The Wolfe At The Door by Gene Wolfe (book review).

To many readers, Gene Wolfe was best known for his ‘Book of the New Sun’ series, which began with ‘The Shadow of the Torturer’. Although he produced thirty novels, he was also a prolific short story writer. These have appeared in eight collections. This book, ‘The Wolfe at the Door,’ brings together his previously uncollected stories. There are 41 of them here, with original publication dates ranging from 1966 to 2013, plus one previously unpublished story.

The unnamed editor of this volume has divided the stories into sections to give the appearance of a journey, though the dates of the original publications of the stories are random, so it doesn’t represent a journey through Wolfe’s writing life. Some of the stories in the sections may have a tentative connection with the section title, but there is no real thematic sense within them.

The thing that all these stories have in common is the quality of the writing; otherwise, there is a huge range in the content, style, and length. Wolfe’s consistency is evident in the acceptance of almost everything he wrote for publication.

‘Memorare’ is one of the longer stories. The concept involves individuals who are wealthy enough to commission the construction of mausoleums and place them in orbit around outer planets. To do that, you need to be paranoid about graverobbers; so many of them are not just resting places but also death traps. March Wildspring is making a documentary about these memorials in space.

In stark contrast, ‘Christmas Inn’ is a ghost story. June and Julius Christmas run the hotel, and they are snowed in at Christmas. They do not expect guests, but some do struggle through the weather. The season is better than they expected, and the guests suggest a séance.

‘The Gunner’s Mate’ is a different kind of ghost story set on a Caribbean holiday island. Muriel feels compelled to stay and give up her job while her friends search for a place, which makes them feel uneasy.

‘The Grave Secret’ is a very short horror story in which a man raises a corpse with the intention of using it to kill his wife. Despite being well-formed and previously published, ‘The Grave Secret’ is one of a series of short pieces that could have benefited from further development to enhance their depth.

‘The Magic Animal’ is a riff on the Merlin story. The story starts in the present when Viviane, a girl with animal communication skills, rides into a wood, where a rattlesnake startles her pony. The snake guides her into the woods, where she encounters other peculiar creatures and receives a mission to retrieve a boy named Myrddin. It is a refreshing update on the myth cycle.

In the surreal farce “Planetarium in Orbit,” the arch-villain raids a planetarium to steal Earth, or at least a sphere containing the essence of the planet, with the intention of gaining world dominance, but ends up stealing Mars instead.

Like a lot of SF, there are stories that seem simple but have an underlying message. ‘Hopkins Dalhousie’ is the confession of an AI installed in a car concerning how he killed his owner. It prompts the question of whether the AI bears responsibility for fulfilling its expectations or if there should be built-in safeguards. It doesn’t appear to have Asimov’s laws of robotics installed.

Also included in this volume are a selection of poems.

While it is suggested that there are still some uncollected stories, this volume contains a significant number of them. It is a volume to dip into and demonstrates Wolfe’s writing range.

Pauline Morgan

May 2024

(pub: TOR, 2023. 468 page hardback. Price: $29.99 (US), $39.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-250-84620-4)

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