By Ann Zydek
WARSAW — I enjoy reading new science fiction and discovering what writers imagine future libraries will be like especially as our library’s new strategic plan takes shape. One such book was “The Secret Chapter” fantasy by Genevieve Cogman with time-travel, spies and dragons.
But I have to admit “Interlibrary Loan,” Gene Wolfe’s final work of fiction, a sequel to “A Borrowed Man,” was the most unexpected novel involving libraries I have read recently. In it, libraries loan “reclones” of book authors.
Celebrated author Michael Swanwick said in 2003 that Wolfe was the “greatest writer in the English language alive today … for brilliance of prose, clarity of thought and depth in meaning.” Wolfe lived 87 years, recently in Peoria, Ill., where he died last year. He received many awards including the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.
I found “Interlibrary Loan” a fascinating futuristic read crammed with subplots and imagery. The core storyline is difficult to explain. Initially it appears to be a science fiction mystery told primarily by reclone Ern A. Smithe, a borrowed person who is the property of the Spice Grove Public Library. He is not “legally” human as his personality is an uploaded recording of a dead mystery writer.
In Ern’s world, humans are few with most work done by robots and other advanced technology such as a house that keeps on building another room or two daily so long as people live inside it and its program receives money to sustain the owners, borrowed reclones and itself.
Ern and two other reclones, Millie (cookbook writer), and Rose (romance author), are interlibrary loaned to a secluded seaside town library three days away. Ern is checked out by Chandra, a teenager. With no detectives around to hire, Chandra wants Ern to help her discover why her father mysteriously went missing years ago, unmask the “black thing” appearing in her home and search for treasure that may all be tied to a remote “isle of corpses” that her father visited. Although he feels underqualified, he agrees. Things get complicated fast.
Suspend reality and enjoy Ern’s adventures including finding in the library a reclone of himself murdered, falling in love with reclone Audrey and sailing and exploring a mysterious island ice cave where he encounters a tall silent man who gives him a metal box that changes reality and quirky people half alive or dead for centuries.
Is Ern human? You decide.