An Evil Guest

( 10 )


Lovecraft meets Blade Runner in a stand-alone supernatural horror novel. Gene Wolfe can write in whatever genre he wants—and always with superb style and profound depth. Now following his World Fantasy Award winner, Soldier of Sidon, and his stunning Pirate Freedom, Wolfe turns to the tradition of H. P. Lovecraft and the weird science tale of supernatural horror.

Set a hundred years in the future, An Evil Guest is the story of an actress who becomes the lover of both a ...

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Lovecraft meets Blade Runner in a stand-alone supernatural horror novel. Gene Wolfe can write in whatever genre he wants—and always with superb style and profound depth. Now following his World Fantasy Award winner, Soldier of Sidon, and his stunning Pirate Freedom, Wolfe turns to the tradition of H. P. Lovecraft and the weird science tale of supernatural horror.

Set a hundred years in the future, An Evil Guest is the story of an actress who becomes the lover of both a mysterious private detective and an even more mysterious and powerful rich man, a man who has been to the human colony on an alien planet and learned strange things there. Her loyalties are divided—perhaps she loves them both. The detective helps her to release her inner beauty and become a star overnight. The rich man is the angel of a play she stars in. But something is very wrong. Money can be an evil guest, but there are other evils. As Lovecraft said, “That is not dead which can eternal lie.”

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Editorial Reviews

Edward Champion
Wolfe's latest novel is a three-ring cavalcade about a rising starlet pining for adventure and lucre, an enigmatic professor named Gideon Chase who may or may not be as judgmental as his biblical namesake, and a chilly billionaire hiding behind a few names…the enticing mix of mystery, wordplay and ethical inquiry proves that [Wolfe] still has it.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly


Reviewed byCaitlín R. Kiernan

Near the conclusion of An Evil Guest, a character of no particular importance to the plot rather nicely sums up something central to understanding the story and the world in which it is set: "The distinctions we draw between past, present, and future are discriminations among illusions." This paraphrase of Einstein stands as a sort of thesis statement for this deliriously anachronistic novel, which, though seemingly set near or at the end of the 21st century, feels more like a wild confabulation of the '20s, '30s, '40s and '50s, with a bit of the '80s sprinkled here and there, and just a dash of the first decade of our new millennium.

After striking an unholy deal with extrasolar ambassador and wizard Gideon Chase, Cassie Casey-a plucky amalgam of Grace Kelly, Claudette Colbert and Nancy Drew-becomes an overnight theater sensation and spends the rest of the novel coping with the cloak-and-dagger consequences. In a rapid-fire game of double-crosses, Cassie must come to terms with a world whose boundaries are not where she once believed, while avoiding death or worse. Though much of the action revolves around Lovecraft's fictional town of Kingsport, Mass., the book isn't the sort of baroque gothic horror that "Lovecraftian" usually denotes. Indeed, Wolfe moves deftly from the Oval Office to backstage Broadway and from faerie restaurants to South Sea islands menaced by the dread elder god, Cthulhu, in the nearby underwater city R'lyeh, concluding with a poignant scene that leaves Cassie looking back on the Milky Way as she races toward an alien planet.

Even as Wolfe warps timeand space, he also warps and dismisses the too often indulged expectations of genre readers. There is no slavish devotion to dull futurism, but a swaggering, romantic, unabashedly unlikely tomorrowland. The gilded age of the Busby Berkeley musical rubs shoulders with a film noir curiously free of smoke and grime. The Shadow's Lamont Cranston is a real historical figure; one may have breakfast at the International House of Toast and make calls on cellphones. Buck Rodgersesque science fiction careens headlong into Cold War intrigue. Lovecraft's mythos and Miskatonic University exist alongside iPods, the Internet and intergalactic flying cars.

As befits such an homage to the pulp tradition, the novel's style is terse, minimalist, at times reading like a screenplay (or a stage musical's "book"), advancing primarily through dialogue. It succeeds by tumbling from unexpected world to unexpected world, from one grand absurdity to another, from one choreographed dance scene to the next, without ever missing a beat.

