Sus's Reviews > The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories

The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories by Gene Wolfe
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's review
Nov 14, 2007

really liked it
Recommended to Sus by: Haengbok92
Read in March, 2008

This profoundly strange book is... What is it? The strongest things in the strongest long stories here are the same things I've found so frustrating in his shorter, later works (as in Innocents Aboard): resonance and implication without resolution. The open structure of these stories can work (at least, for a reader like me), but they need to be long enough and move slowly enough for the depth itself to work: to create patterns that don't demand neat tying-up, to make echoes that will themselves be sufficient to satisfy. Because neat tying-up is not something Gene Wolfe seems to like to do.

The longer pieces in this book are much more satisfying than the shorter ones; among the latter, I'm annoyed by "Three Fingers," which seems to be a sort of concept blurted out into a story whose structure has been almost entirely neglected; and I seriously have no idea what's going on in "Cues"; it's the sort of thing that makes me wonder if you have to have been there in 1974 to get it. In "The Hero as Werwolf," as well as "La Befana" (to a lesser extent) and "Feather Tigers" (to a greater), Wolfe's craftsmanship and characterization and dark resonance is there but I feel as if we've been set up with and for too much for the stories to end as briefly or as abruptly as they do; I don't like the feeling of being dropped off a ledge -- it seems too easy an out.

Of the longer stories, I find "The Doctor of Death Island" surprisingly forgettable (perhaps because this point in the triptych of title-linked stories, the generation of the titular image feels a little forced). "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories" is beautifully written (I like the minds of Wolfe's creepy boy children) but leaves me uncertain of the situation and wanting more. By contrast, I find "The Death of Doctor Island" very creepy and satisfying, if possibly overlong in portions.

"Alien Stones," which is sort of a beautifully Wolfey story set in space! and in a spaceship!, like "The Death of Doctor Island," left me haunted and fascinated; and that is wonderful. "Tracking Song" is this extremely weird piece that is set and structured like a primitive-planet pulp adventure, only its central concepts are surreal, haunting, and premissed on a brilliantly sketched and understated moral dilemma (if you live in a glaciated world in which most large species are humanoid, what are the ethics of hunting)? In both "Hour of Trust" and "Seven American Nights," I thought the story itself was brilliantly done and had several astonishing scenes -- in the former, too, the ending is dazzlingly magnificent, and in the latter the shopworn framing device-cum-narratorial conceit is executed with beauty and grace -- but both also let me down by seeming to pull out an unexplained and inexplicable deus ex machina at the end, hard to understand in terms of the stories' respective retrospective logics.

"The Eyeflash Miracles," to wrap up, is one of those strange narratives I can't stop thinking about. It dwells in equal referentiality to New Testament Christian iconography and to Oz. Which you wouldn't think would work. But it works blindingly well. It is open-ended, but completely successful. It is one of the creepiest stories I have ever seen.

I am not sure yet what it is I have to learn from Gene Wolfe in this volume, but it's there. For me, in my personal perspective: this is probably one of the most important books I have read this year.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Andreas Hi Sus,

Very nice review! It's interesting that everyone has other favourites among the stories, e.g. the open end in "The Eyeflash Miracles" left me slightly frustrated and spoiled the story while it worked fine in "The Hero as Werwolf".

message 2: by Sus (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sus hey, thanks -- it's always nice to see someone reads reviews. :)

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