting product to offer customers.

A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe

It's perhaps a hundred years in the future and E. A. Smithe is "a clone who lives on a third-tier shelf in a public library, and his personality is an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer". Colette Coldbrook "decides to check Smithe out from the library because he is the surviving personality of the author of Murder on Mars", and the physical copy of the same book was in the possession of her father when he disappeared and presumed dead.

Starwater Strains by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe follows his acclaimed all-fantasy short story collection, "Innocents Aboard," with a volume devoted primarily to his science fiction. The twenty-five stories here amply demonstrate his range, excellence, and mastery of the form that has traditionally been the heart of the field. Their diversity makes them otherwise impossible to characterize as a group, so a few tantalizing samples will have to suffice: "Viewpoint" takes on the unreality of so-called "reality" TV and imagines such a show done truly for real, with real guns, and a real government clawing at the money. Wolfe has loved dinosaurs since he was kid, and in "Petting Zoo" he imagines the reunion of a man and an aged dinosaur who look back together on a day when they were much, much younger, and much freer. "Empires of Foliage and Flower" is a special treat, an addition to the classic Book of the New Sun series first published only as a limited-edition chapbook. The volume closes with its newest story "Golden City Far." It's about dreams, high school, and finding love, which Wolfe says "is about as good a recipe for a story as I've ever found." You're sure to agree.

Home Fires by Gene Wolfe

Chelle and Skip have been separated by Chelle's tour of duty in a war against aliens from distant solar systems. They find their relationship complicated by time differentials that cause an injured and war-weary Chelle to age only a few months while Skip reaches his forties.

A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel

Always run, never fight. Preserve the knowledge. Survive at all cost. Take them to the stars. Over 99 identical generations, Mia's family has shaped human history to push them to the stars, making brutal, wrenching choices and sacrificing countless lives. Her turn comes at the dawn of the age of rocketry. Her mission: to lure Wernher Von Braun away from the Nazi party and into the American rocket program, and secure the future of the space race. But Mia's family is not the only group pushing the levers of history: an even more ruthless enemy lurks behind the scenes. A darkly satirical first contact thriller, as seen through the eyes of the women who make progress possible and the men who are determined to stop them.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

A murderous android discovers itself in "All Systems Red", a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that interrogates the roots of consciousness through Artificial Intelligence. In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn't a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied 'droid, a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as "Murderbot." Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

It has a dark past, one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself Murderbot. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more. Teaming up with a research transport vessel named ART (you don't want to know what the A stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue. What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks.

Or What You Will by Jo Walton

He has been too many things to count. He has been a dragon with a boy on his back. He has been a scholar, a warrior, a lover, and a thief. He has been the dream and the dreamer. He has been a god. But "he" is in fact nothing more than a spark of idea, a character in the mind of Sylvia Harrison, 73, award-winning author of thirty novels over forty years. He has played a part in most of those novels, and in the recesses of her mind, Sylvia has conversed with him for years. But Sylvia won't live forever, any more than any human does. And he's trapped inside her cave of bone, her hollow of skull. When she dies, so will he. Now Sylvia is starting a new novel, a fantasy for adult readers, set in Thalia, the Florence-resembling imaginary city that was the setting for a successful YA trilogy she published decades before. Of course, he's got a part in it. But he also has a notion. He thinks he knows how he and Sylvia can step off the wheel of mortality altogether. All he has to do is convince her.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Case was the sharpest data-thief in the matrix, until he crossed the wrong people and they crippled his nervous system, banishing him from cyberspace. Now a mysterious new employer has recruited him for a last-chance run at an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, a mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case is ready for the adventure that upped the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Neuromancer was the first fully-realized glimpse of humankind's digital future, a shocking vision that has challenged our assumptions about technology and ourselves, reinvented the way we speak and think, and forever altered the landscape of our imaginations.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others delivers dual delights of the very, very strange and the heartbreakingly familiar, often presenting characters who must confront sudden change, the inevitable rise of automatons or the appearance of alien, with some sense of normalcy. With sharp intelligence and humor, Chiang examines what it means to be alive in a world marked by uncertainty, but also by beauty and wonder.

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