Award-winning author Caitlín R. Kiernan's most recent novel,Daughter of Hounds, was published by Penguin in 2007.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

A century from now, in a world not so different from our own, Cassie, an actress, falls in love with two men, a private detective with mysterious powers and a powerful and wealthy man who has visited the human colonies in space. One transforms her into her true self, while the other becomes her stage angel and backs her career. Yet both men know that all is not as it seems and beneath the facade of everyday life there lurk strange, elder beings whose horrors only wait to be unleashed. Combining 1930s-style pulp noir with Lovecraftian horror, Wolfe's stand-alone (at least for now) story of romance and horror demonstrates the author's talent for subtle storytelling, in which the horror builds slowly until its unexpected presence dominates the characters' world. For most libraries.

—Jackie Cassada
Kirkus Reviews
Fantasy/science fiction/gumshoe noir from the versatile author of Soldier of Sidon (2006, etc.). The President of the United States summons Gideon Chase, an academic with a reputation for solving intractable problems; the administration badly needs to locate the elusive Bill Reis, former ambassador to the inhabited alien planet Woldercan, where he learned how to transmute base metals into gold and make himself invisible. Chase demands a highly prestigious professorship and a small fortune, and when these are not forthcoming, seems to refuse the job. Nevertheless he contacts so-so actress Cassie Casey, promising money and stardom for her help to beguile and ensnare Reis, characterized by the President as an evil and highly dangerous spy. During a mystical interlude Chase releases Cassie's latent star qualities; Reis catches the last performance of Cassie's current engagement, and he immediately pressures her into accepting a role in the musical he's producing, Dating the Volcano God, complete with hilariously awful lyrics ("And how I love his boiling lava/Steaming like a cup of java"). Meanwhile various shady individuals-maybe, maybe not government agents of various types-keep tabs on Chase and Cassie; somebody shoots Chase in the leg (possibly Reis); and Chase vanishes. Despite Chase's warnings, Cassie finds herself attracted to the charming and intelligent Reis and signs up for the show. People get shot or abducted; Cassie dances with a wooden-legged partner; werewolves and intelligent giant bats appear, along with shark gods, volcano gods and beings less gracious. Pleasantly and improbably weird, in typical deadpan Wolfe fashion.
From the Publisher

Praise for An Evil Guest

“[An] enticing mix of mystery, wordplay, and ethical inquiry.”
—The Washington Post Book World

“Succeeds by tumbling from unexpected world to unexpected world, from one grand absurdity to another, from one choreographed dance scene to the next, without ever missing a beat.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Signature Review by Caitlin R. Kiernan

“It’s a pulp thriller—and that’s a compliment, because Wolfe knows from pulp thrillers…and because here he’s creating a strange sort of genre meltdown, a twenty-first century pulp adventure thriller with SF and horror elements that nobody else could possibly have written.”
—Neil Gaiman

The Barnes & Noble Review
Ambiguous identities. Resolute men and women with curiously opaque motives. An ethical and moral scale at once fluid and adamant, with characters traversing different parts of it unpredictably. Closely observed quotidian details (salad dressing choices) mixed with high fantasy (gods walking the earth). The depiction of a cosmos that inspires both reverence and terror. The bitter necessity of personal sacrifice, even unto the demands of becoming a selfless savior.

That old master Gene Wolfe, whose catalogue of qualities and tropes includes all of the above, plus other virtues and obsessions, is back with another novel. But the purveyor of a single enormous series -- his seminal and career-defining saga that began with The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) extends over 12 volumes -- and several lesser ones has chosen this go-round to present a standalone novel. And one, moreover, that ventures into distinctly different narrative territory for him -- at least on the surface.

