cover image A Borrowed Man

A Borrowed Man

Gene Wolfe. Tor, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7653-8114-9

Ern A. Smithe lives “on a Level Three shelf in the Spice Grove Public Library,” from which—as a “reclone” of the novelist whose name he bears—he may be borrowed at any time. Heiress Colette Coldbrook checks him out to help solve the mystery of her brother’s murder, the key to which involves a Smithe novel from the library of Colette’s late father. Reclone Smithe soon learns that he and Colette are in danger, and that her father’s secret is stranger than he could have imagined. Smithe lives in an exhausted, decadent near future where the world’s population has dwindled to a billion, library reclones like Smithe have no rights and are destined for incineration if no one consults them or checks them out, and a “defective” mute woman risks being arrested by the state. Wolfe (The Land Across) builds this SF noir into a strange, unsettling story, deceptively simple and old-fashioned in style and plot, but full of disturbing details that are intensified by the deadpan humor and matter-of-fact flatness of Smithe’s narrative voice. Agent: Vaughne Hansen, Virginia Kidd Literary. (Oct.)