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Free Live Free

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  642 ratings  ·  38 reviews
"Free Live Free," said the newspaper ad, and the out-of-work detective Jim Stubb, the occultist Madame Serpentina, the salesman Ozzie Barnes, and the overweight prostitute Candy Garth are brought together to live for a time in Free's old house, a house scheduled for demolition to make way for a highway.

Free drops mysterious hints of his exile from his homeland, and of the
Paperback, 416 pages
Published March 15th 1999 by Tor Books (first published 1984)
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3.50  · 
Rating details
 ·  642 ratings  ·  38 reviews

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Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This limited hardcover edition is copy 248 of 750 produced and is signed by Gene Wolfe and artist Carl Lundgren .
Jul 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
A commonality that I've noticed in lesser Wolfe books is serious pacing problems, where little seems to happen for many pages, where inconsequential dialogue extends far beyond its needed length, and then where a rush of things is jammed into the final few pages of a section or of the book. For its first fifty pages or so Free Live Free dodges this problem, introducing us to our main characters and their situation as down-on-their-luck Chicagoans, and then having things actually happen. It's gre ...more
Dec 06, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: completists
I read online that the ending of this book was really bizarre, but I says to myself, I says, "Andy, you know how Wolfe rolls, you're down with him, you won't think it's that weird."

I was wrong.

The book is interesting in part because it's written about things I don't usually associate with Wolfe. The protagonists are fairly ordinary, desperate people starving their way through a Chicago winter. They live in the America of the eighties, but it feels a little bit more like the fifties, a place whe
“Instrument [of God], hell. I never even met Him!” Dr. Makee chuckled and nudged Barnes with an elbow. “Don’t be too sure.”

This line, about halfway through Wolfe's 1984 novel "Free Live Free," is a classic example of one of Wolfe's red herrings. It's a nothing line that has the potential to fundamentally alter how the reader views what he has read and what he is about to read. It worked on me and kept me going even if the ultimate 'payoff' to the plot was lackluster, the resolutions for the char
Um. I don't know. I really don't know.

Ok, some background: I've read the Book of the New Sun - all 4 books, plus Urth of the New Sun, and a couple short stories set in the Severianverse. That's the extent of my Wolfe knowledge. This one came across my "desk," as it were, and for whatever reason, I chose it as my next Wolfe. This despite already having half a dozen OTHER Wolfe books in my possession, including the first books of both Short and Long Sun. And a few others whose premises seem far mo
Michael Battaglia
May 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes I think Gene Wolfe was challenged as a young author to see if he could write just about anything, and then set about for the rest of his career attempting to prove that's possible, or he often takes bets with people who believe he can't make a functioning plot out of whatever bizarre fragment they decide to throw his way. As a SF author his books tend to veer toward allusive fantasy, where it seems like magic and mysticism are happening just in the periphery but there's also a more con ...more
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
It would be great if someone could explain to me how someone capable of writing The Book of the New Sun, one of the greatest works of fiction ever produced (and the answer to the question: "what if Proust wrote science fiction?"), was also capable of writing mind-bogglingly terrible garbage like Free Live Free, or basically everything else in his later career.

Let's take a look at some passages selected at random from the first couple chapters of The Book of the New Sun:

The space about it had be
Jul 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Here I have found an unexpected and nice surprise.

This story is an unconventional quest taken up by the oddest characters you can think of. And here it lies its strength and charm. Because that pack of losers just made a hole in your heart and meant to stay there. You do not know why, but...

Besides, Wolfe shows a cunning style that easily takes you from the hilarious scene (not that I laugh so easily, but Wolfe just made it happen: my prise for that) through strange settings and spiced with She
Jan 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The story meandered a bit more than it should have in the middle and I would have preferred a less abrupt ending, but it all paid off very nicely. As far as Wolfe's novels go, this is one of his least well understood, I think, which is saying something. A lot of readers latch on to the references to The Wizard of Oz and think that Oz is a rubric for understanding what Wolfe is striving for in the novel, but I think that's mostly just window dressing. The novel is really about America and how it ...more
James  Proctor
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lovely book. Having picked up the paperback on the strength alone of the author's name, I was unsure what to make of the first hundred pages. I come to Wolfe from his dense and very serious New Sun books and could not tell if this was meant to be the same tone or something completely different. The latter, very much. The comedy achieves Rabelaisian fervor. Once the stage is set, a funny and poignant novel unfolds.

From among the rough and tumble character set, one emerged for whom I developed an
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book is really amazing.
Bill Hsu
Mar 14, 2017 added it
Shelves: abandoned
I'm still intrigued by the central ideas. But I can't take more than 200+ pages of details of uninteresting garment choices, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and other beverages, mundane meals, sleeping on floors, getting in and out of vehicles, checking in and retrieving items from lockers etc, sorry.

Now somebody will probably point out to me that on page 359, one of those cups of coffee contained that fabled ticket to the High Country.
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Pretty disappointing, since Wolfe has written a great number of books I have a lot of esteem for. The setting and plot are quite grab, while the characters repeatedly indulge in one of my least favorite cliches of noir (and of Wolfe other works), which is to ramble on about what they know and how they know it.

The exquisite and strange world-building and uncanny narration that characterizes Wolfe is basically completely absent, in my mind.
Michael Frasca
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This may not be one of Gene Wolfe's best books, but it was one of the most fun for me to read.

