‘I want to leave a record of what has happened to me, so that if someone comes for me, and finds me dead, he will understand.’
TRACKING SONG by Gene Wolfe was originally published in 1975. It first appeared in the anthology In the Wake of Man, which also featured stories by R.A. Lafferty and Walter F. Moudy. The story’s next appearance was in Wolfe’s own collection The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (1980). It is 70 pages long. (You can find it here in issue #90 of Lightspeed Magazine.)
The protagonist of the story has lost his memory and his way. He wakes up in a wintry landscape after being found by a local tribe of animal-like humanoids. He cannot remember his own name nor where he is from. The tribe members call him “Cutthroat” due to a birthmark on his neck. They tell him they discovered his unconscious body in the snow after the ‘Great Sleigh’ had passed. What the Great Sleigh is, he also can’t recall. Cutthroat sets off on a journey to find the Great Sleigh, seeking answers to who he is and where he came from.
I really enjoyed TRACKING SONG. It gave me the feeling of being taken to another world that was similar to Earth, but far in the future after some sort of global catastrophe. At one point, Cutthroat reaches an abandoned city in a cave. I felt like I was there, even though I didn’t know where it was. Wolfe’s writing is vague yet filled with atmosphere. Things aren’t explained in this story. The reader is expected to fill in any gaps or make their own interpretations of what is happening. But this is a good thing.
Cutthroat has encounters with a number of different animal-humanoid tribes on his journey. Their differences are described so well by Wolfe in his economical, precise prose. This story proves that you don’t need paragraphs of description when so much can be said with so little. Such fine writing!
I loved the wintry landscape setting of the story. Wolfe is careful to remind the reader of the true perils of the cold. If you don’t keep that fire burning while you sleep, you might never see another dawn.
I am delighted that TRACKING SONG was the first story of my ‘Short Story Tarot Challenge‘. It has reminded me just how good a writer Gene Wolfe was. And it has got me excited about reading again.
Saturday January 11th 2020
So, onto the next story. I’m shuffling the Tarot deck now and will draw my next card. ….. It is:
The Ten of Cups. This card represents “Satiety.” As a general interpretation this is a very positive card. It represents happiness, fulfillment and contentment. So, a big change from last week’s card! I see it as suggesting that I am feeling good because I have completed my first short-story review for this challenge. Doubly so, because it was such a great story. OK, what’s next?
The story assigned to the Ten of Cups is “The Poet in the Hologram in the Middle of Prime Time” by Ed Bryant. Cool title! It is taken from Nova 2 (1972) Edited by Harry Harrison. I’ve heard of Ed Bryant but I don’t recall reading any of his stories before. I love this feeling of anticipation when you are about to start reading a new-to-you story by an author you may or may not have experienced before. Here’s hoping for something as cool as its title.
Thanks for reading! See you in the next post:-)