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Land Across, The Hardcover – 4 Feb 2014
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Wolfe, in masterful mood, builds his characters, explores the puzzles, links the elements together and contrives to render the backdrop both intriguingly attractive and creepily sinister. Sheer enjoyment. "Kirkus Reviews"" "Wolfe, in masterful mood, builds his characters, explores the puzzles, links the elements together and contrives to render the backdrop both intriguingly attractive and creepily sinister. Sheer enjoyment." --Kirkus Reviews Wolfe, in masterful mood, builds his characters, explores the puzzles, links the elements together and contrives to render the backdrop both intriguingly attractive and creepily sinister. Sheer enjoyment. Kirkus Reviews"
About the Author
Gene Wolfe is one of the most admired and respected living writers of SF and fantasy. He is the author of The Fifth Head of Cerberus, the bestselling The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, as well as among many others including Soldier of the Mist, The Sorcerer's House, Home Fires, The Knight, The Wizard, Peace, and The Book of the Long Sun. He is also a prolific writer of distinguished short fiction, which is collected in many volumes over the last four decades, most recently in The Best of Gene Wolfe. He received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award, and multiple Nebula and Locus awards, among other honors. In 2007, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. In 2012, he was awarded the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master Award. He lives in Barrington, Illinois.
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In There Are Doors, the protagonist travels to an alternative universe, a place where his interactions with women dominate what happens to him, where something he carries in his pocket is both very strange and essential to the plot. In The Land Across, the protagonist, a travel writer, takes the train to an ex-Soviet bloc country which no one really knows about, existing separate from our world like an alternative universe, a place where his interactions with women dominate what happens to him, where something he carries in his pocket is both very strange and essential to the plot. That doesn't make it in any way a copy of the earlier work, but the similarities are striking.
I don't think this is as good a novel as There Are Doors, but it certainly has plenty of interesting features. If you don't know Wolfe, you could read it and think it's atmospheric in a rather clunky way, but not much happens. If you were to describe the plot (which I won't), it wouldn't sound all that exciting. But with Wolfe, you have to absorb the way he tells the story, to inhabit the quirkiness and the tiny details where things aren't quite normal - and that way you can find plenty in its subtle depths.
For most of the book, we could be occupying a fantasy-free, simple, isolated, former Soviet dictatorship (Belarus is probably the closest real world parallel, though Wolfe's country is a lot more low tech), with a degree of Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare and a not very secret secret police playing a major role in everyday life. As part of Wolfe's exploration of the nature of dictatorship, it's quite easy for the reader to feel sympathetic with the secret police when they are effectively on the side of good, but always with the uncomfortable frisson that this shouldn't be right. However there are also supernatural elements that simply fit in as part of the way life is. Although surprised, no one really changes the way they behave because of them - the supernatural is part of everyday life.
Another Wolfe characteristic you'll find represented strongly here is getting three quarters of the way through the book without being sure what's going on (though the setting is less ambiguous than in There Are Doors) and reaching the end to realise there are plenty of threads that were never tied up and left hanging to jangle your nerve endings. If you like a nice, neat, tied up plot this isn't the book for you.
Without doubt one of Wolfe's more significant novels of the last decade, though not as good as The Sorcerer's House, and a clear indication that he's still got the touch. Arguably it is not the best book with which to start reading Wolfe's fantasy novels (I'd recommend Castleview or Pandora by Holly Hollander) but a strong addition to the canon that is essential reading for any fan.
Why does Grafton not always seem to be completely in control of himself (eg. at one point he fears to fall asleep in case he shoots the woman he's in bed with)? And the language itself is odd. Most of the characters speak German that Grafton has translated into English in a sometimes very literal way (eg. "that would be most good"). And Grafton himself often speaks in a peculiarly old-fashioned, anachronistic way. Knowing Wolfe, this is likely to be significant rather than simply for atmospheric effect. Then there are the spying/conspiracy/religoius/political elements, and the supernatural aspects, of the story. There's a lot going on here and much of it is hidden under the surface. So careful reading and re-reading (and maybe a bit of research to gain a little insight into some of the names of places and people used) will be just as important with The Land Across as it is with all of Wolfe's stories.
I've seen quite a few reviews of his more recent novels that suggest his work is becoming more straightforward and less mystifying. I'm not so sure. I get the impression he is as tricksy as ever, but maybe better at making his stories more accessible on a first reading. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed The Land Across on my own first reading, and I'm sure I'll enjoy it even more as I reread it and get deeper into the mysteries. Here be dragons. And certainly vampires...
I will let it rest for a while and then reread it, I am sure I missed a lot of detail in the carpet that Wolfe has woven for us.
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