Like Paul Malmont's recent The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril (2006), Wolfe's An Evil Guest (note the pure gothic melodrama of the title) draws its strengths and inspiration from the garish era of pulp heroes and villains, as contained in the cheap mass-media magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. (This Chabon-like urge to revisit and repurpose, with improved skills and postmodern viewpoint, the literarily unfettered and ideationally and emotionally stoked popular literature of our ancestors is becoming a standard and productive move these days. It could even be argued that Wolfe's previous book, Pirate Freedom [2007], was a step in this direction, harking back as it did to Rafael Sabatini's sea adventures.)

But whereas Malmont employed historical figures and set his fiction in the past, as do the majority of pastiche-inclined authors, Wolfe takes the bold and cognitively estranging step of establishing his archaic characters and action some 100 years in the future -- the transposition of ancient modes into a future setting being another of Wolfe's hallmarks.

Yet this time around, such a move is a debatable tactic: for although Wolfe's future contains cars that can warp space, interstellar aliens, and smart-paper photos, it's a mostly notional future, existing mainly as stage-dressing. Wolfe's far tomorrow still features live theater that opens in Springfield before hitting Broadway; a U.S. president who was once a rodeo rider and talks like LBJ; flourishing print newspapers; and a computer "that spoke with the simulated voice of a Japanese woman," which accent includes the stereotypical confusion of l and r, producing a brief -- and laudably unrepeated -- cringe factor. That the novel manages mostly to surmount this hurdle of an unrealized future is testament to Wolfe's vision and skills.

Wolfe's plan for this book is to stage an archetypical knockdown conflict, with the fate of worlds in the balance, between an utterly evil villainous mastermind and a semi-noble freelance hero of superhuman talents, with a glamorous woman of no mean abilities herself forming the apex of a triangle. Think of the exploits of Doc Savage, the Shadow (referenced explicitly by Wolfe at one point), the Spider, and 100 other pulp heroes, but all skewed and transmogrified by Wolfe's more subtle insights into life, and by his finer writing.

The novel opens with the man ostensibly our hero, one Gideon Chase, being asked by the president to help pursue a putatively dastardly fellow named William Reis, who's transmitting secrets to aliens and destabilizing Earth's economy. (Reis later shows up under the alias of Wally Rosenquist, and Chase as Gil Corby, just two instances of continually mutable identities.) Chase and Reis share a connection to the alien world of Woldercan, whose natives possess many strange talents, some of which Chase and Reis seem to have adopted. Although Chase finally declines to go to work for the government, he decides to pursue Reis/Rosenquist on his own nickel.

Chase's first move is to enlist the little-known actress Cassie Casey as bait to snare Rosenquist. This involves putting Cassie through a mystical enhancement that will bring out her innate glamour and seductiveness -- a kind of latent, almost supernatural charisma that yields instant superstardom once activated. The newly magnetic Cassie becomes a half-willing, passive-agressive Mata Hari. Soon, the plot changes course to follow her harrowing, enigmatic journey through a supernatural underworld that lies outside the perceptions of mundane citizens -- leaving Chase nearly entirely offstage. When she falls in love with Rosenquist, and Chase seemingly goes to work for the man, all established relationships are upended and transvalued.

Much of the mythology and apparatus of this paranormal realm is borrowed from the work of H. P. Lovecraft. We meet such old favorites as the obscene deity Cthulhu (under a different name), his sunken city of R'lyeh, and the winged terrors known as night-gaunts, all given a distinctive Wolfean spin. But what's missing is Lovecraft's fabled evocation of "cosmic horror," a sense that the universe is unknowable by the puny brains of humanity. The vistas and forces involved, and the perpetrators of the machinations in which Cassie becomes ensnared, while baffling and at times unfathomable, seem ultimately too intimate and personal to conjure up those peculiarly Lovecraftian frissons.

While Cassie is a tolerable and reasonably plucky attractor for the uncanny events of the story, she pales next to Gideon Chase's James Bond–like stage presence, and the book suffers when Chase is exiled. True, in light of Cassie's victimhood and her cluelessness, the novel does emulate Lovecraft more than it hews to, say, Lester Dent and his prime mover, Doc Savage. So many of Lovecraft's protagonists were doomed responders and cat's-paws, rather than indomitable take-charge heroes. But this particular fealty to Lovecraft's vision is not what the novel promised in its first 100 or so pages.

