Pirate Freedom, the latest from longtime critical favorite Gene Wolfe, is the confessional tale of a time-slipping, fighting priest, Chris, born some years from now in Cuba who drifts back a couple of centuries and becomes a pirate complete with a gun-toting bride. Wolfe doesn't hold back on the extreme violence of pirate life, although Chris steps back a couple of times to point out discrepancies in his pirating career from other modern portrayals. Most of the pirates he fights with are young and have brief life expectancies, but they vote on what to do and who to follow. Captains have to follow the pirates' will, not the other way around. Young Chris is attacked again and again and soon the first of many people is killed in that sense Pirate Freedom is more like The Godfather than Peter Pan. The pirates are judged better than their contemporaries because they don't torture for fun, only for profit. The one issue Wolfe tap-dances around is slavery. Chris treats slaves as fellow men and frees them whenever possible without anything more than the occasional light question from others. Wolfe's writing is reminiscent of Carol Emshwiller, a fellow World Fantasy Award Life Achievement winner. There's the same concrete level of detail mixed with an occasionally hazy sense of time and events. The novel is as simple as Wolfe's straightforward, lean prose and easily pulls the reader through to an enjoyable circular ending.
Gavin J. Grant is the co-editor of the anthology The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet.