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The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
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The Fifth Head of Cerberus (original 1972; edition 1975)

by Gene Wolfe

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,071167,805 (3.98)65
Member:souloftherose
Title:The Fifth Head of Cerberus
Authors:Gene Wolfe
Info:Quartet Books (1975), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library, To read, Needs work
Rating:
Tags:Science fiction, 20th century fiction, SF masterworks, TBR, Novellas, American author, Published: 1972, Acquired in 2010, Location: bedroom - TBR, Scan cover

Work details

The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe (1972)

  1. 20
    Shadow & Claw: The First Half of The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (Rynooo)
    Rynooo: If you enjoyed this, check out Wolfe's sci-fi fantasy epic The Book of the New Sun. It's mind-boggling, frequently shocking, and I'm not sure I understood it. Brillant stuff.
  2. 10
    Babel-17 / Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: In each book there are multiple stories metafictionally linked to one another, in which far-future science fiction scenarios are used to explore archetypal human dilemmas and paradoxes regarding dominance, difference, communion, and communication.… (more)
  3. 00
    Celestis by Paul Park (whiten06)
    whiten06: Thought-provoking, literary science fiction dealing with issues of post-colonialism and identity.
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» See also 65 mentions

English (15)  French (1)  All languages (16)
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Please read the full review on Weighing A Pig Doesn't Fatten It...

I once read that most of Wolfe’s main characters aren’t fully aware of the true nature of their world nor the role they play in it. This is for sure the case in The Book of the New Sun-cycle, and their successor, The Book of the New Urth. To a large extent, it is also the case for the protagonists in the three interconnected stories in this book, that predates Wolfe’s most succesful cycle about 8 years, but already shows a lot of the same ambiguity, narrative techniques (most notably the unreliable narrator) and themes (like the theme of memory).

The first story (about 75 pages) deals with (...) ( )
  bormgans | Dec 15, 2015 |
I love a good puzzle book, books where often not only the answer has to be deduced from the text, but so has the question. Books like The Quincunx, House Of Leaves and...um... I wish I knew more of them. Anyway, this is one, three linked novellas set on twin colony worlds where identity is fungible and we can't be sure whether the humans are aliens, the aliens are human or if the aliens really exist at all. What does it mean to be alien? What does it mean to be human? Are you a son or a brother or a twin or a clone? Has someone else replaced you or are you the replacement? Is the truth a tool of dystopian oppression? Does slavery set you free? One can have one's head wrecked by a book, be utterly chilled and yet emerged cleansed and confused. Being alive is a puzzle, after all, and we don't want to jump to the ultimate answer too soon. ( )
2 vote Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
One of the best pieces of fiction ever written. Not just science fiction, or science fantasy, but just fiction. If you only read one work by him, it should be this one. ( )
  Lyndatrue | Dec 14, 2013 |
Read this for a group read -- the first time I've managed to get myself organised to do that in a long time. I have a backlog as long as my arm of books that were picked for discussion in that group! And they always pick interesting ones.

This was my first Gene Wolfe book, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I don't know whether my brain just doesn't work in quite the right way to fully 'get' the story, or if everyone else is equally at sea. I kind of want to nod wisely and pretend I followed every word, but I didn't -- but I liked it a lot anyway, and I know I'm going to be thinking about it for quite a while. It's all about issues of identity, along with colonial issues, which I find interesting, and it's fantastically written: the plot may be puzzling, but the sentences never are.

The structure of the book is interesting: three novellas which share themes and come together into a whole. It's a bit difficult to see how they connect at first, other than shared worlds, but don't let that deter you. Normally I'd find it a turn-off, but it's worth just letting the narrative carry you along.

I don't know if I'm going to read more of Gene Wolfe's work, oddly enough. I liked this very much, and may even reread it, but it wasn't easy. I find myself gravitating to easy reads, lately -- I spend so much time wrestling with Middle English that when I get to my relaxing time, it's hard to settle down with something as nuanced and complex as The Fifth Head of Cerberus. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
I think this book is absolutely brilliant, but I don't think I care for Wolfe's writing, which makes this difficult for me to rate. If someone whose style I liked better had written it, I might have given it 5 stars, because I do think it's fantastic.

I can't go too much into the plot, because I do think this book is best read naive.

Basically, two (twin) planets, Sainte Croix and Sainte Ann have been colonized by humans a long, long time ago. There are mysterious aborigines that may or may not have existed (on Ste Ann). If they did, they were not human but could shape-shift to look and act like humans.

The book is composed of three stories that pull elements of this twin system, the societies of both planets, questionable aborigines and anthropological study together in interesting ways. There are interesting themes delved into - nature vs nurture (inheritability of traits), evolutionary theories, post colonialism, etc.

It's good. It's very interesting. I just don't think I'm a fan of Wolfe's style. ( )
  suzemo | Mar 31, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gene Wolfeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abadia, GuyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bober, RichardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pennington, BruceCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Damon Knight, who one well-remembered June evening in 1966 grew me from a bean.
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When I was a boy my brother David and I had to go to bed early whether we were tired or not.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This is the collection of three novellas: Fifth Head of Cerberus - A Story by John V. Marsch - V.R.T.
Please do not combine with the work containing only Fifth head of Cerberus.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312890206, Paperback)

A brothel keeper's sons discuss genocide and plot murder; a young alien wanderer is pursued by his shadow double; and a political prisoner tries to prove his identity, not least to himself. Gene Wolfe's first novel consists of three linked sections, all of them elegant broodings on identity, sameness, and strangeness, and all of them set on the vividly evoked colony worlds of Ste. Croix and Ste. Anne, twin planets delicately poised in mutual orbit.

Marsch, the victim in the third story, is the apparent author of the second and a casual visitor whose naïve questions precipitate tragedy in the first. The sections dance around one another like the planets of their settings. Clones, downloaded personalities inhabiting robots, aliens that perhaps mimicked humans so successfully that they forgot who they were, a French culture adopted by its ruthless oppressors--there are lots of ways to lose yourself, and perhaps the worst is to think that freedom consists of owning other people, that identity is won at the expense of others.

It is easy to be impressed by the intellectual games of Wolfe's stunning book and forget that he is, and always has been, the most intensely moral of SF writers. --Roz Kaveney, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:33 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Far from Earth two sister planets, Sainte Anne and Sainte Croix, circle each other. It is said that a race of shapeshifting aliens once lived here, only to become extinct when human colonists arrived.

(summary from another edition)

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