What Wolfe does achieve instead is something along the lines of G. K. Chesterton's surreal farce of misread theophanic identities, The Man Who Was Thursday (1908). Genre models might be Philip K. Dick's The Cosmic Puppets (1957), in which Zoroastrian deities battle under camouflage in a small American town. Or perhaps that highly anomalous novella by Robert Heinlein, "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag," wherein a husband-and-wife team of private detectives encounter an intermittently amnesiacal fellow whose fear of madness proves to be a veil masking the workings of a malign demiurge. A backward influence from a younger writer might even be discovered in John C. Wright's The Chaos Chronicles, a trilogy that finds gods imprisoned in the bodies of teens. Finally, the improbable science-fictional tall tales of R. A. Lafferty seem to be part of the same family.

Whatever the ultimate effect, the sheer telling of Wolfe's tale exhibits all his patented deftness and slyness and misdirecting sleight-of-hand. Disjunctions between actions and their reported consequences, such as the transition between Chapters 15 and 16, and cryptic dialogue, such as the banter between Chase and Cassie regarding shape-changers (a favored motif of Wolfe's since at least The Fifth Head of Cerberus [1972]), all contribute toward a multilayered narrative that demands and repays sustained readerly attention to extract all its meaning.

Wolfe's foray into pulp thrills (he did something similar in last year's novella "Memorare") might not exactly recapture the heady days of Weird Tales. But it still delivers more than its share of slam-bang philosophical action. --Paul DiFilippo

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul DiFilippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award -- all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765321343
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 11/10/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,465,715
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Gene Wolfe lives in Barrington, Illinois.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


They sat at ease in the Oval Office. Had the president looked at his guest, he would have seen a handsome, ageless man, dark-haired, with a smooth oval face and a flawless olive complexion. Had he looked into this man's eyes, he would have seen the night looking out through a mask; it was because he had looked there once-and had not liked what he had seen-that he did not look again.

Had the president's guest looked at him, he would have seen a lean and hard-faced man of sixty-three who might have been a farmer or a county agent.

In point of fact, the president had been a rodeo rider whole decades ago. He still looked the part. Like all the best politicians, he looked like anything but a politician.

"They git you his picture?" the president asked.

His guest shook his head; on Earth, this guest was known as Gideon Chase. "Well, I'm glad." For a moment, the president's hard blue eyes glinted. "I got a bunch, an' I want to git 'em out of my desk. Give 'em to the FBI when you're through."

Gideon picked up the first and glanced at it. "Perfec'ly ordinary, ain't he, Dr. Chase?"

"There are no ordinary men, although so many believe themselves so."

"You're right, he ain't. He's ordinary lookin' is what I mean."

Gideon shook his head and tapped the figure in the photograph with a fingernail, at which the figure said, "Woldercan's a beautiful place, one I'm sure I'll miss often. But right now retirement looks awfully good to me and I'm heading for the South Seas."

"A perfec'ly ordinary-lookin' man, but if I was asked to name one evil man in our entire nation, an' if the fate of the whole damned U.S.A. was ridin' on my answer-well, sir, I'd name him."

The president waited for Gideon to speak, but Gideon did not.

"Brought up in the buildin' trade. His pa was a contractor. Become a contractor hisself, an' was smart enough to see the big money went to them that had friends in high places. You want to bellyache about it? I have, more'n once. Don't do any good." "There is no good," Gideon murmured. His voice was level, expressionless.

The president raised an eyebrow. "I know you made a reputation writin' that shit. You really believe it?"

"My belief or disbelief will not change the truth," Gideon murmured.

The president grinned. " 'What's truth?' said jestin' Pilate."

"That there is no good."

"Well, sir . . . what about evil?"

"It does not exist."

