The Washington Post
An Evil Guestby Gene Wolfe
Lovecraft mets Blade Runner. This is a stand-alone supernatural horror novel with a 30s noir atmosphere. 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/i>/i>… See more details below
Lovecraft mets Blade Runner. This is a stand-alone supernatural horror novel with a 30s noir atmosphere. 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 a story of an actress who becomes the lover of both a mysterious sorcerer and private detective, and an even more mysterious and powerful rich 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. And the rich man is the benefactor 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."
The Washington Post
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.
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.
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Read an Excerpt
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?"
"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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