Gene Wolfe,
Home Fires
(Tor, 2012)

Home Fires is a science fiction/fantasy novel by Gene Wolfe, the prolific and masterly author of many novels in the genre.

In an unspecified, somewhat dystopian future, the world is composed of several major national conglomerations, and there is a definite class system in North America. In this setting, an up-and-coming young businessman enters into a contract (a legal equivalent of a marriage) with a beautiful young woman. However, she is enlisted in the military and goes off to fight in a war against aliens. The war is about territorial conquest. Because moving through space involves faster-than-light travel, she is in the service for about two years, but over a quarter of a decade passes before she returns, as far as the man she left behind is concerned. Suddenly, he finds himself married to a much younger woman who has been through significant trauma. He looks for the perfect welcome-home present and chooses two things: an ocean voyage aboard a luxury liner and bringing her deceased mother back to life for a reunion.

The results of these gifts are not at all what he anticipated. First, he finds out that his wife and her mother had a very contentious and hostile relationship. Then, his mother-in-law ends up on the cruise ship, and that's only the first of the things that goes wrong with that trip. Conflict, intrigue, scheming and occasional carnage ensue.

As one might expect from an author who has written, published and sold as many books for as long as Wolfe, the writing is top-notch. The story just flows, with action sequences intermixed with reflective episodes by the protagonist. The characters are interesting, well-defined and evolve through the story. As with other stories by Wolfe, vocabulary and word-usage are impeccable, and the tale feels almost dream-like at times.

Wolfe's books often walk the line between science fiction and fine literature. A hundred years from now, he might well be considered one of America's greatest authors of this time. I would agree, if that happens. While this book involves a war with aliens, faster-than-light travel and the future, those are just pieces of the setting and the background. The story is a blend of romance, action-adventure, espionage, mystery and straight drama.

My only negative comment -- and it is a minor gripe -- is that the story is a bit slow at times and not as riveting as, say, Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun series (Shadow & Claw, Sword & Citadel). Instead, it is a quiet book to read by an open fire and just enjoy a well-told tale by a master story-teller.

book review by
Chris McCallister

2 June 2012

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