Operation ARES


  • First publication 1970 by Berkley.



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This was Wolfe's first published novel. It is generally regarded as the product of Wolfe's apprenticeship as an author (reference needed) and rarely plays a significant role in the analysis of Wolfe's body of work.

In an interview with Peter Wright in 1997, published in the volume Shadows of the New Sun1, Wolfe states that the publication of Operation ARES was a high point of his career as an author, but goes on to say that he considers the book greatly inferior to his later work; to the extent that he has attempted to keep it out of print.

He also offers an explanation for the disjointed nature of the narrative: the publishers, Berkley Books, imposed a 60,000 word limit on the work while Wolfe initially offer for publication a text of 103,000 words. Furthermore, the editting of the final three-quarters of the book was done not by Wolfe, but by his publisher Don Benson who removed text by the paragraph to acheive the word limit. The first quarter of the book was edited by Wolfe in a less brutal manner. This editing also delayed the publication of the book; Wolfe claims that the original was completed 3 to 4 years before the publication of the heavily edited version.

Since publication the book has received next to no critical attention -- the contrast with The Fifth Head of Cerberus published only two years later could not be greater. However, some Wolfe aficionados have found the text of minor interest in studying the formation of ideas that came to greater prominence, and to be described with greater eloquence, in Wolfe's later work2.

There is a clear conservative libertarian theme in this text, including, for example, apologia for gun ownership and polemics against the state provision of welfare. Wolfe describes this as indicative of his political opinions at the time it was written. In a 1992 interview with James B. Jordan, he says:

"I think it reflected them [his political views] at the time that I wrote it. I don't think it does now...I was much more a doctrinaire conservative when I was a good deal younger...I reacted away from the general political current in this country post-Roosevelt and became pretty much a "William F. Buckley conservative" for a while, and then kind of split off from that. I am now in the unhappy position of finding no one that I agree with."

Its doctrinaire conservative moral earned this book a good review in the libertarian journal Free Life.

Wolfe is said to have been encouraged to write this novel by Damon Knight, who suggested that a novel might be developed from the short story "The Laughter Outside at Night" (reference needed).


[1] Peter and the Wolfe: Gene Wolfe in Conversation, Shadows of the New Sun, chapter 11.

[2] Peter Wright, Attending Daedalus.


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Unresolved Questions

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