Sunday, 28 November 2010

Gene Wolfe: upcoming novels and a recent interview

I've been a bit slack blogging lately. Mostly because I'm still waiting on the results of my honours thesis, and I don't really want to go near my thesis or anything related to it until I have received said results. However, I just thought I'd post some recent Gene Wolfe news and links that may be of interest.

First off, Wolfe has a new book coming out in January titled Home Fires, the official blurb of which runs thus:

Gene Wolfe takes us to a future North America at once familiar and utterly strange. A young man and woman, Skip and Chelle, fall in love in college and marry, but she is enlisted in the military, there is a war on, and she must serve her tour of duty before they can settle down. But the military is fighting a war with aliens in distant solar systems, and her months in the service will be years in relative time on Earth. Chelle returns to recuperate from severe injuries, after months of service, still a young woman but not necessarily the same person - while Skip is in his forties and a wealthy businessman, but eager for her return.

Still in love (somewhat to his surprise and delight), they go on a Caribbean cruise to resume their marriage. Their vacation rapidly becomes a complex series of challenges, not the least of which are spies, aliens, and battles with pirates who capture the ship for ransom. There is no writer in SF like Gene Wolfe and no SF novel like Home Fires.

Although the only (early) review I can find is not glowing, I am still really looking forward to this book. The reviewer groups it together with An Evil Guest and There are Doors as some of Wolfe's lesser works. However, I absolutely loved There are Doors - it's my favourite of Wolfe's stand-alone novels - and I certainly didn't mind An Evil Guest. Also, the premise of Home Fires sounds very interesting, and I look forward to seeing how Wolfe treats the gender and relationship issues that look like they will play an important part in the book.

C.S.E. Cooney recently interviewed Wolfe for Black Gate - it's a great interview that is certainly worth reading. A week earlier Cooney wrote a Live Journal blog post asking if anyone had any questions they'd like Wolfe to answer, so I posted a question in a comment. I had to sign in to post, so I just used my Twitter account, although I should probably have used Facebook or at least signed my name to the comment (although my real name appears if you open my Twitter profile), because when Cooney came to asking my question, it ran thus:

Cooney: "The second guy – I… didn’t get his name, actually. I only have his LJ handle.”

Wolfe: “What is it?”

Cooney: “Um… Silk4Calde.”

Wolfe: [Gene started to laugh.] “Say no more! I know where he got it.”

So, that was kind of embarrassing! Funny though - in an oh-my-gosh-I-feel-like-such-a-dork kind of way. Anyway, I asked what Wolfe was working on at present, and he said he was writing a new book called The Land Across, which he summarised thus:

There’s a young man. His father is dead – or he believes his father is dead. He’s grown up all over the world, because his father was in the State Department. He has written a travel book about Austria. English is his cradle language, but he picked up others – some German, French, and Japanese – when he lived in those countries.

He decides to write another book about a different European country, “on the other side of the mountain,” from Austria. This country is a surreal Balkan nation, formerly under the Communist government, anciently invaded by the Turks, completely fictional.

The young man is arrested as soon as he enters this country. His passport is taken, his luggage is taken. The police there bring him to the house of a man they do not like – this is the kind of thing the police do – and explain to him that he is to live in the man’s house. He must sleep there every night; should he escape, his host will be shot. And they give him as a little hint:

“If you don’t like the food, you can threaten to escape.”

And it goes on from there.

Sounds rather interesting! And a bit like his most recent novel, The Sorcerer's House, although perhaps more sf and less fantasy.

Anyway, I had better get back to working on this article on late-nineteenth-century Australian utopian literature. Thesis results will be released on Friday, and after that I'll be back posting more regularly - I have a lot of Wolfe's fiction still to read!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Researching nineteenth-century Australian utopian literature

While eagerly awaiting the results of my honours thesis (due out on 2 December), I have been continuing my research on early Australian utopian literature. I am currently working on converting the paper I gave at the recent Utopias conference (see here, here and here), entitled "The Victorian Crisis of Faith in Australian Utopian Literature, 1870–1900" (mp3 available for download), into a publishable article. This involves increasing the word length from around 3000 to over 5000, going over my old research (most of which was done two years ago), and confirming bibliographic details. It was the latter of these that has been causing me some grief over the last few days.

