The Fifth Head of Cerberus
Gene Wolfe, 1972

the thirty‐second book in the visitor recommendation series

This one pretty much bounced off me; I got to the end and could give you a brief summary of it (privileged kid growing up on a colony world with a slave economy discovers he’s a clone) but had basically nothing to say about it.  Poking around online to see what others had said, I was surprised to discover that apparently not only is this a highly acclaimed novella, but that acclaim extends beyond science fiction circles—​a number of critics consider it a penetrating work of post‐colonial fiction disguised as sci‐fi.  There are various exegeses out there delving into the themes.  But I discovered that I was far from alone in finding that it didn’t work for me at all as a story—​more than one critic shrugged that elliptically hinting at the wispy shadows of themes, and for that matter elliptically hinting at what is even happening in the story, does not make for great storytelling.  Even Wolfe’s admirers concede that his “constant practice of leaving out the ‘good bits’ of the story (only to refer to them, if at all, obliquely and second‐hand later)” and “monomaniacal need to make every story a goddamn puzzle” can be off‐putting to some.  And while I’m sure this novella must have been good, given that it counts some very smart people among its admirers, I was one of those put off.

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