At any rate, I started reading reviews of Wolfe's books on Amazon.com. There are a lot of people who claim Wolfe's books are the best fantasy of the 20th century and who can't sing his praises enough. And they just jump all over anyone who has the audacity to say otherwise.
Note: this isn't a full-fledged review because it's been too long since I read these books and the details aren't fresh in my mind. Though there still may be spoilers, so be forewarned. This is more a discussion of reviewers and fans who can't accept that people disagree with them.
The main arguments made in the negative reviews are generally that:
- Wolfe uses difficult vocabulary (based often on Latin and Greek words) when simpler vocabulary would suffice
- Severian doesn't seem to have feelings about being a torturer, he just does his job in a businesslike manner, even when called upon to torture a woman he supposedly is in love with
- Severian also sleeps around a lot, falling in "love" with one woman after another; even though he's struck up a relationship with Dorcas, he goes off and has sex with Jolenta, for example; I think the root of this point and the last is that Severian (and other characters) isn't very sympathetic; he's hard to identify with
- Some things are explained in excruciating detail while other, seemingly important events, are glossed over
- There are a lot of "diversions" -- stories that don't advance the plot, for example, and the god-awful play (and yes, this last one happens to be one of my main criticisms); I am almost positive that there were more characters on stage at one point than there were players in the company
For the record, due to a long history of playing Final Fantasy games coupled with an Ivy League education, I didn't have trouble with the vocabulary. And you can get the gist of most of the words from context. Although the use of these terms comes perilously close to using a made-up language, which I have previously expressed issues with.
Fans point to the following (this is not a complete list):
- Rich allegory
- Complexity that requires a few re-reads to fully appreciate
- Interesting and original concepts such as the prison where multiple generations of families have lived their whole lives
I'm somewhere in the middle of the road in terms of my appreciation of Wolfe. I did read all of The Book of the New Sun in quick succession, didn't put it aside, didn't quit halfway through, etc. It was unique, and did include a number of interesting concepts which I have seen imitated but not successfully duplicated in other novels in the genre. I know some Wolfe fans will cringe, but despite its complexities in terms of subplots, world construction, and language, this is, at its base, is just another story of a special boy who starts from humble beginnings and becomes the ruler of the world. (Okay, call it a coming-of-age tale if you must. Popular in fantasy, of course.)
Gene Wolfe is not the only author with active fans on Amazon. Brandon Sanderson has them, also. Check out the reviews for The Way of Kings. Although I have to say, Wolfe's defenders are, as a group, much more intelligent than Sanderson's, judging by their writing skills.