A Borrowed Man

  • by Gene Wolfe
  • Narrated by Kevin T. Collins
  • 9 hrs and 32 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A Borrowed Man: a new science fiction novel from Gene Wolfe, the celebrated author of the Book of the New Sun series.
It is perhaps a hundred years in the future, our civilization is gone, and another is in place in North America, but it retains many familiar things and structures. Although the population is now small, there is advanced technology, there are robots, and there are clones.
E. A. Smithe is a borrowed person. He is a clone who lives on a third-tier shelf in a public library, and his personality is an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Smithe is a piece of property, not a legal human. A wealthy patron, Colette Coldbrook, takes him from the library because he is the surviving personality of the author of Murder on Mars. A physical copy of that book was in the possession of her murdered father, and it contains an important secret, the key to immense family wealth. It is lost, and Colette is afraid of the police. She borrows Smithe to help her find the book and to find out what the secret is. And then the plot gets complicated.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Mysteries and Marvels

What are you getting here?

First off, this is an entertaining Chandleresque detective story in the classic mould, albeit with a futuristic setting. Everything is present and correct and beautifully executed: there are mysteries to be solved, witnesses to be interviewed, thuggish cops to be outwitted and even a gorgeous femme fatale. There are clues to be found and followed and, at the end of the book, the detective hero gives us a thoroughly logical and satisfying solution to the puzzle.

On that basis alone, this is well worth listening to.

But, as always with Wolfe, there is a lot more going on. This is a science fiction novel and there are big ideas lurking around corners and surprising technological marvels to be encountered.

And, as if that were not enough, there are deeply disturbing issues moving quietly beneath the bright surface of the story which give this novel a haunting and memorable depth.

The young hero, E. A. Smithe, is a human recloned from the cells of a dead mystery novelist, programmed with his forebear's memories and sculpted to look like his former self as an older man. He has been sterilised and his brain has been hacked so that, whatever his thoughts, he can only speak in the stilted language of the author's expository prose. Worst of all, he is now a property rather than a person and is owned by a public library which literally keeps him on a shelf, where he may be consulted or even taken out and borrowed. And he is not allowed to write.

How Smithe gets round these barriers and survives in a brutal and dystopian society where he theoretically cannot own anything and is legally regarded as less than human forms the narrative and emotional core of the novel.

This is the future as seen from the bottom of the pile, John Steinbeck as much as Raymond Chandler, as good as either and thoroughly and distinctively Gene Wolfe.

The narrator for this audio edition has a tough challenge in that he has to capture both the artificiality of the hero's speech and the colloquialism of his thoughts. As you can see from their reviews on Amazon.com, some listeners have been dissatisfied with his efforts, but while it was undoubtedly strange at first, this listener soon got used to the reader's deliberately stilted diction and thoroughly enjoyed the audio experience.
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- N. Price "Fan of SF, fantasy and Victorian fiction."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 20-10-2015
  • Publisher: Audible Studios