Saturday, 13 April 2002

Gene Wolfe: There Are Doors (1988)

Edition: Gollancz, 1989 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1982

Most of Wolfe's novels have a setting which seems to be fantasy rather than traditional science fiction; There Are Doors, a homage to Philip K. Dick, is an exception. When his lover Lara disappears, Mr Green (the central character is never given a first name) sets out to find her, but is soon caught up in a series of parallel universes accessed through "doors". His adventures include incarceration in a mental hospital and being on the run from the police, but also bizarre scenes where a telephone conversation he has just concluded is played out again on a TV show or confrontations happen which are suddenly revealed to be on a stage in front of an audience.

The novel also contains references to Kafka, with the head of the secret police named Klamm, after a sinister character in The Castle, and a mysterious K, the letter used by Kafka for his central (and personal) character in The Trial and in the original version of The Castle. The feeling of the novel is that events are part of some kind of conspiracy aimed at Mr Green, one which is akin to those typical of the work of both Dick and Kafka.

There Are Doors is quite loosely constructed; there are fairly lengthy sections in which nothing much happens. It also seems to be lacking a point; the revelation of what is going on could easily be made far more interesting (and it includes a fascinating science fiction idea which is left completely undeveloped, and which should make the cultures in the parallel universes much more different from reality than they are). For these reasons, which seem to be problems coming from Wolfe rather than by inheritance from Dick or Kafka, it is not to be numbered among Wolfe's best novels, even though it remains among his most interesting in terms of its ideas and references.

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