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The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  534 ratings  ·  64 reviews
From a literary perspective, this will certainly be the best collection of the year in science fiction and fantasy. Gene Wolfe, of whom The Washington Post said, “Of all SF writers currently active none is held in higher esteem,” has selected the short fiction he considers his finest into one volume. 

There are many award winners and many that have been selected for variou
Hardcover, 478 pages
Published March 17th 2009 by Tor Books (first published March 2009)
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The Best of Gene Wolfe: Challenging, allusive, and tricky stories
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
I decided to tackle this collection for a third time, this time armed with Marc Aramini’s Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986, an 826-page analysis covering Wolfe’s output through 1986, including most of his short stories (no matter how obscure) along with The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Peace, Free Live Free, and The Book of the New Sun. It is truly
When my husband and I first started dating, he asked what kinds of books I liked to read. I lent him this collection and told him to read "Seven American Nights." In retrospect, I don't necessarily recommend this as a courtship tactic.

He returned it the next day saying that, though the writing itself was excellent, he had no idea what the everloving fuck.

"I know, isn't it great?" I said, and gleefully began reveling in the labyrinth Wolfe had created: "The novella's called Seven American Nights,
A.D. Jansen
Dec 01, 2012 rated it liked it
I thought reading Gene Wolfe's short stories might help me solidify an opinion on him. Nope. Throughout this collection my opinion vacillated between "most ludicrously overpraised writer of all time" and "never mind, actually a genius" willy-nilly. I will say that for a Definitive Retrospective, this thing is awfully inconsistent.

Somewhat complicating matters is that Wolfe selected these stories himself, so who knows, he could just be not very good at evaluating his own material (although when h
This was officially the best science fiction short story collection I've ever read, even beating out my previous favorite, Tangents by Greg Bear. This book is precisely why I stopped giving 5 stars to every book I like: because that would make it impossible to express the level of admiration I feel for the truly special books, the ones that you know you'll read and re-read and recommend to everyone. If you only read one SF short story collection this year, make it this one.

I would add more to t
Aug 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Goodreads doesn't handle shorter works well. That's why I've put reviews for those to my Blog. Links for longer reviews to each story lead to this blog.

Reading a Wolfe story is never easy. He frequently tells a story from the perspective of an unreliable narrator: some are unintelligent intelligent, some (like Severian from the Book of the New Sun) lie, some suffer from amnesia. He puts loads of riddles in his story, sometimes easy ones like figuring out the main protagonist's name, but most a
Aug 19, 2009 rated it liked it
Gene Wolfe can be maddeningly impenetrable. After reading most of the brilliant Books of the New Sun, I couldn't purchase this short story collection fast enough when I stumbled across it in a local book store. And like his novels, there is certainly brilliance here, at least occasionally, throughout the collection.

But I repeat. Wolfe can be maddeningly impenetrable. Particularly as my progression continued past the halfway point, I began to see what at first were amusing, often times clever an
I've been planning to experience more of Gene Wolfe's work since I read The Fifth Head of Cerberus, so when I spotted this in the library, I couldn't resist. He's a very good short story writer, knowing just how to manipulate the reader and keep them intrigued while making them think.

Some of the stories aren't so good, but most of them are brilliant, and in this volume each of them has an afterword explaining something about them and why Gene Wolfe picked them for this collection. I think I lik
Daniel Polansky
Nov 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Fucking Incredible. Do I get to use profanity on goodreads? I guess I'll find out soon. But it deserves it. The best short-fantasist since Borges. If Gene Wolfe wrote in a foreign language this would be on the curriculum at every contemporary fiction class in America.
Seregil of Rhiminee
The Very Best of Gene Wolfe is a great collection of Gene Wolfe's short stories. I think that Tor Books and PS Publishing have done an excellent job with this collection. It's great that they gathered all these stories to one book, because many readers may only know that Gene Wolfe has written the excellent The Book of the New Sun series and aren't aware of his fascinating short stories.

