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About half-way through Gene Wolfe’s Home Fires, I gave up. Why?

The dialog. Wolfe’s never been great at writing dialog that sounds like real people talking, which is why my favorite Wolfe work (The Book of the New Sun) is one in which this flaw is made a virtue. But this is bad even for him:

“It wasn’t that at all. They tried … I was afraid to tell anybody. Terrified! Put your arm around me. I’m serious! Do it. I need a man’s arm around me, and you’re just right for me and — oh, damn! I’m g-going to c-c-cry.”

The crazy right-wing politics. There’s the North American Union, with its single currency. There’s the European Union, where thieves get their hands cut off because of sharia. There’s the UN, which always takes the sides of the poor nations of the world instead of the NAU.

The tech illiteracy. The setting is Earth, in a resource-poor near-future. Our protagonist has a cellphone, but nobody else seems to, and from what we see in the half of the book I read, it’s just a phone. Websites exist, but there’s no sign of social networking. When pirates hijack an enormous, luxurious cruise ship, the protagonists talk for a while as if there’s a possibility of keeping the news under wraps, as if there wouldn’t have been hundreds of people tweeting “OMG pirates!” within ten seconds of the first shots being fired. When the protagonists talk (via some kind of video-phone communication) with the authorities on shore, they argue a bit over the location of the ship, as if there’s no such thing as GPS. The whole thing could’ve been written in the 1970s.

It’s been a while since I really enjoyed a new Wolfe book. The Wizard Knight was the last one, and even that had its annoyances.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-09 09:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] viktor-haag.livejournal.com
"It's been a while since I really enjoyed a new Wolfe book. The Wizard Knight was the last one, and even that had its annoyances."

I have to sadly say that I'm pretty much exactly in sync with you on this one. I bought Soldier of Sidon (and I'm explicitly not interested in hearing about all its flaws, if it has them), but that was the last one I picked up. I heard such dodgy things about Pirate Freedom and An Evil Guest that I haven't gotten anything since. At this point, I'm not going to pick up new ones, except maybe one at a time, after I get to reading everything I do have up to Soldier of Sidon. That will likely be years hence: the size of my reading pile is dismayingly large.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-09 10:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agrumer.livejournal.com
I haven't read the second Soldier book yet, much less the third.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-09 10:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] matt-rah.livejournal.com
Oh man. Has he gone all Orson Scott Card? I mean in addition to being weird and incomprehensible?

I'm still going to finish the "Sun" books—I've read New and Long, and want to tackle Short.


(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-09 11:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agrumer.livejournal.com
The Sun books are all worth reading, most especially the New Sun series.

Wolfe's always had a vein of conservatism --- both political and religious --- running through his work, but he used to be a GK Chesterton kind of conservative. In Home Fires he's more a Mark Steyn kind of conservative.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-10 01:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] darthed.livejournal.com
I don't think it's fair to ascribe the politics of this future Earth to Wolfe's own personal political preferences. I don't think he's endorsing sharia law or anything of the sort, especially since he's a devout Catholic. As for the NAU, I think it's a reasonable extrapolation of NAFTA and what happened with the EU. If anything, I think Wolfe objects to the politics of this future Earth. He shows the future Earth to be out of sync with nature, for example, with it's 400-day years. That could be an exaggeration of the current push to abolish leap seconds, which will gradually cause our calendar to deviate from astronomical time. Also, he seems to be extrapolating from how the Patriot Act was passed following 9/11. In this future, the Earth is at war and personal freedoms have been curtailed in favor of strong centralized governments. It's not quite dystopian, but there's the potential for it to become that and I think he's warning us of that possibility, not endorsing it. While Wolfe is a religious and political conservative, from his writings, I've gotten the impression that he's a strong proponent of the individual.

If I want to read about future techno-gadgets and social networking, I'll read Charles Stross or William Gibson. That's certainly not Wolfe's strength, and it never has been.

While Home Fires isn't my favorite Wolfe by any means and I wouldn't argue with anyone who called it one of his lesser works, I thought it nicely explored Wolfe's recurring theme of identity in some interesting and new ways. Of his recent novels, I think Pirate Freedom is a masterpiece, The Sorcerer's House and Soldier of Sidon were joys to read, and I wasn't annoyed by anything in The Wizard Knight, which I found to be excellent. An Evil Guest is rather murky, even to an experienced Wolfe reader such as myself, but the rumored sequel may illuminate it. At the age of 80 years old, Wolfe's writing still is very strong and interesting, IMHO. Of course, he's not writing for a broad audience, so YMMV.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-10 02:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agrumer.livejournal.com
I don't think he's endorsing sharia law or anything of the sort

I don't think Wolfe is endorsing sharia either. What gave you the idea that I did?

There is a widespread belief among crazy right-wingers that Europe is going to be taken over by Muslims in the next few decades. I first heard this from born-again Christians in college in the 1980s, but it's become a more common idea since 9/11. Actual demographics don't bear the idea out, which is why it's a symptom of right-wing lunacy --- the only people who believe it are those who hear it from other right-wing lunatics, and don't bother checking with actual demographers to see whether it's plausible. Hence my objection: Wolfe portrays a world in which a thing that only right-wing crazies believe will happen has happened.

Likewise for the "North American Union". Just a few days ago a politician in Arizona opposed a local highway because he claimed it was part of a project to build a continent-spanning super-highway connecting Canada and Mexico as part of a unified North American nation. Crazies on the far right have been making noise about this for a while.

I don't think Wolfe believes that a North American Union, or a sharia-dominated Europe, would be good things. But he apparently takes those ideas seriously enough to include them in a future he puts forward as possible.

As far as social networking goes, you're aware that currently exists, right? That Home Fires was published in 2011, and probably written in 2009 or 2010, when Facebook and Twitter and YouTube all existed already, right? Maybe it's too much to expect a science fiction writer to predicting the future, but can I at least ask that they be aware of the present?

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-10 03:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] darthed.livejournal.com
I think you're making associations that are unfair to Wolfe, but it's an interesting reading. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-10 12:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sinboy.livejournal.com
You finished that book? I put it down halfway through the second chapter.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-10 01:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agrumer.livejournal.com
Like I said, I got about half-way through.

It actually seems like it's going to get a bit more interesting around the one-third mark, when the ship is hijacked. But he manages to make that seem boring, too, by chopping the narrative up with deleted scenes so you have to infer what happened.

Andrew Plotkin said, a while back, that Wolfe had gone from using unreliable narration to bad narration, and I've come to agree with him.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-10 03:41 am (UTC)
immlass: (Default)
From: [personal profile] immlass
I liked the Soldier book he put out recently but other than Soldier and New Sun, I've never really gotten into his books. I think the dialogue is a large part of it---and I think the Soldier books are built similarly with respect to the dialog (making the weirdness a part of the schtick).

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-20 03:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] womzilla.livejournal.com
As I said in conversation, I liked A Sorcerer's House, though it wasn't at the standard of his earlier contemporary fantasies (Free Live Free, Castleview), let alone the Sun or Soldier books or Wizard Knight.

But a discussion of recent Wolfe on Coode Street #93 brought up an interesting point, which is that Wolfe's novels since Short Sun have been a whirl of distinct genera--a pirate novel, pulp horror, sf, sword and sorcery, (sub)urban fantasy, epic fantasy--almost as if he's checking them off a list. It made me more interested in reading them; maybe I'll catch up after I get to the end of the extant volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire.

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