Home Fires – Gene Wolfe

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

Still in love (somewhat to his surprise anddelight), they go on a Caribbean cruise to resume their marriage. Theirvacation rapidly becomes a complex series of challenges, not the least of whichare 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 HomeFires.

304pages (hardcover)
Publishedon: January 18, 2011
Publishedby: Tor
Thanks to Tor for sending me a copy of thisbook to review.
Chelleand Skip fell in love when they were in their twenties and, like many loversout there, decided to become contracted (married). Chelle then went to fightthe alien Os for several months. While she was gone for mere months in space,twenty years passed on earth. The two lovers reunite; one still young and theother middle aged, and try to rekindle their romantic relationship by taking acruise. On this cruise, many things go wrong. There is crime, intrigue andbattles and most importantly, nothing is what it seems.
Thisis an interesting setup for a very interesting, multi-faceted book. Most of Home Fires is told from the perspectiveof Skip, a middle aged lawyer who is about as interesting and compelling asyour neighborhood accountant (no offense to those accounting outliers who areactually interesting people). I have a feeling Wolfe kept Skip rather bland onpurpose. Skip’s uninteresting personality makes the reader focus more on theevents and people around him, which really is where most of the book takesplace. Skip himself seems to be merely a means to an end. However, he isincredibly boring, and this could very easily affect the reader’s overallenjoyment of Home Fires.
Despitethe fact that Skip is rather droll, the events of Home Fires more than makes up for it. There is enough suspense andsubtle build up to keep anyone turning the pages. That is, perhaps, one of themost impressive aspects of Home Fires.Wolfe somehow manages to pack this book full of suspense and intrigue in a waythat isn’t in your face. The plot moves quickly, yet so seamlessly that eventsseem to carry themselves forward effortlessly. I’m not exactly sure how Wolfemanages to accomplish this. Compared to HomeFires, most other books filled with so much depth and action almost slapthe reader in the face with it but this is the exception. In fact, Wolfeseamlessly adds so many layers to his book that readers might not be aware ofhow much depth there is in these pages until they finish the book and thinkback on it.
Theworld building is not incredibly detailed, but perfectly balanced for the plot.The reader gets clues and hints as to what this future Earth is like, withoutbeing overpowered with detail. Wolfe helps us understand how the world isbroken up into several political blocks, and how these political blocksinteract with each other and how this affects the characters this book centersaround. The war with the Os is mentioned more in passing than anything else,which is rather surprising when you consider how important it is for the plot.However, Wolfe drops clues and cues throughout the book so the reader picks upon important aspects of the world almost without knowing they are doing so.
WhileHome Fires is mostly told through the eyes of Skip, there are chaptersthroughout the book told in Skip’s first person perspective. These chapters arerather interesting, and also somewhat disorienting as they can change from pastto present tense as Skip either discusses what is currently happening,(example, “I am looking at…”) or what has happened (example, “and then I…”)or he thinks about memories of times past, or hopes and dreams for him andChelle. These chapters are incredibly intimate with Skip, and really show thereader who he is, and important events in his life. These chapters areoccasionally confusing, because the reader has to figure out what exactly Skipis talking about, and they can leave you disoriented, but a lot of clues andcues to the overall plot are in these sections, and they are important forcharacter development and the plot itself.
I amnot incredibly well versed with Gene Wolfe. I haven’t read a ton of his books.In fact, this is only the second one I’ve read. If I had read more of his work,my review might take on a different tone if I compare this book to others.However, I can’t do that. I can only judge this book on it’s own merit. Home Fires is a deep, subtle and manylayered work. Skip is a rather boring individual, but the events that transpirein Home Fires more than makes up forit. This is one of those books I had to take time to fully absorb. Wolfe is awonderful writer, and a master of subtlety.
P.S. My child started throwing a fit when I finished writing this so I haven’t edited it AT ALL. I apologize for any terrible errors. 

2 Responses

  • redhead

    I loved Home Fires. It was my 3rd (I think?) Wolfe, and everything he writes is subtle and multi-layered, to the point that as soon as you finish something he's written, I want to read it again but backwards.

    I think it was Jeff Vandermeer who said a few years ago that everytime you reread a Wolfe novel it is a completely different story.

  • Paul Weimer

    I am not incredibly well versed with Gene Wolfe. I haven’t read a ton of his books. In fact, this is only the second one I’ve read.

    What was the first? I'm curious as to how much in line with his other books this is.

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