As years slowly tick away, I always expect for Gene Wolfe to announce his retirement from writing but every time he does the exact opposite. He surprises me by offering a completely new tale that is as thought-provoking as his best works were. "A Borrowed Man", his latest novel, is the prime example of the fact that even in this day and age, Wolfe is still a major force to be reckoned with. Having said that, Wolfe is never one to look towards the past. He’s constantly evolving even though some of his readers would want him to churn out the same old stuff. Happily I don’t consider myself to be one of them and he is not type of an author anyway.
"A Borrowed Man", his latest SF novel is a far cry from the “Book of the New Sun” series and is more akin to some of his recent output such as "Peace" or "The Land Across". Set in a near future North America where our civilization is just about replaced by the next generation society which still retains many familiar elements. At first glance, it is a wondrous place with advanced technology and other marvels such as robots and clones. Such institutions as libraries have evolved into something as far removed from the stuffy rooms filled with print books as possible. If you ever wanted to have a chat with your favorite authors, even if they've died long time ago, in the world of the future that is a distinct possibility thanks to cloning and the ability to upload personalities into them. This allows for many interesting possibilities, and one of them involves E. A. Smithe, a borrowed person. Living on a third-tier shelf in a public library, his personality is actually an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Author in question has written in a secret in a text of one of his novels, Murder on Mars - a way to a tremendous wealth. Colette Coldbrook, a library patron, takes E. A. Smithe out of the library on a quest to find the book and discover its secret.
Just going by the synopsis alone, "A Borrowed Man" seems like an extraordinarily imaginative book but when you combine it with Wolfe's poetic language, then you finally get something that is truly remarkable. It is simply a magnificent read that once again shows that Wolfe is simply not ready for retirement yet. If anything, he is still writing as powerfully as ever.
Review copy provided by Tor Books
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- Published in Book News