The Doctor of Death Island (1978) by Gene Wolfe

“You mean I’ll live forever?” The thought was almost too great for him to grasp. Words in his mind became fleeting pictures of a hillside covered with long, sweet grass. A hillside smiling in the sun. Day always. No night ever.

In Gene Wolfe’s 1980 collection The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories, there are three tales which play with the words of the book’s title:

  1. The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories
  2. The Death of Doctor Island
  3. The Doctor of Death Island

I read the first one last year and really enjoyed it. I haven’t read the second one yet. I’ve just finished reading the third one for my Short Story Tarot Challenge.

Brief Summary

Alan Alvard wakes up in a prison hospital. He has just been pulled out of cryogenic freezing and is debating whether he is actually dead or not. As his body recovers from its hibernation, he is visited by a familiar face from his past.

My Thoughts

Gene Wolfe’s stories have a unique atmosphere all of their own. There’s just something different about them which is hard to pin down. The Doctor of Death Island is a character-driven story that slowly reveals what happened to main protagonist Alvard. His world is limited to a few simple locations including his hospital room, the visitor’s room, and the roof of the building he is confined to. Alvard is taken up to the roof to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine, but when he looks up into the sky he is confronted with something bewildering.

Gene Wolfe is a writer famous for his use of the unreliable narrator. In The Doctor of Death Island, he is careful with how much he reveals about the characters as well as the story. The reader is given snatches of backstory which can differ in details depending on whose point of view you hear it from. I enjoy this feeling of not being sure where the truth lies. I find it’s better to just sit back and let the story come to you–as much as Gene Wolfe allows it to, anyway.

I was a little disappointed with the ending because it just stops mid-sentence and, I guess, leaves the rest to the reader. But it was a fascinating read overall. Gene Wolfe may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I’ve enjoyed everything of his I’ve read so far. Even the ones that–

Monday March 2nd, 2020


Well then, it must be time to choose another story. I’ve noticed that two months into my challenge, I have yet to draw a card from the suit of Pentacles. I’ve also only had one card from the suit of Wands: (the Nine). The Cups and the Swords have come up three times each.

After a long shuffle, I draw the trump card XVIII The Moon. This card is associated with a journey into our subconscious which could lead to fear or self-realization. The short story paired with this card is INNUMERABLE GLIMMERING LIGHTS (2016) by Rich Larson. It’s another story from the Clockwork Phoenix 5 anthology.


Thanks so much for reading. See you next time.


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