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This is the best fantasy/sci-fi story ever published. Wolfe likes to set stereotypes and tropes on their head, and he writes a complex and densely layered story about a torturer’s apprentice in a beautiful, dying Earth. But as complicated and fantastical as the story gets, Wolfe doesn’t bother explaining anything. Was that guy a robot? Is that lady his sister? What’s up with that giant anyway? Part of the beauty of Wolfe’s writing is that he doesn’t make up words for his fantasy world. Instead, he uses antiquated terminology that approximates what he’s trying to describe, giving his world a very real sense of age and familiarity.
Reading Borges’ stories makes me feel like a newborn discovering the world for the first time. The Argentine great packs more ideas into a couple of pages than most authors will have in the entirety of their works. He plays with mythology and memory, with perception and time and identity and the very nature of the universe, and reading one of his stories is like stepping into the labyrinths of his mind.
Speaking of the dying Earth… In the 1950’s, Jack Vance wrote a series of stories set in a very, very far future, when the dying sun’s last rays illuminate a doomed but still very much populated world. Technology has once again entered the realm of magic, and charlatan wizards horde whatever relics of power they can get their hands on. Survival is about cut-throat resourcefulness, callous opportunism, and pure luck. Yet somehow, in such a desolate setting, Vance has managed to create a story that affords an almost fairy-tale like pleasure. Cugel, the hero of The Eyes of the Overwold (Book 2) and the eponymous Cugel’s Saga(Book 3) is a scoundrel and a rogue, and you can’t help but root for him.