I think that the introduction by Kim Stanley Robinson is worth mentioning, because it contains lots of useful
David Debacher
Feb 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
There's some really great stuff in here. I'm not entirely sure why he gets classified as strictly SF when science fiction is really a relatively small part of what he's doing here, but whatev, it's great stuff either way. My only beef is that the twist endings get a little old/predictable after a while--but if I'd been able to refrain from reading it all at once and read stories sproadically instead like I usually try to do, that wouldn't have been an issue.
Aug 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Gene Wolfe personally selected all of the stories to be included here (except the last story) and included a small explanation or background story to each one. The stories are excellent and important reading, the addenda are fascinating and illuminating. Anyone who enjoys words and ideas should own a copy of this book, a collection of the best of each.
Jeff Jackson
Highly recommend the novella "Seven American Nights."
Less so the novella "Forselen."
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Gene Wolfe wrote a story called 'The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories', which in turn enabled him to put it out in a collection earnestly labelled 'The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories'. As a literary joke this is rather fun. Was it only a joke? The more I read into Wolfe’s fiction the more sure I become that for this author nothing is ever really just a matter of wordplay. Later he wrote stories called The Death of Dr. Island and Death of the Island Doctor, bot ...more
Husha Hum
May 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have not finished reading it, so perhaps it's unfair to review at this point. But I must, just to rave here. It is one of those books that deserves to be savoured slowly. Some of these stories I'm saving for maybe...months later. I don't want to get through it in one go.

My favourite so far was The Boy Who Hooked the Sun--like Da Vinci said: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." 2nd fave- the death of the island doctor- so sweet yet sad.
Those who crowd their books with superfluous deta
Michael Nash
Jun 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I love Gene Wolfe, and this collection, though I sometimes wonder whether I’m smart enough to read him. His style has been described as “challenging” and you can’t just sit down and dive into him the way you would a trashy fantasy novel. But when you can puzzle out what’s going on in one of his stories, it’s always worth the effort. There were plenty in this collection that I simply didn’t get (apparently one can’t understand the plot of “Seven American Nights” without using the internal contrad ...more
Fantasy Literature
3.5 stars from Stuart, read the full review at FANTASY LITERATURE

Disclaimer: just so you know, some of the books we review are received free from publishers

I decided to tackle this collection for a third time, this time armed with Marc Aramini’s Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986, an 826-page analysis covering Wolfe’s output through 1986, including most of his short stories (no matter how obscure) along with The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Peace, Free
Oct 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Always a fan of Wolfe's shorter fiction. Many of these stories have been collected in other collections, notably "The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories". The Hugo winning "The Fifth Head of Cerberus" stands out, of course, while "Seven American Nights" and "Parkroads-- a Review" continue to develop his world-building. "Has Anybody Seen Junie Moon?" is a perfect example of the flawed first-person narrative style Wolfe uses to good affect in much of his longer fiction, as wel ...more
Nov 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Gene Wolfe will take you by the hand at first, to lead you blindfolded over the uneven cobblestones of his vision. He will speak to you in a calm, clear voice, so that you may not notice when he withdraws his hand from yours. Like a child learning to ride a bicycle, you may glide along for a time, sure of your author's hand on the back of your seat, in the twilight between dependency and confident independence, and just at the moment when you feel certain of yourself, Wolfe will jerk the road be ...more
Sep 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-and-off-read
Gene Wolfe is brilliant.
Two things I really enjoyed: 1) Wolfe picked all these stories himself, as what he considered his best, minus the final story. 2) Each story includes a comment from Wolfe about either the story or something related.

Here are my favorite three:
1. The Death of Dr. Island
2. The Marvelous Brass Chess Playing Automaton
3. Seven American Nights

If you want to be better at writing short fiction, study this book.
Ken Rideout
Apr 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ken by: Ed Sabol
Great writing for fantasy/sci fi. Philip K Dick meets Herman Melville. I'm wondering if all of his stories employ the "confused narrator" approach (so far it's 5 for 5 of the short stories I've read in this compendium). I'm definitely going to try one of his novels this summer. Thanks for the rec, Ed!
Feb 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was my introduction to Gene Wolfe; although I had read one of the stories in this collection, I'd forgotten the details and the author, so it was as good as reading it for the first time. I hope all (or most, I can deal with most) of Wolfe's work is as entertaining, because I'm planning to read a lot more.
DeAnna Knippling
Feb 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Some gems. Some stinkers. But mostly middling stuff. I love Gene Wolfe's stuff. But a lot of this was more valuable in the sense of being able to handle some of the themes/ideas from his larger work in smaller bites. I wouldn't start here. My favorites were The Death of Dr. Island, Straw, And Fifth Head.
Rich Mulvey
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
A great retrospective of Wolfe's short work. The strongest stories were in the first half of the book, but even the worst of Wolfe is always worth the time.
Nov 29, 2017 rated it liked it
The short story output of science-fiction and fantasy writer Gene Wolfe has been prodigious. He has published many dozens of stories in magazines since the early 1970s, and over time they have been gathered into various collections from the publisher Tor Books. In 2009, as Wolfe was nearing his 80th birthday, Tor invited him to choose his favourite short stories for this “best of” collection. It must be emphasized that these are Wolfe’s “best” short stories according to the author’s own opinion ...more
Ian Lewis
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
As with most collections of short stories, it's a bit of a mixed bag. Wolfe can be very opaque and frustrating sometimes, unless you're willing to dig deep into his literary allusions. The stories that worked best are those that worked on a surface level, and then were deepened by multiple readings/research. There were a few that did not work at all, unless you were deeply familiar with his sources. The best stories seemed to always have a focus on the fallen nature of humanity and were more con ...more
Dan Trefethen
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Gene Wolfe passed away in April, after a long and illustrious career. He was not well known outside the SF and fantasy field, but an icon within it. I decided to pick up a copy of “The Best of” and enjoy some Wolfean fiction.

