Gene Wolfes first collection of short stories contains some of his best shorter work. Several of the stories are distinguished novellas, such as “The Death of Doctor Island,” “The Doctor of Death Island,” “The Eyeflash Miracles,” and “Seven American Nights.” The rest are fine short works. When the volume was published, Wolfe was known primarily as the author of The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972) and the mainstream novel Peace (1975). The appearance of this collection in the same year as Wolfes The Shadow of the Torturer (1980), the first volume of the Book of the New Sun sequence, helped to consolidate Wolfes position as a major science-fiction author.
The unifying themes of this collection are the isolation of the human condition and the importance and healing power of illusion. The three stories that use “island” in their titles deal with variations on the theme of isolation.
In the title story, “The Island of Doctor Death” and “Other Stories,” Wolfe counterpoints a lonely boys miserable life in an old house with the boys escape found through reading a science-fiction adventure. In the story, Captain Ransome lands on the island of Dr. Death, who, like H. G. Wells’s Dr. Moreau, practices sinister experiments on animals. Ransome eventually escapes from Dr. Death with the help of Bruno, a semihuman dog, and overthrows Dr. Deaths rule with the help of Talar, a princess descended from...
(The entire section is 564 words.)