The first difficulty came when I noticed that one of the texts I discuss in the article, The Battle of Mordialloc; or, How We Lost Australia (1888), had different authors listed in different catalogue entries. The confusion came about because the text was published anonymously. The short book is most commonly ascribed to Edward Maitland, an English author and spiritualist who served as a commissioner of Crown lands and police magistrate in New South Wales for some years, although several listings instead ascribe authorship to one Herbert Ainslee. After some digging I discovered that Ainslee was a fictional creation of Maitland, first appearing as the protagonist of his novel The Pilgrim and the Shrine; or, Passages from the Life and Correspondence of Herbert Ainslie, B. A., Cantab (1867). The introduction to The Battle of Mordialloc claims the body of the book was based on manuscripts of Ainslee's - this must be why the text has been ascribed to the fictional character, although it is also the reason why authorship can be traced back to Maitland. The book itself is a mildly interesting dystopian novel about the invasion of Australia by Chinese and Russian forces, but in addition to being rather racist (which is depressingly common in nineteenth-century Australian literature), it is also kind of amusing, since the invasion takes place on Cup Day, when all of Victoria's citizens are too busy betting on horses for the Melbourne Cup to pay attention to anything else. The entire text of The Battle of Mordialloc can be read online at Reason in Revolt: Source Documents of Australian Radicalism.

The other bibliographic inconsistency I came across concerned The Future of Victoria by "Acorn". In his bibliography of Australian literature, Lyman Tower Sargent notes that the National Library of Australia card catalogue suggests the author is one James Oakes, although I can find no evidence supporting this (there was a journalist in Boston called James Oakes writing under the pseudonym "Acorn" during the late nineteenth century, but I can find no evidence he ever lived in Australia). But there is a further problem with The Future of Victoria's bibliographical details: Sargent, in his bibliography and a related article, says it was published in the 1880s, while the NLA (and all other libraries) date it in the 1850s. This threatened to be very problematic for me, since I am only writing on texts published between 1870 and 1900 - if it was published in the 1850s it would fall beyond the purview of my article (which focuses, in part, on the impact of Darwin's Origin of Species on Australian utopian literature). I did, however, successfully determine a short window in which the text could have been published: 1872-1873. The first clue: the copy of the text held at the State Library of Victoria has "Presented by the Author April 16th 1873" inscribed on its title page, thereby ruling out publication after that date. I also had a look at the copy held at my library, in the Monash University Library Rare Books collection, which has the previous owner's initials and the date 11/77 on its cover. I then asked one of the staff members in Rare Books, Stephen Herrin, if there was any way I could determine when the book's printer, Wigney and Summerscales, were operating in Ballarat. "Wigney and Sumerscales?" he says, "They're one of mine!" He reaches to the bookshelf next to him to grab his book, The Development of Printing in Nineteenth-Century Ballarat (2000). In one of the appendices at the back of his book was a list of Ballarat printers and the years they operated - Wigney and Summerscales only ran from 1872 to 1875. I could hardly believe my luck! Now I have successfully determined a brief window in which the book could have been published, and I can discuss it in my article. The Future of Victoria has been digitised by the State Library of Victoria and can be read online.

Fortunately, I haven't had this much trouble with all the books I discuss in the article. Another couple of the anonymous ones, A New Pilgrim's Progress, Purporting to be Given By John Bunyan, Through an Impressional Medium (1877) and An Agnostic's Progress from the Known to the Unknown (1884), both pastiches of Bunyan's book, are easy enough to attribute to Alfred Deakin and Catherin Helen Spence respectively, since both have (embarrassingly) confessed authorship. Now I just have to re-read a few more of these old (and, for the most part, incredibly boring) utopian novels so I can finally finish this article, which has been in the works for almost two years.