A Gene Wolfe for the rest of us.
Among circles unfamiliar with his writing, Gene Wolfe is a much maligned man. His books are well-known for being difficult to read—extremely good and very deep, but difficult all the same. However, recently he’s been on an approachable roll, with tales that not only resonate with the usual Wolfe complexities beneath the text, but are also just damn good reads. ((
Which is not to say that other Wolfe books are not also damn good reads, but you tend to need a firm foothold on mythology, symbolism, and thematic resonance. Prior Wolfe experience helps. He’s kind of like Neil Gaiman dialed up to 11.
By the way, his short stories are completely approachable, and he has several collections.
Pirate Freedom is such a book, and actually a very good one to read ((Or re-read—that’s another nice thing about Wolfe that also shows up in Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; and even his approachable books yield yet more on re-reads.)) for Talk Like a Pirate Day, which I did do. This is not just a good pirate yarn, full of all the things that good pirate yarns have—scurvy other pirates and personal and ship battles with them, young man abducted to become bloody good pirate later with the help of a mentor, adventures with Spanish galleons, attacks on Tortuga by the British navy, Carribean and Spanish intrigue with governors, lusty maidens who become pirates, pirate boy gets pirate girl….
It’s also a good pirate yarn that gets you all nine yards of that and then some, and yet is an extremely well told and constructed story. In fact, the structure of this story is one of the best for any pirate story—a first-person account. There is none better, because the life of a pirate is most interesting when it’s auto-biographical in nature—a conversation with normal man who happens to have the most interesting of pasts.
Of course, this wouldn’t be Gene Wolfe if he didn’t add an extra twist. Somehow our narrator was born in the late 20th century—but grew up as a pirate hundreds of years ago. This lead-in is subtle, Wolfe-subtle in fact, and the resolution likewise. It’s an old tale that circles another old tale, and the result is fireworks. Pirate fireworks, make no doubt about it.
I think the completeness of Pirate Freedom satisfied my desire for pirates immensely—I was not fed up with pirates by the end of it, but I felt no need to read about further pirating. In that sense, Gene Wolfe’s got a monopoly on the pirate story.
And who would have thought that would happen?
- Pirate Freedom, Kindle Edition
- Pirate Freedom, hardcover
- Talk Like a Pirate Day
- Innocents Abroad: New Fantasy Stories, a Gene Wolfe story collection, Kindle Edition
- Innocents Abroad, Paperback edition
- An Interview with Gene Wolfe (Infinity Plus)
- WolfeWiki—assisting your Wolfe reading needs