Gene Wolfe. Donovan Sent Us. (Year’s Best SF 15)

Originally in : Other Earths.

I had been looking forward to reading a Gene Wolfe story in this volume, but in the end was rather let-down.

It’s a Second World War alternate history – what if the USA didn’t join in, and the Germans won. The political setting in America is also different, as Eisenhower isn’t president anymore, but a President Kuhn, of the German-American Bund. Having read the story on the train, with no Google on hand, I had to wait to get home to find out about this anti-semitic, anti-communist, pro-Hitler piece of 1930s American History. I struggled to engage with the story – an American parachuted into occupied Britain to rescue a VIP. The American is fluent in German, but in speaking English in the guise of the German, he speaks in a terrible cod-German not very far off ‘ve haff vays of making you talk’. He infiltrates a bunker quite easily, and co-incidentally stumbles across the VIP, whom he rescues. Pondering next steps over a fine cigar (there’s your clue as to the identity of the VIP), the perceived potential threat to world peace of the VIP leads to an unexpected denouement.

I wouldn’t have identified this as a Gene Wolfe story, and it comes from the same anthology as Robert Charles Wilson’s ‘”This Peaceable Land, or, The Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beacher Stowe”‘, which I enthused about at length, and which is a country mile ahead of this story in terms of quality. Unless of course Wolfe is being very, very clever, and there’s a clue in there that I’ve missed that gives fuller richness to his story.

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