"Free Live Free" is a roman a clef of a sorts. I figured out it about a third the way through, after which everything then fell into place with a solid "click." Past that point I had a lot of fun reading along as Wolfe spun his tale.

There are many clues to the key sprinkled throughout the book. In the the last few paragraphs Wolfe reveals what it is... well, as much as he ever reveals anything.

For those
May 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Gene Wolfe's novel Free Live Free is a fantastical tale set in an American downtown (hinted to be Chicago) in the early 1980s. The mysterious old man Benjamin Free finds that his home is scheduled to be demolished to build a highway overpass. Seeking to put off the demolition by keeping the house permanently occupied, he places a classified ad inviting people to live there for free. Who would answer such an ad? Losers such as the traveling salesman Ozzie Barnes, the overweight hooker Candy Garth ...more
Eric Wisdahl
Sep 03, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, sci-fi
In the novel, a group of four down on their luck strangers answer an add and soon move in with the eccentric elderly owner, Ben Free, of a house that is to be knocked down in just a few days. His only requirement of them is that they help him to try to delay the destruction of the house. From there, the story unfolds...

I'm not quite sure how to set about reviewing this book. On the one hand, the portrayal of the actions and motivations of the main characters involved was very good. Quite a few s
Greg Curtis
Aug 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
I liked this book.

The premise behind it is strange, four complete strangers, all down on their luck and suffering, invited to live in Ben Free's house and try to keep it from being pulled down. Its the sort of thing you'd expect at the start of a slasher movie, but its just not. Its magical and beautiful, and completely unexpected, the ending more so.

Gene Wolfe writes the charachters wonderfully, bringing them to life and even though they are not the people you'd choose to hang out with, lettin
Aug 29, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Call it 3.5 stars. This is an intriguing novel about 4 people who seem very different on the surface - a portly prostitute, a sharp yet out-of-work detective, a semi-sleazy salesman, and an enigmatic "witch". All of them share free lodgings in a dilapidated old tenement, but when the tenement is condemned & destroyed, they all work together to try and find the last "valuable" treasure of their kindly old landlord. For most of the book, this is one of the most straightforward tales Wolfe has ...more
May 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
As always, I loved the writing between all the dialogue. There are some very imaginative set pieces. The four main protagonists were living charicatures, but believable and filled with human flaws and hopes. On the other hand, Wolfe's conversations could be frustrating and hard to follow. You

I will say that the ending was not disappointing at all as other reviews have said; it actually resonates quite a bit with some of the concepts in Book/Urth of the New Sun.

That being said, I know this boo
May 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Not his best in my opinion. The writing read like Pynchon written by Salinger. And I like Pynchon and dislike Salinger. I enjoyed many of the subtle and not so subtle references littered throughout the text but I'm sure I missed hundreds, which is a disheartening feeling, but one I am used to with this author. The book seems to suffer most because it is of its time and does not age well, if I had read it in the 80's or early 90's I may have enjoyed it more. It reminds me a lot of Philip K. Dick' ...more
Dec 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting read. Characters were strong and I cared about them, and Gene Wolfe's prose is always enjoyable. The ending was both too long and too simplistic but it didn't ruin the book.

The character development and the way the story unfolded reminded me a lot of a Tim Powers novel, although I think Powers does it a lot better than it was done in Free Live Free.
Aug 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
I could only make it to page 179 after several good attempts. Wolfe uses almost no segues, there's absolutely no lyricism to his story, little sense of atmosphere, just a bunch of dialogue pieced together. Even half way through the book I felt like Wolfe was just moving around uninteresting and off-putting characters without an ounce of care for holding the reader's attention.
Mar 25, 2008 rated it liked it
enjoyable without being fabulous. I am not sure why but his style reminds me very much of Heinlein but that may just be me. I have read this is not his best work, which is good because I wouldn't read another if that was the case. I might try another and just see ...
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I've enjoyed other works by this author, but this was disappointing. The
first 3/4 of the book just drags. Clever idea is revealed in the last 50
pages or so, but is just not enough to carry the weight of the whole 400
page book.
Mar 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Been a long long time since I read any Gene Wolfe, but was lent this book and it was totally different to his Book of the New Sun series that I read as a teenager. Quite entertaining, a bit slipshod in places, and had a clunking explanatory denouement, but ok to pass a few weeks time with.
Jun 27, 2007 added it
see, a hooker, a detective, a novelty salesman and a witch are down on their luck and answer an ad....and then it's like Tom Waits mixed with William Gibson with some Rex Stout thrown in. there are parts that are truly unforgettable.
May 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gave-up, fantasy
Had to stop reading this. I'll post more later, but for me, I don't think I was ready to read it. I would suggest this novel for those more familiar with Gene Wolfe's, a fair amount of reading under their belt. More later
Nov 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
Neil Gaiman recommended this. Before I read it, I should have remembered that I really don't like Neil Gaiman that much! Oh well. I finished it just to see what happened at the end.
Mystery Theater
Mar 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
Wolfe is a genius who can write any story he wants. Not sure why he wanted to write this. Way too much setup for a way too small reveal.
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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
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“Little Ozzie cried until he could cry no more. He could not have said just why he cried, but he cried because he knew, in some deep part of him where the knowledge would remain till he was dead, that the world was a more horrible place than he could imagine. He might think of monsters or mad dogs, but the world would beat him. It would turn the people he loved and trusted into monsters; it would reveal those meant to help him as mad dogs. He wept for himself, and he wept because he knew there would never really be anyone else to weep for him.” 2 likes
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