The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

HFB Short Fiction Reading Guide: "Memorare" by Gene Wolfe

During my stint as an editorial assistant for Tor Books, I started a word doc of memorable short fiction. I've maintained the doc ever since and now I'm (slowly) transferring it to LibraryThing.

If you enjoy slipstream/dark/offbeat fantasy, horror and sf you might want to take a look and compare notes. WARNING: My quick summaries contain absurdly reductive spoilers.

Here's the link - Hang Fire Books Short Fiction Reading Guide

I'll eventually finish the transfer and mention new additions here.

Which brings me to:

"Memorare" by Gene Wolfe (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 2007)

I'm well behind on this one. April was a special Wolfe issue containing the novella-length story and appreciations by Neil Gaiman and Michael Swanwick. I wanted to savor this but it was buried under an avalanche of magazines which I've only just dug through.

Anyway, the story is concerned with a documentary "film"-maker (or the far future media equivalent) who's traveling through space, making a record of mausoleums that have been built directly into asteroids. The early days of space colonization were quite deadly and due to the difficulty of going home--and the presumable lack of real estate--the survivors entombed their beloved dead in space. These memorials are unique relics of diverse religions that became more... diverse...through the distance and isolation of space. Many of the long-departed builders had regressed to the more blood-thirsty origins of their faiths and their mausoleums are actually carefully crafted death traps designed to add the souls/essences/blood (methods vary) of unwary visitors to the memorializing effort.

A domestic dispute and two new crew-members follow the film-maker through his explorations and the drama plays to its conclusion in this unique and memorable setting.

Much to love. I hope some obsessive Wolfe fan is coding these tombs for a space-based Mmorpg (perhaps the rumored Joss Whedon-inspired Firefly game where they would fit in perfectly).

PHILISTINE ALERT: Gene Wolfe is a devout Catholic and his stories are thickly layered with religious symbolism and complex allegories (not to mention untrustworthy narrators, doubles, ciphers and every other trick you can imagine). I can sense and appreciate the richness but--having been an atheist for two and a half decades now--I'm just not going to worry over a puzzle that requires me to look up obscure saints and the Lord's prayer. I read Wolfe for the atmosphere and originality and there's plenty of both in this story.

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