by Gavin GrantAugust, 2005
Magical tales from a master
Short story master Gene Wolfe's latest collection, Starwater Strains, is a great companion piece to his collection from last year, Innocents Aboard. One of Wolfe's favorite devices is the retold tale, in which one character is telling another a story. So in The Dog of the Drops a man's work takes him out beyond the bombed cities where the people are poor, lonely, loquacious, and insular and an elderly man tells him about something out in the wastes which watches the family he is staying with. Or in The Far Magician, written as a letter that tells the story of a series of stories about a supposedly real-life magician, Ernst the Great (or Fat Ernst). Wolfe gets in a few shots against totalitarian governments but never lets the story fall into demagoguery. The last story, Golden City Far, was also the anchor story in the massive fantasy anthology, Flights. It is a fable similar in tone and subject to Wolfe's recent novel The Wizard Knight and the deceptively simple voice and the possibility of a coming quest combine to make it a distillation of pure Wolfian excellence. Gavin J. Grant runs Small Beer Press in Northampton, Massachusetts.