You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Home Fires

Home Fires is the latest science fiction novel by Gene Wolfe. It is the story of Skip and Chelle, a couple who have been separated while Chelle was deployed to a distant war. The months that Chelle as been away has been years for Skip, so he is an middle aged man while she is still a young woman. He has been working hard to build a law practice; she has been fighting and comes back changed, though it isn't apparent at first how changed she is.

Skip decides to take Chelle on a cruise to celebrate her return, but he also brings her a different present. He contracts through a company to provide a replica of Chelle's mother, Vanessa, who had passed away while Chelle was deployed. Vanessa's personality was saved before she died, and her memories have been implanted in another woman who volunteered her body. This introduces the theme of identity and the question of who owns a life, the mind or the body.

The cruise goes badly when hijackers take over the ship. Skip, Chelle, and Vanessa return from a late excursion to find the hijackers in control, and through Chelle's battle skills manage to fight some of them off. The ensuing chapters are their attempts to outmaneuver or negotiate with the hijackers. The back and forth of the control of the ship plays into the ideas of two different minds in control of a body. Which is the true owner? Skip helps the captain and crew regain control of the ship, and we learn more about Chelle and her past.

The story is told alternating between third person chapters and reflections by Skip. Much of the action unfolds indirectly as Skip and others try to solve the puzzles of Virginia and Chelle. In a way it is reminiscent of Wolfe's epistolary novel The Sorcerer's House. There is even a helper character in the handless beggar Achille who barely speaks English, a correlate to some of Wolfe's non-human helper characters. Yet the mystery feels far away and vague, and barely coalesces into something the reader can identify with. The direct action of the hijacking never feels as interesting as the background stories of Chelle and Virginia, however the other stories never come to the foreground. While this novel is not as exciting as some of Wolfe's others, it still has an interesting concept that is executed well. B

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