"Well now, I'd call that hombre whose picture you're lookin' at evil. If there's a evil man in the world, he's the one."

Gideon, who was not in fact looking at any of the pictures, said, "There are none." The president smiled again. "I wish I could believe it. It'd be comfortin'. Only I s'pose I'd have to give up good, too. "

"No. May I explain? You can't have a great deal of time."

"For this? I'll take as much time as I think will do any good, an' let the bastards go hang. Explain."

"Briefly, then. Today, most people think evil the mere absence of good. Darkness-which many confuse with evil-is the mere absence of visible light, after all, just as silence is the absence of audible sound. If these people were correct, there would be no evil, only a lack of good. They are wrong, and when they discover they are wrong, they leap to the opposite error. "

"Mine, " the president said.

"Yes. Would you say that evil is synonymous with cruelty? With greed?"

The president nodded. "I sure would."

"Then you cannot be correct. Cruelty and greed are very different things. Cruelty is delight in the pain of others. Greed is an insatiable desire to possess. You do not like the result of either one-unless the greed and cruelty are your own. You avenge yourself upon them by calling them evil. There is no difference in kind between your position and that of a woman who shouts "bad dog" when the puppy soils the carpet. The difference is in degree. Only."

The president pressed a button on his desk. "I think we'd best git down to business."

Gideon nodded. "So do I."

"I talked to you the way I did, 'cause I wasn't sure you was the right man for this job. You are. A wizard's what people call you, an' if anybody's qualified for this, you're the one."

Gideon rarely smiled and did not smile now, though there may have been a gleam of humor in his disturbingly dark eyes. "The only evil man meets the only qualified man, " he whispered. "Not really-come in, John! I said if there was only one evil man in the whole world, it'd have to be Bill Reis. There's a hell of a lot of evil men in the world."

"Three in particular," the man the president called John added.

"We haven't gotten to that yet, John, an' I don't think we will." The president motioned toward a chair. "Sit down."

"My error, Mr. President. I didn't know you were excluding the Senate." John was forty plus, and starting to get fat. The thick, round lenses of his glasses gave the impression of blindness.

"Explain our problem," the president told him. "Our problem with Bill Reis."

"Sure. Do you know who he is, Dr. Chase? That will save some time."

Gideon shook his head.

"He was a major contributor to President Ingstrup's first campaign. Also to his second, though that doesn't really come into it. Major contributors are often given ambassadorships. Perhaps you're aware of that."

"My father was an ambassador," Gideon remarked. "He was the U.S. ambassador to the only intelligent nonhumans known to science. . . ." He paused. "To the Wolders," John said.

"There were older sciences," Gideon murmured, "to which other intelligent races were known. So I've heard. But, yes. He was ambassador to Woldercan, as you say. I was born there. No doubt you know."

"We do. That was one of the reasons I suggested the president consult you. It wasn't the chief reason but it figured in our thinking."

"Perhaps you might like to tell me the chief reason." Gideon swept the remaining pictures toward him as he spoke.

"Your reputation. You specialize in solving problems every other expert declares are impossible or outside his area. You're expensive, we realize-"

"Not as expensive as government." Gideon was looking at the pictures as he spoke, glancing at each in turn, then laying it facedown on the president's desk, his hands sure and swift.

John laughed. "You've got us there. Of course not. But expensive. You'd have the entire cooperation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

"You can commit them?"

"Yes. You would be an adjunct to our investigation."

"How flattering." Gideon's gleam returned. "If I were to-"

The president interrupted. "Your dad was a patriot. I didn't know him personally, but I've talked to some that did. He served this country ably as a private citizen an' a diplomat. None of the people I talked to said you were much like him, but I've found out that every man in the world gits certain traits from his folks. As I told John, your not resemblin' your father on the surface tells me you'll be like him down deeper."

Nodding, Gideon swept the photographs into a neat stack and pushed the stack away.

"We can't give you a lot of money," John said, "but we have other ways of rewarding people who help us. You would be recommended to friends of the president's who might make use of you. If you'd enjoy a professorship at one of our leading universities . . ."

