"Castaway" by Gene Wolfe: An Appreciation by Spencer Pate
Gene Wolfe is not just a writer but a magician with words. Like a conjuror, Wolfe always evokes a sense of wonder and awe, but he never reveals how he does it. That's why I'm finding it difficult to explicate "Castaway" right now--as another critic has said, "I feel a little bit like a musical contemporary attempting to tell people what's good about Mozart." "Castaway" is a perfect example of Wolfe's multilayered approach to fiction. In this story, he uses the well-worn theme of a person stranded on an alien planet and turns it into a commentary on beauty and longing. And like Wolfe's best work, "Castaway" deals with the power of memory and perception. Wolfe's themes are always like the swift currents that flow beneath the river ice. We can sense that they are just beneath the surface but can never truly pin them down. All I can really say is that Wolfe's work is absolutely essential and will reward careful reading and rereading.
Any appreciation of a story on SCI FICTION is also necessarily an appreciation of the immense talents of its editor, Ellen Datlow. Datlow is one of the most experienced, and certainly the best, editors in the field of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Her discerning eye for great fiction can be seen not only on the SCI FICTION website but also the many excellent anthologies she has edited, especially the invaluable Year's Best Fantasy and Horror series. I think all of us are a bit shocked that the award-winning SCI FICTION website has been terminated by the SciFi channel, and I encourage everyone who has enjoyed the stories it has published to send emails of protest. I wish the best of luck to Ellen in finding editorial jobs in the future. Even if SCI FICTION is gone for good, the stories it has published will endure.
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