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The Fifth Head Cerberus Mass Market Paperback – May 5, 1955


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ace (September 1, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441235018
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441235018
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A brothel keeper's sons discuss genocide and plot murder; a young alien wanderer is pursued by his shadow double; and a political prisoner tries to prove his identity, not least to himself. Gene Wolfe's first novel consists of three linked sections, all of them elegant broodings on identity, sameness, and strangeness, and all of them set on the vividly evoked colony worlds of Ste. Croix and Ste. Anne, twin planets delicately poised in mutual orbit.

Marsch, the victim in the third story, is the apparent author of the second and a casual visitor whose naïve questions precipitate tragedy in the first. The sections dance around one another like the planets of their settings. Clones, downloaded personalities inhabiting robots, aliens that perhaps mimicked humans so successfully that they forgot who they were, a French culture adopted by its ruthless oppressors--there are lots of ways to lose yourself, and perhaps the worst is to think that freedom consists of owning other people, that identity is won at the expense of others.

It is easy to be impressed by the intellectual games of Wolfe's stunning book and forget that he is, and always has been, the most intensely moral of SF writers. --Roz Kaveney, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Review

"Gene Wolfe is unique. If there were forty or fifty of this first-rate author--no, let's be reasonable and ask Higher Authorities for only four or five--American literature as a whole would be enormously enriched." --"Chicago Sun-Times" "One of the major fictional works of the decade...Wolfe's novel, with its elusiveness and its beauty, haunts one long after reading it." --Pamela Sargent "A richly imaginative exploration of the nature of identity and individuality." --Malcolm Edwards, "The Science Fiction Encyclopedia" "SF for the thinking reader..The style is highly literate and the ideas sophisticated and handled with sensitivity." --"Amazing SF" "One of the 100 best science fiction novels...A truly extraordinary work. One of the most cunningly wrought narratives in the whole of modern SF, a masterpiece of misdirection, subtle clues, and apparently casual revelations." --David Pringle --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

The book is atmospherically sinister, intricate and complex with an unreliable narrator.
Charlie B
And here one can see the genesis of the techniques that Wolfe used in later works, such as his masterpiece The Book of the New Sun.
Christopher Culver
BTW, if you want to get someone interested in a book, don't tell him that he has to read it several times to understand it!
LostMarble

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By 5 Elements Style on February 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
When I originally read this book, I had trouble making it through the first of the three novellas. I wasn't prepared for Wolfe's many layers, and thus missed a great deal of symbolism and hidden meaning.
When I came back to this book and read the final two novellas, something clicked and I realized how beautiful and subtle a writer Wolfe is, filled with ideas. The stories are interpretable many ways, and thus with each reading of them I find myself thinking more and more, and enjoying the book more and more.
For anyone who is interested in the deeper meanings of Wolfe's works, I would suggest searching the Internet Public Library for criticism on him, specifically the Post-Colonial thought found throughout the novellas in Fifth Head of Cerberus.
Get this and all of Gene Wolfe's works.
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43 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Michael Battaglia on May 9, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Out of the many, many fine books Gene Wolfe has done, this is probably considered his greatest single novel (as opposed to the Long Sun, Short Sun, etc series, all of which deserve their critical acclaim) due to its richness and complexity. People looking for an easy way to break into Wolfe's writing won't find it in this book, he piles on the head hurtin' stuff pretty early and it doesn't let up, adding layer upon layer of meaning and detail to the point where the reader cannot ignore it, you have to spend time actively interepreting the novel or reading it becomes a wasted effort. Such is the genius of Wolfe and of not taking the easy way out. The novel actually consists of three fairly separate novellas and while Wolfe could have devised some vague basic linkage and taken three novellas and dumped this arbitrary linkage over them and been done with it, he goes way further than that. The novellas are all different, but they're also all connected in some way, either through offhand scenes or subtle clues or overarching themes or perhaps all of that and more. There's a reason for nearly everything done in the book, from the placement of the novellas to the order of events happening in each section, heck, even the titles are chosen for specific reasons that resonate within the structure as a whole. The first novella sets the scene, a pair of sister planets orbiting each other, colonized by man, and rumored to have once been home to a race of shapeshifters who may have been so good at shapeshifting that they took humanity's place and then promptly forgot they did (the "copy is not the original, or is it?Read more ›
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Culver TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 26, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
THE FIFTH HEAD OF CERBERUS, Gene Wolfe's first book-length work of note, is a collection of three seemingly unrelated novellas that are, at the close of the third, shown to be cunningly interlinked. The first novella, "The Fifth Head of Cerberus", was published in one of Damon Knight's Orbit anthologies in 1974, while the latter two were written and published together to expand the themes and plot of the first. The setting of it all is Sainte Anne and Saint Croix, two sister planets revolving around a common center of gravity in a far-away solar system, colonized first by Frenchmen and later occupied (in a brutal fashion, it is hinted) by later waves of English-speaking colonists. Before men arrived, legend goes, Sainte Anne was inhabited by an indigenous race of shapeshifters, which humans wiped out. Or did the aboriginals wipe out the colonists, imitating them so faithfully that they forgot their own origins? The novellas touch upon many themes of post-colonial theory.

In the first novella, a young man grows up in a strangely sheltered environment on Saint Croix, discovering at last the secrets of his scientist father's work. Here, the aboriginal inhabitants of the sister planet are only briefly mentioned, but the plot has much more local concerns. The second novella "'A Story' by John V. Marsch" is inevitably confusing to first-time readers, and initially seems unrelated to the first. It is the story of an adolescent's initiation to manhood in a primitive society, a dreamquest that brings him across a bizarre landscape and introducing him to various tribes espousing peculiar religious beliefs. In the third novella, "V.R.T." a bureaucrat on Saint Croix goes over the diaries of an imprisoned anthropologist.
Read more ›
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
How does one even begin to describe The Fifth Head of Cerebrus. Needless to say, very few authors have ever had a first novel that good. In fact, very few authors have ever written any novel that good. A lot of people found the book strange and complicated...well so did I, and that's the whole allure of this book.
Mr. Wolfe has an amazing imagination, as you will immediately see upon reading any of his novels. Fifth Head is filled with haunting visions of a distant colony in the far future; technology is advanced in some areas but antiquated in many others. The society and culture are masterfully rendered.
The second novella is about a young man finding his twin; the viewpoint of these people is so strange and alien that I should have quickly become confused or bored. And yet I didn't; such was Wolfe's mastery of the writing style. No matter how strange things got, you read right along as if you had no other option.
The third novella consists of a military captain reading a prisoner's diary, returning to the society of the first novella. Again, the pure imagination is astounding. The characters seem like real, tangible people, not prefabricated creations placed down for our amusement. They are real people coping with impossibly strange situations.
If you're looking for a good book to read, then read The Fifth Head of Cerebrus. No, it's not light reading, but it's worth every minute. After reading this book, I immediately became a Wolfe fan. Great, amazing stuff.
Oh, and if you liked this book, I recommend Frank Herbert's "Dune" and Dan Simmons' "Hyperion." These books also have outlandish and amazing scenes, worlds, people, technology, etc.
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More About the Author

Gene Wolfe is winner of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, and many other awards. In 2007, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. He lives in Barrington, Illinois.

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