"I'd like to know what this man Reis has done," Gideon murmured. "Well, think it over, Dr. Chase. You have a Ph.D., don't you? Some private college in Massachusetts?"

Gideon nodded.

"There you are. It would be easy. A professorship at Harvard or Princeton could be readily arranged. It would involve very little actual work and would convey a great deal of prestige."

"What has Reis done?" Gideon spoke to the president, not to John.

"He's a spy," the president said, "an' that's just for starters. We can't nab him 'cause we got no evidence. But he travels around. He stops at sensitive spots. He don't stay long, but soon afterward our sources in-well, never you mind. In a certain foreign country, okay? They tell us certain people there have got holt of somethin' we were tryin' to hold close to our vests." Gideon shrugged. "Have him killed."

"Not 'til we find out how he does it."

John said, "He's found a .aw in a security system we thought just about flawless-not something he can exploit now and then, but something he can exploit whenever he chooses. We've got to know what it is."

"That he can exploit," Gideon murmured, "only when he is in close proximity to the facility in which your secret operations are being carried out." "He's a blackmailer, too," the president said. "We know that." "For money?" Gideon's gaze roved the room.

"Sometimes." John cleared his throat. "More often for other things. Sexual favors, at times. Introductions and information."

Gideon said, "You will have considered that he may be blackmailing someone at each of the industrial plants and laboratories he visits. They are plants or laboratories? Most of them? May I assume that?"

"He would have to meet with them, or telephone them at least," John said. Gideon looked amused. "E-mail them? Write letters? What about carrier pigeons?"

The president's hand came down on his desk with a resounding smack. "This ain't .t for humor."

"Then you shouldn't tempt me to it. Neither of you should, and both of you have." Gideon leaned back in his chair. "You'll be listening in on telephone calls. Data mining? Isn't that what you call it? You'd pick it up. You're certainly tapping the lines of those laboratories or whatever, as well as the telephones of everyone privy to sensitive information. If you prattle about cell phones now, I shall go home. I'm beginning to miss my little apartments already."

John murmured, "Just assume that we're already doing everything every ordinary person would think of. Because we are. Assume, too, that it's not working. If it were, we wouldn't have called you. We don't want you to guess what he's doing. Any such guesses would be pure fantasy. Wild guesses are of no use. We've made plenty ourselves, and they haven't helped."

The president grinned. "John's guesses, mostly. Wild as blue quail, every one of 'em. Thought readin'. Talkin' to ghosts."

"Neither are impossible." Gideon sounded pensive.

"I have done both in the past, and will doubtless do both in the future. One or both may well explain Ambassador Reis's success, although I doubt it."

John began to say something; the president silenced him with a gesture."Didn't either one of us call him that."

Gideon made a small, disgusted sound. "So now you're wondering whether I've been reading your mind. I haven't been, but you'll have to take my word for that; I can't prove it. John wanted to know whether I knew that major contributors are often rewarded with ambassadorships. He also told me that this man Reis had contributed liberally to an earlier president. The inference was obvious. My father was succeeded by a man named Klauser, but Klauser will have been replaced years ago. I surmise that Reis was ambassador to Woldercan during the Ingstrup administration. Is that correct?" "It is," John said.

"Good. Is he spying for Woldercan? To the best of your knowledge?"

Speaking simultaneously, the president said, "Yes," and John, "No."

Gideon suppressed a smile. "Not proven, I take it."

There was a pregnant silence while John waited for the president to speak. At last John said, "There are only two ways to communicate with Woldercan."

The president muttered, "That we know of."

"Ethermail can be monitored," John continued. "It's odd stuff-you probably know. Sometimes a second message gets there before the first one. Sometimes, well . . ."

"One picks up messages that have not yet been sent," Gideon said.

"The whole question of time . . . of-which things are simultaneous and which are not-is . . . I mean, when you've got worlds light-years apart . . ."

Gideon rescued him. "One the best astrophysicists suggest is insoluble."

