This book is called a novella collection numerous times on the cover and in the promotional material, and well, it’s a novel. There’s a thematic and setting consistency throughout the book that is cohesive and connected in such a way, it’s almost like a publisher told Gene Wolfe that the book had to be called novellas. It’s no less a novel than Go Down Moses (though my comparison stops there). This is my fifth Gene Wolfe book, and I am still a little confused as to whether I like Gene Wolfe books at all. My experience so far is that they’ve been incredibly rich, detailed, thought-provoking and complex, rewarding in some ways, and very frustrating in others. This book takes place on a twin planet system that humans colonized at some point in their past, and named and renamed much of the terrain and features after classic Earth names. There’s also myths/history of a species of shapeshifters who may or may not have had a clandestine battle against the humans over supremacy of the planets.
The novellas, such as they are: in the title story, we are given a kind of scientific/aristocratic compound that ends up feeling a little like a Doctor Moreau kind of place, where a boy called “Number 6” is looking into his own past and heritage. In the next story, written by a character from the first story, we get a kind of printed myth of a hero searching for identity and fighting his own dark side; and in the last story (which reads a LOT like the later Urth of the New Sun books), a man is imprisoned on the rival planet, and the interrogations, tortures, and long imprisonment weigh on him.
Like I said, these stories are linked, but they’re not narratively connected necessarily. The writing is complex and has some parallels to Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler and Joanna Russ, along with Samuel Delany, but I just found them a little too….much?