Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"The Toy Theater" - A Short Story by Gene Wolfe, a master of the Science Fiction Fantasy Genre, 1971

I offer my Great Thanks to Mudpuddle and Fred of Fred's Place for suggesting I read Gene Wolfe

"“You will learn. You have already learned more difficult things. But you will not learn traveling with just one. If you wish to learn three, you must have three with you always, so that you can practice. But already you do the voice of a woman speaking and singing. That was the most difficult for me to learn.” He threw out his big chest and thumped it. “I am an old man now and my voice is not so deep as it was, but when I was young as you it was very deep, and I could not do the voices of women, not with all the help from the control and the speakers in the dolls pitched high. But now listen.” He made Julia, Lucinda, and Columbine, three of his girls, step forward. For a moment they simply giggled; then, after a whispered but audible conference, they burst into Rosine’s song from The Barber of Seville Julia singing coloratura soprano, Columbine mezzo-soprano, and Lucinda contralto. “Don’t record,” Stromboli admonished me. “It is easy to record and cheat; but a good audience will always know, the amateurs will want you to show them, and you can’t look at yourself and smile. You can already do one girl’s voice very good. Don’t ever record. You know how I learned to do them?”

I am greatly enjoying slowly getting back into science fiction and fantasy works, something I read avidly years ago but neglected for a long time.  I was inspired to venture back into fantasy worlds, partially through rereading Dune by Frank Herbert.  I also have recently began to read Olivia Butler and I greatly enjoyed "Green Magic" by the American master Jack Vance.  I was additionally delighted to read works by two young Filipino writers, Isabell Wong and Alyssa Yap whose development I hope to follow.

Going on the strength of recommendations from Mudpuddle and Fred of Fred's Place I decided to read a short story by another acknowledged American master, Gene Wolfe (born NYC, 1931, his best known work is the tetralogy, The Book of the New Sun).  I downloaded a sample of The Best Short Fiction of Gene Wolfe and was happy to find a story I could read, "The Toy Theater" first published in the popular  anthology series Orbit edited by Damon Knight, in 1971)

"The Toy Theater" is a really fun to read story.  A marionettist has just landed on the planet Sarg.  I like how Vance just plunges us right into an alternative universe without a lot of explanation.  Sarg was found with no life of but suitable for humans and earth plants.  It is preindustrial.  It looks like the main occupant, maybe the owner of the planet, is one Stromboli, a marionette master famous through the known universe. Our narrator has come to study with Stromboli.  Marionettes are very much in vogue everywhere.  We meet Stromboli's wife in their house, in the style of a Tuscan villa.  We sit in on the lessons, we come to respect the great artistry involved.

As he awaits in the buggy to take him back to the space port, his visit over, instead of Stromboli's butler, a doll, a woman, Lilli comes up in a buggy and says she will take him to the space port.  It appears she is a marionette, created by Stromboli to be his mistress.

I don't want to spoil the very interesting close of the story.  I found no work by Vance online.  I have two of his short stories in anthologies I have been given and will read them soon.  Maybe I will tackle The Book of the New Sun one day.

Mel u


Fred said...

Mel u,

You mention Jack Vance several times in your review of Wolfe's short story.
I didn't know about the "Best of Edition" for Wolfe, so thanks for the information. It's something I would be interested in getting.

Fred said...

Mel u,

Forgot to mention that there's a fifth book in the New Urth series. The title is _The Urth of the New Sun_. It is set after the events of _The Book of the New Sun_.

There's also another work out, _The Castle of the Otter_. It's not a work of fiction but is about the tetralogy. It also includes a glossary of the some of the terms found in the tetralogy.

Mudpuddle said...

Wolfe is enigmatic; his work seems to be mysterious and multi-leveled... i've read quite a number of his books, starting with The Sword of the Torturer and have enjoyed them a lot, but always with the feeling that i'm missing the real point... i've not read the "Urth" series, tho; maybe if i did, some of the enigmaticism would disappear...

Fred said...


The Sword of the Torturer is the first book in the Urth series, AKA The Book of the New Sun.