John nodded gratefully. "That's right, and ethermail won't solve it. It only introduces more complications. I read once that congratulations from Earth on the birth of his son reached an ambassador on Woldercan before the baby was born. Back here, the State Department had received an ethermail from him saying his son had been born and even giving the son's name. I don't recall what it was-" "

Gideon." He turned to the president. "Your advisor doesn't think this man Reis is spying for Woldercan. You do. Do you have evidence?"

"Evidence that will stand up in court? No, sir. No, I don't. Only I look at what a man does." The president aimed an imaginary rifle, squinting at its sights. "Where does he go for chow, huh? When does he do it? Where does he drink, an' where does he bed down? Know them things an' you can bag the wiliest old buck that ever corralled him a harem."

Gideon nodded. "I've been known to hunt men the same way. So have you, I'm sure. What does Reis do?"

"It ain't what he does, it's what he did. He started in the minute he got home from Woldercan, an' he's got tricks I know damned well he didn't have before he went. They turned him. Think that don't happen? Think again." The president's again was almost agin. "They turned him an' they taught him, knowin' I'd want to pull him out an' replace him with my own man."

Gideon pursed his lips. "The news I've heard and read-I confess I hear and read very little-has given me the impression that Woldercan is behind us." "Technologically?" John's shoulders rose and fell. "We like to think so, but it's hard to say."

"Your opinion? I was still a child, you understand, when my family left." "Behind us in some areas and ahead in others. Ahead in biology, for example, but behind in physics. Behind us in military science-if it may be so called-but ahead in sociology. There are a number of areas I wouldn't want to guess about." "Optics?" Gideon did not smile, but his voice and eyes hinted at amusement. "That's one of them."

"Then tell me this, please. Where is Reis now?"

John shook his head. "I don't know."

"In Washington? Off in the desert at one of your secret sites?"

"I don't know, Dr. Chase, and I know of no one in government who does." "Can you at least guess at the state? Nevada? Utah? Could he be aboard a hopper going back to Woldercan?"

"I told you. I don't know."

The president said, "We want you to find out how he does it an' make him stop doin' it. That's what it comes down to. You've heard what we're offerin'. What do you say?"

"That there is a great deal you're not telling me. You talked about hunting a wily buck, knowing his habits. Surely you've had men, able agents, studying Reis." "Will you do it?" The president looked grim. "Do what we want?" "More the point," John added, "can you do it? In your own opinion." Gideon looked down at his own hands-long, dexterous hands, whose slender, ringless fingers might have belonged to a musician. "I'll answer you first. What's your last name, by the way?"

"It doesn't matter."

"In that case, John, I won't answer you at all. I'll answer our president, however. His name, at least, I know. Mr. President, I still don't know enough to say whether I can do what you wish. You've told me nothing about this man Reis's crimes other than espionage and blackmail, for example, although other crimes have been hinted at, at least twice. As it happens, I know something of those already, assuming alchemy to be criminal. I feel sure you know much more. Empty the bag for me, and we can talk rationally. Otherwise, I'll go."

"I have a .le," John said. "It's long and detailed, and we didn't have time to get into all that. Agree, and I'll give it to you."

Gideon did not look at him. "As you have outlined my little assignment thus far, it's senseless. You know that-you're far too shrewd not to. Pick up Reis. Take him to a safe house. You wouldn't have to employ torture. There are drugs. There is even hypnosis, with which a skillful operator can do much more than the public has been led to believe."

No one spoke.

"You have no comment?" Gideon rose. "Very well. I'll try with the trifling information you've given me. For my service, I want that professorship and fifty million dollars. I want both in advance."

The president snorted.

"A billion is nothing to you, but a billion is one thousand millions. I'm asking one-twentieth of a billion, and you'll have three-quarters of it back within a year through taxation."

"When the job's done, Dr. Chase. Not before."

"You don't trust me. Why in the world should I trust you? I can't and I don't." Gideon turned and went out.