Wolfe loved language and history (the more ancient the better). He was well known for using older, unfamiliar words that seemed like he made them up, but for the most part he was simply reviving them. He loved showing us fantastical places and times that startled our modern
Sunyi Dean
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Obviously, I loved it. My favorite was The Eyeflash Miracles. Absolutely stunning story on every level.

Here were my other standout stories:

“The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories,” copyright © 1970 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in Orbit 7.

“The Fifth Head of Cerberus” copyright © 1972 by Damon Knight; first appeared in Orbit.

“The Death of Dr. Island,” copyright © 1973 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in Universe 3.

“Forlesen,” copyright © 1974 by Gene Wolfe; first appeared in Orbit
I freely admit that Gene Wolfe is way smarter than I am, and better read, too. That makes understanding his stories difficult at times, and I rarely have the patience to try to plum their allusions.


This is one of the more accessible stories in the collection, by which I mean and mostly understood it. Which doesn't mean it's straightforward or conventional.

This is a surreal story, a satire of conventional corporate employment. Emanuel Forlesen awakens remembering nothing but his name. His
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Someone said Gene Wolfe is like PKD meets Melville. That's a great way to describe him. He's an extremely literate writer. A writer's writer--but has the crassness of ideas reserved for Philip Roth or the science fiction/fantasy writers.

This series took me a while to read through--but this a collection by Wolfe that her personally selected--and it hits some high notes. I won't say that it turned me into a "short story fan" but these are all varied enough to get tone, but not bored with the writ
May 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
A fair introduction to Gene Wolfe. The collection being reviewed consists of dozens of short stories produced by Wolfe throughout his life. As it is with most collections, there's a mixed bag here. I absolutely adore Death of Dr. Island and Forlesen, I enjoyed some other stories, and felt that some stories entertained yet didn't expand on interesting topics.
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Sci-fi and Heroic...: The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction 12 31 Nov 28, 2015 06:56PM  
Sci-fi and Heroic...: Forlesen 3 26 Jul 29, 2015 04:39AM  
Sci-fi and Heroic...: Has Anybody Seen Junie Moon? 3 22 Jul 20, 2015 05:07PM  
Sci-fi and Heroic...: The Tree Is My Hat 2 13 Jul 05, 2015 10:28AM  
Sci-fi and Heroic...: Petting Zoo 4 14 Jul 05, 2015 07:20AM  
Sci-fi and Heroic...: Bed and Breakfast 2 15 Jul 05, 2015 03:07AM  
Sci-fi and Heroic...: Redbeard 5 17 Jun 30, 2015 07:48AM  

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Gene Wolfe was an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He was noted for his dense, allusive prose as well as the strong influence of his Catholic faith, to which he converted after marrying a Catholic. He was a prolific short story writer and a novelist, and has won many awards in the field.

The Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award is given by SFWA for ‘lifetime achievement in science f
“We have treatments for disturbed persons, Nicholas. But, at least for the time being, we have no treatment for disturbing persons.” 11 likes
“The time came. We had just bought a new car, small and cheap—but brand-new. I was returning to the Milford Conference (which I loved) with a story I felt certain was good. Ten or twenty miles from Milford, Pennsylvania, I topped a hill and saw yellow dots in the road. They were goldfinches, and as my new car drew nearer they flew up, a golden shower rising from the earth. There are no words to describe how happy I was at that moment, when I felt that a whole new life was opening before me. It was perfectly true. One was.” 1 likes
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