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Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe
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Free Live Free (1984)

by Gene Wolfe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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» See also 17 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
A commonality that I've noticed in lesser Wolfe books is serious pacing problems, where little seems to happen for many pages, where inconsequential dialogue extends far beyond its needed length, and then where a rush of things is jammed into the final few pages of a section or of the book. For its first fifty pages or so Free Live Free dodges this problem, introducing us to our main characters and their situation as down-on-their-luck Chicagoans, and then having things actually happen. It's great! If you've read any Wolfe before, you know the man can write- in the beginning pages of Free Live Free he shows that he can write about poverty and the struggle for daily survival to rival Steinbeck or Hemingway. Stubbs scrounging food, Barnes attempting to keep his dignity despite his lack of money, Candy and her career as an overweight prostitute, I could read a whole book that was just about their struggle to make it through a Chicago winter together in an old boarding house (though Madame Serpentina wouldn't exactly fit in a book like that). But this is Wolfe, of course, so the story doesn't stay so simple.

After the characters have put up a valiant effort but failed to save Ben Free's boarding house (which I would consider the end to the introduction of the story), the book falls smack into the pacing problem I mentioned above. For long swaths of pages we have dialogue in hotel rooms about food, pulp magazine article interviews, and various other minor intrigues. There's seventy-five pages on the protagonists visiting/getting trapped in/escaping a mental hospital, then another thirty on them navigating a Chicago blackout, with new characters introduced every few pages. We get to know the main quadrumvirate of characters very well, but the rest are bare sketches. Much of the "action," what little there is, seems inconsequential. There are extended segments of Stubbs delivering middling Sherlock Holmes detective exposition and explanation, a feature that also dragged down early volumes of The Book of the Long Sun (making that work inferior to the works in the series that it was sandwiched between). Once we get to the resolution, it's pretty out of left field, not very satisfying, and delivered in jumbled dialogue and crammed into the final twenty pages of the book.

Wolfe is one of my favorite writers. Unlike a lot of the top-tier science fiction writers, he's doesn't rely on his ideas to mask an inability to write, as he can craft stunning prose. He's not just a one-hit-wonder, either: though not many reach it, The Book of the Short Sun is phenomenal, a rival to The Book of the New Sun. Peace and The Fifth Head of Cerberus are also great, and The Wizard Night is a fun take on fantasy. Even what I would consider some of his lesser works are interesting, like Pandora By Holly Hollander and how it tells you a mystery without giving you the real solution. Wolfe is also a frustrating writer. Many of his books never rise above mediocrity- the only thing I can remember about Castleview is that it featured a cat named G. Gordon Kitty. He writes books that are filled with riddles, even when the book might be better without them. He's been on a streak lately of unimpressive books. I'll keep reading him as long as he keeps writing, but I expect I've already read (and he's already written) his best. Free Live Free is a lesser work of Gene Wolfe, if you're an adherent of his like I am then you'll probably read it regardless of what I say here. If you aren't, you should skip it and read the books I highlighted earlier in this paragraph. ( )
  BayardUS | Jan 10, 2016 |
Four misfits answer an ad from an old man, living free in his home in exchange for helping him to resist its demolition. They fail, the old man disappears, and we have a series of mad adventures as each of the four must face up to his or her shortcomings and desires. As they search for the old man, they realize that someone is also searching for them. Their adventures take them from a swank hotel to an insane asylum. References to Baum's Oz books, childhood favorites of Wolfe's, abound. Is this a retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Or is it just another garden-variety roman noir about detectives, witches, and time travel?

Wolfe indulges in more humor here than in his longer--and justly more famous--works. This one is more similar to Castleview or, particularly, Pandora by Holly Hollander, than to his multi-volume science fiction novels. Cleverness abounds, in word choices, characters' names, and settings. Difficult to classify but a good bit of fun. ( )
  Jim53 | Feb 19, 2012 |
Not my kind of book really, a book that almost reads as urban fantasy but is really sf, although really by the end of it I didn't care what was the resolution and the why behind the book.

Several characters are living free in Ben Frees house. The house is scheduled for demolition and Ben Free goes missing during their search they find that there are secrets within secrets. Each person has their problems and issues and they have to face up to their issues in order to find Ben and what his secrets are. Amusingly there are also mentions of Dion Fortune and Alaistair Crowley. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Oct 18, 2006 |
This was not my favorite of Wolfe's books. While it worked well as a noir/detective story, its sudden lurch towards sci-fi made for a muddled ending. I wouldn't warn anyone against it, but there are much better novels out there by Gene Wolfe. ( )
  pshaw | Oct 15, 2006 |
Mostly just a decent noir/detective/heist novel. At the end, the MacGuffin suddenly decides to pretend that it was a urban-fantasy/sci-fi novel all along. WIUWT?! Wolfe seems to like barely genre stories, which is not the same as either crossover or magical realism. It's disconcerting, but at least I like noir/detective novels. ( )
  angharad_reads | Apr 27, 2006 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Mr. Wolfe's writing, as always, is literate without being fussy. The plot, which promises little, is full of surprises that I can't even hint at without ruining the pleasure of discovery that awaits those who enter the worlds that Mr. Wolfe creates.
 

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gene Wolfeprimary authorall editionscalculated
EnricCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garland, LindaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was not yet night, though the streets were already dark.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312868367, Paperback)

"Free Live Free," said the newspaper ad, and the out-of-work detective Jim Stubb, the occultist Madame Serpentina, the salesman Ozzie Barnes, and the overweight prostitute Candy Garth are brought together to live for a time in Free's old house, a house scheduled for demolition to make way for a highway.

Free drops mysterious hints of his exile from his homeland, and of the lost key to his return. And so when demolition occurs and Free disappears, the four make a pact to continue the search, which ultimately takes them far beyond their wildest dreams.

This is character-driven science fiction at its best by a writer whom, at the time of its first publication, the Chicago Sun-Times called "science fiction's best genuine novelist."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:30 -0400)

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