By Gene Wolfe, Tor, $24.99, 304 pages
“Virginia waves and Chelle waves back. Do they sense a bond between Chelle and me? Is there any bond there to sense?”
Gene Wolfe’s newest novel Home Fires reads like a “Best of…” version of life. The story involves reuniting with an unrequited love (who happens to be an intergalactic hero), going on a luxury cruise, and having gunfights with pirates. For all that, portions of the novel are surprisingly dull.
The premise is brilliant: a young woman decides to enlist in an outer-space war and leaves her husband behind. Due to a kink in the space-time continuum, when she returns, he has aged twenty years while she’s merely one year older than when she left. Hook or by crook, they decide they have to rekindle their love. That’s when hijackers attack their cruise ship, and where the story becomes convoluted with too many twists, back stabbings (literally), and revelations. Long stretches of the story are nearly impossible to follow.
What saves the book is Wolfe’s philosophical ruminations as well as the beauty and pathos he invests in his central characters. Perplexing questions of identity are brought up and discussed in detail, as are marriage, military service, and religion. Beyond that, there’s a wish for peace; until the wish is fulfilled, Wolfe will keep the Home Fires burning.
Reviewed by Corey Pung