‘The Fifth Head Of Cerberus’ by Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe is a sacred cow of science fiction, consistently held up as a demonstration that – in the right hands – the genre can be high literature. So how come the only two stories I had read by him – ‘Viewpoint’ and ‘The Ziggurat’ – where terrible? Was I just unlucky or was everyone else mad?
When I asked this elsewhere there was a general concensus that as Wolfe got older he became more conservative and more Catholic to the detriment of his writing. The two stories I had read were from this later period. I should read his earlier stuff. In particular, I should read ‘The Fifth Head Of Cerberus’ since it is the greatest science fiction novella ever written.
I have now read the novella and can confirm that it is indeed very good, as are ‘”A Story” by John Marsch’ and ‘V.R.T.’, the two linked novellas which accompany it. I was reminded of Sacsayhuamán, its interlocking parts constructed so seamlessly that it shouldn’t be possible. The reader is treat with respect which then must then earn and behind all this there is a deep, ingenuous intelligence. It is only a shame this intelligence seems to have calcified so unpleasantly in later years.