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Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2002 09:28:52 -0700 (PDT)
From: Grant Peacock 
Subject: (urth) 5HC a good introduction to wolfe? (was Washington Post article)

My introduction to Wolfe was the first novella in Fifth Head.  At the end I
felt I'd been knocked on my ass, and I strongly suspected that I had
experienced a work of real genius even though nothing had made an ounce of
sense.  One thing I did know was that I was going to read it again, and look
for more Wolfe.

FWIW, I'll risk ruining my credibility by telling you I had the same feeling as
the credits rolled after Vanilla Sky.  I strongly suspected that a major plot
twist had eluded me entirely, but I had no idea what it was or where to look. 
What I did know was that film was beautiful and that I was going to watch it
again ASAP, even if I had to go to the movies alone.  The second time, I formed
a coherent plot theory, but still knew I had missed a lot of clues, many of
which I located the third time.  Sound like a familiar experience for Wolfe

There are many forms of art that I, at the tender age of 25, appreciate not at
all, or appreciate only at the backround music/wallpaper/landscaping level of
enjoyment.  "Art" is there only because a blank wall would be too, well, blank.
Others I enjoy on the rock and roll/sit-com/die hard level.  By this I mean it
at least commands my attention for a certain amount of time, and this time is
fun, but afterwards the experience is over and I'm not enriched or changed or
thoughtful because of it.
Thirdly, there are the rare masterpieces that really have something to say. 
These are the ones you read/watch/look at/listen to once, and discern little
but nonsense, but the second or third or tenth time, something starts to click
and all you can say is wow.  How little we understand about ourselves, when
such power can lie in the written word, or on a screen or canvas or audio
recording.  I know, I'm talking like Severian here and saying I can only
describe it as indescribable.  Sorry.

Fifth head, New Sun, and Peace are surely in this category for me.  Of course
plenty of his other work probably will be, as well, but it doesn't come easy.  

Anyway, I put forth this theory of the three different levels of artistic work,
which no doubt blend together, because I want to make the point that level
three stuff is inaccessible.  Many readers are not capable of reading it once,
not getting it, and saying ah hah better read it again.  My dad, for example,
is a relatively smart guy and reads a fair amount of SF.  I have strongly and
repeatedly urged him to read Wolfe, and Fifth head in particular. 
Unfortunately, at the time he was in a bookstore and decided to try Wolfe he
ended up buying Shadow and Claw.  I think he made it to the inn of lost loves
before he lost patience.  He says to me, "Sorry, I couldn't get into it, it was
just this guy walkin around with a sword."  Fifth Head, I feel, is more
accessible simply because it's short.  I tell potential Wolfe newbies to just
read the first Novella a few times.  This is much less to ask, and if you do
that and get something out of it, then you'll be ready to take on the Sun

One anecdote before I go:  Once I overheard a stranger next to me on a plane
say that she wished she had brought something to read.  I happened to have 5HC
with me, and offered it to her.  I explained that the first novella, only 80
pages, stands on its own and she could easily finish it during the flight.  She
read about 1/4 of it and then fell asleep with the book in her arms, leaving me
stuck reading John Varley.  But, she did wake up and finish it all, and she
clearly impressed.  She said she would definitely look for more GW.  So,
anyway, Fifth Head worked at least twice.. on me and on her.


--- Michael Straight  wrote:
> My introduction to Wolfe was the New Sun books, followed by the Soldier
> books, all of which I loved.  Then I read 5HC and didn't like it very
> much.  If that had been my introduction to Wolfe, I doubt I would have
> gone out of my way to read more of his stuff.

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