Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe
Edited by J.E. Mooney and Bill Fawcett
Cover Artist: Photo by Roger Ressmeyer / Science Faction / Getty Images
Review by Benjamin Wald
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765334589
Date: 27 August 2013 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Gene Wolfe is one of the most celebrated authors in all of SF, and he has had a significant influence on the genre. This is indicated by the range of authors who have contributed to Shadows of the New Sun, a collection of stories that celebrate Wolfe's work and how it, and he, has influenced the contributors.
Contributing a story to this anthology, where it will inevitably be compared to Wolfe's own short fiction, must have been a daunting task. Wolfe's short stories are among the most intricately crafted and subtle pieces of writing I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Many of the contributors rise to the challenge, either by producing similarly intricate stories of their own or by creating similar effects or exploring similar themes in their own distinctive styles, but a few notably fail, producing stories that feel jarringly out of place. Still, the collection contains many expertly told tales, and a few gems that would justify the purchase of this collection all on their own.
The collection is bookended by two original stories by Wolfe himself. The first showcases both Wolfe's keen insight into character and also his wry sense of humor. The second story is a bit slight, but contains some interesting thoughts on time and memory.
Two of the other stories stand out as actually producing stories as multilayered and intricate as Wolfe's own work. Neil Gaiman's contribution riffs on Wolfe's "A solar labyrinth", managing to capture that stories sense of rising menace in a seemingly mundane setting. Gaiman also replicates Wolfe's trick of forcing the reader to pay close attention to the text, revealing crucial character insights in offhand comments that might be missed. Michael Swanwick's story is inspired by "The Fifth Head of Cerberus", and captures the tone of that story while giving it a distinctive twist all Swanwick's own. The ending is fascinatingly ambiguous, deeply cruel, and absolutely brilliant. Both stories are outstanding, some of the best work from two of the best short story writers in the business.
Other authors take on less of Wolfe's distinctive style, but do an excellent job of exploring themes from Wolfe's work while also producing excellent stories. David Drake further explores the life of the hot air balloon mercenaries introduced in "Straw", providing an excellent story on the costs of a life of violence. Nancy Kress and Jack Dann produce stories inspired by "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories", which explores how fiction can provide a refuge for an unhappy child. The two authors take very different approaches to the story, but both produce powerful and affecting stories. David Brin and the collaboration between Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg also contribute notably strong stories to this collection.
Not all of the stories stand up so well. Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole both contribute stories that feel as if they belong in a sword and sorcery anthology, with wizards flinging spells and barbarian heroes. These stories are perfectly fine on their own terms, but they bear no resemblance at all to anything Wolfe has ever written. Joe Haldeman provides a surprisingly slight and uninteresting story, that plays with the idea of the author as creator, but that in the end has little to say. William C. Dietz contributes by far the worst story in the volume, with a story that is supposed to take place in between two of the volumes of the Book of the New Sun tetralogy. Adding material to Wolfe's most celebrated work is a risky business, and Dietz utterly flubs it, with a writing style that reads as a pale imitation of Wolfe's and an utter lack of understanding of the characters or the setting.
This collection clearly shows the influence Wolfe has had on a huge variety of authors. It also shows Wolfe's range, with different stories picking up on different elements of his work. There are several absolutely stunning stories in here, and a number of strong contributions by excellent short story writers. Not all of the contributions live up to the high standard set by Wolfe's own writing. The collection as a whole, however, is a pleasure to read. There are many excellent stories, and the pleasure of reading them is enhanced by how they engage with the themes and work of one of the greatest SF writers of all time.