I stopped reading Judge Dredd. It wasn’t remunerative.
Instead, I started and just finished Gene Wolfe’s The Knight, which was brilliant. Imagine a small rock pool at the beach. The water is clear, and there are many beautiful, vividly colored things swimming about within. At first you sit looking into its depths simply for the pleasure of the colors and strange shapes. Then, slowly, you become aware of strange tricks of light, deceptive refraction, start noticing that all is not how it seems, that distances and depths, angles and shapes are all subtly skewed. This causes you to peer more intently as you try to figure it out, too understand what you’re really seeing, to grasp what seemed so clear but a moment ago.
So goes Gene Wolfe’s writing. The man has a staggeringly good grasp of the language, a profound vocabulary and a devious, subtle mind. He is one of those rare authors who’s books grow more enjoyable each time your read them. In his essay, How To Read Gene Wolfe, Neil Gaiman gives the following 9 useful tips:
1) Trust the text implicitly. The answers are in there.
2) Do not trust the text farther than you can throw it, if that far. It’s tricksy and desperate stuff, and it may go off in your hand at any time.
3) Reread. It’s better the second time. It will be even better the third time. And anyway, the books will subtly reshape themselves while you are away from them.Peace really was a gentle Midwestern memoir the first time I read it. It only became a horror novel on the second or the third reading.
4) There are wolves in there, prowling behind the words. Sometimes they come out in the pages. Sometimes they wait until you close the book. The musky wolf-smell can sometimes be masked by the aromatic scent of rosemary. Understand, these are not today-wolves, slinking grayly in packs through deserted places. These are the dire-wolves of old, huge and solitary wolves that could stand their ground against grizzlies.
5) Reading Gene Wolfe is dangerous work. It’s a knife-throwing act, and like all good knife-throwing acts, you may lose fingers, toes, earlobes or eyes in the process. Gene doesn’t mind. Gene is throwing the knives.
6) Make yourself comfortable. Pour a pot of tea. Hang up a DO NOT DISTURB Sign. Start at Page One.
7) There are two kinds of clever writer. The ones that point out how clever they are, and the ones who see no need to point out how clever they are. Gene Wolfe is of the second kind, and the intelligence is less important than the tale. He is not smart to make you feel stupid. He is smart to make you smart as well.
8) He was there. He saw it happen. He knows whose reflection they saw in the mirror that night.
9) Be willing to learn.
I’ve read a decent amount of Gene Wolfe’s oevre, from The Book of the New Sun to The Fifth Head of Cerberus to many of his short stories, and loved the lot of them. So it was with great anticipation that I picked up The Knight and dove right in.
And it didn’t disappoint. Gene Wolfe takes the classic Knight’s tale, and spins it around, stands it on its head, gives it several large spoon fulls of Absynthe and then takes it for a drive through the wrong part of town. The language is rich and yet simple, the narrator is naive and compelling, and the world is wholly Gene Wolfe’s own, a blend of Norse Mythology, Arthurian chivalry, classic fantasy and more. As always, you can’t quite trust your narrator, having to read closely and between the lines, but in doing one finds the text that much more rewarding.
I’ve started The Wizard, and am very curious to see where Gene Wolfe takes things. I’ll keep you updated as I go!