Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe

A novel which is made up from three loosely connected novellas. They happen on two colony worlds in the same solar system. One of them might or might not have been inhabited byrace of shapeshifters. There are hints that it is possible they have assumed a human form and replaced at least part of the inhabitants of the worlds.

The first novella is best in my opinion. It tells a story about a young boy living in a large house, where a bit shadowy authority figure performs several sorts of experiments, mainly psychological, on him. Slowly he find out what is going on, who he is, and what is his place is. Story is well told, but there seems to be very disturbing immorality as standard in world described. Slaves and even genetic modification of slaves, for pleasure or for work is totally normal and is not considered as unnatural or immoral at any level.

The second part is perhaps the weakest. It is presented as a story written by a minor character from the first part, an anthropologist visiting from earth. It tells a story of the mythological natives of one of the planets. The story is fairly confusing, and pretty dull.

The third is told in non-linear way. John Marsch, the anthropologist and the “author” of the second part has been imprisoned and is suspected of espionage. A security officer reviews his files, and reads parts of them, not in clear chronological order. The files include his diary of a long journey he took to find the last living native people, writings he has done in prison, and recordings of his interrogations. Slowly it is revealed what might have happened.

The book was pretty good, especially the first part, which was nominated for Hugo award. The world presented in it is both repulsive and fascinating at the same time, and would certainly have been good milieu for more stories. Second part was written in fairly different style (well, it is supposed to be written by another person), and the third part is again very interesting and thought provoking, and told in an unusual, fascinating style.

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