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The 5th Head of Cerberus: Three Novellas Paperback – 31 Dec 1994


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Product details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st Orb Ed edition (31 Dec. 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312890206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312890209
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 1.6 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,257,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gene Wolfe is the author of two dozen novels and hundreds of shorter stories. He is best known for the three multi-part series The Book of the New Sun, The Book of the Long Sun, and The Book of the Short Sun, as well as for the acclaimed duology, The Wizard Knight. Over his forty-year career, he has won the Nebula Award, the John W. Campbell Award, the World Fantasy Award, the British Science Fiction Award, the Locus Reader's Poll, the Rhysling (for poetry), and many others. In 1996, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the World Fantasy Convention, and in 2007 he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. He lives in Barrington, Illinois, with his wife Rosemary.

Product Description

Amazon Review

A brothel-keeper's sons discuss genocide and plot murder; a young alien wanderer is pursued by his shadow double; a political prisoner tries to prove his identity, not least to himself. Gene Wolfe's first novel consists of three linked sections, all of them elegant broodings on identity, sameness and strangeness, and all of them set on the vividly evoked colony worlds of Ste. Croix and Ste. Anne, themselves twins delicately poised in mutual orbit. Marsch, victim in the third story, is the apparent author of the second and a casual visitor whose naïve questions precipitate tragedy in the first; the sections dance around each other like the planets of their setting. Clones, down-loaded personalities inhabiting robots, aliens that perhaps mimicked humans so successfully that they forgot who they were, a French culture adopted by its ruthless oppressors--there are a lot of ways to lose yourself, and perhaps the worst is to think that freedom consists of owning other people, that identity is won at the expense of others. It is easy to be impressed by the intellectual games of Wolfe's stunning book, and forget that he is, and always has been, the most intensely moral of SF writers. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Gene Wolfe is unique. If there were forty or fifty of this first-rate author--no, let's be reasonable and ask Higher Authorities for only four or five--American literature as a whole would be enormously enriched." --"Chicago Sun-Times" "One of the major fictional works of the decade...Wolfe's novel, with its elusiveness and its beauty, haunts one long after reading it." --Pamela Sargent "A richly imaginative exploration of the nature of identity and individuality." --Malcolm Edwards, "The Science Fiction Encyclopedia" "SF for the thinking reader..The style is highly literate and the ideas sophisticated and handled with sensitivity." --"Amazing SF" "One of the 100 best science fiction novels...A truly extraordinary work. One of the most cunningly wrought narratives in the whole of modern SF, a masterpiece of misdirection, subtle clues, and apparently casual revelations." --David Pringle

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When I was a boy my brother David and I had to go to bed early whether we were sleepy or not. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Niall Mc Cann on 18 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback
This is by no means an easy book to fully understand, but it's phenomonally rewarding if you put in the effort.

It's a lyrical meditation on identity and the self; some of the passages in the second of the three novellas which make up the body of this work are particularly beautiful, and to my mind at least it's a joy to read.

It's complicated, though. The three novellas are interlinked but not particularly similar; each has its own style and identity (or is that too loaded a word to use in the context of the ideas contained in the book?). Despite this, you won't understand completely what is going on in any until you've read all three, and even then it's a matter of putting together clues that are not always obvious. they are there though, and careful study reveals them.

When you finally manage to put it all together and step back, you see the book as the complex and magnificent clockwork it is, with gears and cogs from each of the novellas turning harmoniously within their story and without - interacting with the themes and events of the other novellas to allow a fuller comprehension of the frightening implications of the events of the entire book.

you can't trust the narrator in any of the stories, because the narrators can't trust themselves. they don't know who they are.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By giraudtheunwilling on 3 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback
Not everyone will like this book; in the same way as not everyone will like (or, more simply, have time for) Joyce or Proust. I don't mean that Wolfe writes like either of these. But rather, in the particular work (and others) he needs patience, the right mood, and the right expectations before you will get what he is trying to tell you (or, confusingly, not tell you! :).

I generally dislike writers who whose works aim simply to manipulate the imaginations of the reader for no particular purpose - for example "deconstructionalists" and the rest of the postmodernists whose goal appears to be to demonstrate their own cleverness at the expense of producing anything readable or entertaining. In "The Fifth Head", Wolfe takes one idea from that school - namely, that you can tell a story only by hinting at it - and turns it into magic, while at the same time never insulting the readers intelligence.

I confess I've never enjoyed any book that has attempted something like this, before "The Fifth Head of Cerberus". When you have read all three novellas, you realise - slowly - that there is another, internal work that is both parallel to, and in contradiction to, the written words. It's hard to explain, and surely a hundred times harder to write.

To those who didn't enjoy the work on the first reading, I would say to wait a couple of years and try it again. It is one of the most rewarding works in SF or in any genre that I have read, and it deserves the deepest reflection.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 6 July 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a very original and strange piece of literature. Made up of three separate yet interconnected stories that delve into the history of two twin colony planets that share a dark and troubled past.
Dr Marsch is the constant character who appears briefly in the first tale, is the author of the second and has his memoirs and tape recordings as the focus of the final instalment. Human cloning, cultural upheaval and history are the elements investigated in this novel. The narrative is often gothic like in the first story which I feel is the strongest single piece of the whole novel.The fantastical nature of the second part often left me feeling slightly bogged down, the history of the colonys are addressed here and although cleverly written had me rushing to finish it. Dr Marschs' memoirs are used in the final story to conclude and explain issues brought up in the first two parts. It leaves alot to the readers imagination.
Having just finished this book I cannot conclude whether it was an average book or a true classic of the Sci-Fi genre. This is because the story is eloquently written and the issues highly emotive and interesting but I did think the middle was ponderous to say the least. I will read this book again to give an overview of the whole concept - but it may be some time!
This review may seem to contradict but I would suggest you buy and see for yourself.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 Jun. 2000
Format: Paperback
Having just finished this novel, I can honestly say I am stunned. It is one of those tours de force that leave you unable to decide exactly what was going on. It is a novel that leaves you to draw your own conclusions. Are all the characters aliens who think they are humans? or do the humans and aliens co-exist without ever realising it? or were there never really any aliens, just degenerate human survivors from and earlier era? Were the aliens figments of human imagination, or are all these speculations red herrings?
In short, this novel does what all great works of art do - it gives you plenty of room to shape your own meanings out of the text rather than impose them on you. In fact it is not really a novel at all - the three interlinking stories stand alone in themselves, but each one only becomes complete in light of the other two.
You will either love this, or hate it. If you like your endings neatly tied together, with all the mysteries explained in a strong dénouement, then avoid this book, and everything else by Wolfe. If you enjoy an intellectual and moral puzzle, then read this, not once, but over again (I am putting in my agenda to re-read in a year, to see if I come up with other conclusions than I did the first time round). A true classic of this or any genre.
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