The question, or so he thought as he was escorted out of the White House, was whether he would be followed.

No, there were two questions. The first was whether he would be followed. The second was whether he was being followed already. Since he knew the answer to neither, he would have to act as though the answers were yes, and yes.

He had been followed before, and in some cases had succeeded in evading his followers. It would be important to begin as though he suspected nothing.

And to tire his unseen companion-or companions-if he could. The Secret Service agent who had accompanied him out of the White House offered to flag a cab for him on the far side of the concrete barriers that had long closed Pennsylvania Avenue. Gideon declined the suggestion, said something inane about the beauty of the stifling day, and declared that he would walk.

THE airport would certainly be watched, if the president had in fact ordered the FBI to monitor his movements. The same was true of his hotel room, which would have been searched by now.

Had a bug been planted on his person? It seemed unlikely, but it was certainly possible. It was even possible that the president had anticipated that he would filch one or more photos of Reis. Bugs could be planted in thick paper, such as photographic paper, and often were. When he felt (or at least hoped) that anyone shadowing him had been both discouraged and lost, he stopped at a camera store. It cost him eight dollars to make copies of the pictures he had stolen, image only; when he had them, he ripped up the originals-wires, chips, and all-and threw them away.

Excerpted from An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe.

Copyright © 2008 by Gene Wolfe.

Published in 2008 by A Tom Doherty Associates Book.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 13 of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 5, 2010

    A Failed Attempt at Sci-Fi/Fantasy Noir

    Unfortunately, the author here is trying to do too much; when you try to combine an alien world/alternate dimension, 1940s noir, futuristic technology, magic and gods, political espionage, mystery, and romance, you usually end up with a bit of a mess. This novel is no exception. Good noir keeps a little information from its readers and good science fiction sets up the rules of the world early on in a subtle way. When you try to do both of these things, the story can be muddle and confusing. Again, "An Evil Guest" runs into this problem.

    If you're looking for something different, and can handle the confusion, this is a good quick break from other books. Otherwise, I'd stay far away.

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  • Posted January 2, 2010

    Not Gene's best, but not his most difficult either.

    Like all Gene Wolfe work, this one requires that the reader pay full attention. But I don't think my attentiveness was as rewarded here as it has been with his other works. This was OK, but I wouldn't rush out to buy it unless you are pretty committed fan of Wolfe's writing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2008

    interesting but weird fantasy

    A century from now, the President of the United States makes a fervent request of academia private detective wizard Gideon Chase, known for solving problems no one else can. He wants the wizard to figure out how Bill Reis gets past sensitive secure gates. Reis was the ambassador to the alien planet Woldercan, where he learned how to perform things that appear to defy the laws of physics. He can convert base metals into gold and can turn invisible. --- Chase starts off by searching for Reis asking actress Cassie Casey to help him. He offers her money and fame as he sees a natural talented beauty inside her that should entice Reis. Chase takes Cassie to a magic mountain where he performs a makeover enchantment that brings her beauty and talent to the surface. Cassie begins her performing to lure to bring Reis out of hiding. He becomes her angel backing a play, ¿Dating the Volcano God¿, that she is in and begins to fall in love with her. Cassie feels pulled in opposite directions by Chase and Bill. As people around her get killed, survivors starts looking at her relationship with Chase who now works for Bill. Chase takes her to a South Pacific island group where Reis is king and leaves her so she can learn whether she has a future with the monarch. Cassie learns many lessons on the island while waiting for Chase to return. --- Gene Wolf has written an interesting but weird fantasy that should be read in one sitting to fully understand what is going as so much happens in non linear ways to the heroine with two strange men of magic in her life. Cassis is a terrific protagonist who somehow holds the plot together although the audience will not realize that until the end. She deals with the two wizards and a host of supernatural beings with aplomb and charm. The publisher says ¿AN EVIL GUEST is a novel in which Lovecraft writes Blade Runner¿ inside the Twilight Zone which is as good a description as any. --- Harriet Klausner

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