Gene (Rodman) Wolfe Joanna Russ - Essay

Joanna Russ

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Operation Ares by Gene Wolfe … is going to do the author's reputation a disservice someday. I know what Mr. Wolfe can do when he sets his mind to it; Ares is far below his best. It is a convincing, quiet, low-keyed, intelligent book which somehow fades out into nothing. The characters are surprisingly decent; time after time there are touches of good observation and well-textured realism, but in the end Mr. Wolfe doesn't really seem to care. The book uses an interesting technique of presenting things obliquely; big events happen offstage, and often the explanations of events will be given long after the events themselves—I don't mean that this is mystification but that the significance of many things only becomes apparent long afterwards. One of the best things in the novel is its intense concentration on the present moment—time after time one swallows stereotypes without realizing that's what they are (the rational, naive Martians, the emergency government that can only harass and annoy, the fear of scientific "heterodoxy"). But all in all, the novel is a failure, shadowy and inconclusive. Books like this are generally called "promising," but by the time you read this review, Mr. Wolfe will be as far above Operation Ares as Ares is above the worst science fiction hackwork.

Joanna Russ, "Books: 'Operation Ares'" reprinted by permission of Ellen Levine Literary Agency, Inc.; copyright © 1971 by Mercury Press, Inc.), in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Vol. 40, No. 4, April, 1971, p. 69.