Hundreds of years in the future our civilization is shrunk down but we go on. There is advanced technology, there are robots.
And there are clones.
E. A. Smithe is a borrowed person, his personality an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Smithe is a piece of property, not a legal human.
As such, Smithe can be loaned to other branches. Which he is. Along with two fellow reclones, a cookbook and romance writer, they are shipped to Polly’s Cove, where Smithe meets a little girl who wants to save her mother, a father who is dead but perhaps not.
And another E.A. Smithe… who definitely is.
My quick take: Interesting and thought provoking in ways but felt disjointed and confusing at the end. BTW, I also realized that don’t really enjoy mysteries where you are supposed to figure out the clues as you go or novels with layers of meaning you are supposed to peel back with multiple readings if you don’t catch them at first.
Publishers Weekly offered more effusive praise:
This devious, often difficult series ender pushes its Gothic aesthetic to an extreme until the plot becomes a surreal fever dream. Throughout, Wolfe raises questions about the agency of the clones, challenging whether Smithe is really any less human than his borrowers. It’s a sardonic view of human relationships on offer, leavened with a droll, punny narrative voice. Complex and clever, this last offering from Wolfe is sure to please sci-fi readers.
For a deeper, more critical, exploration see Craig Brewer at Ultan’s Library:
To my mind, looking at Smithe’s tale as a slave narrative means that this novel can be called a success, even if it was truly unfinished, because it retains a thematic unity even when its plot is inscrutable. That is one of the unusual marks of Wolfe’s success as a writer: he can confuse us but still make us feel like we are not completely lost, so that we enjoy and understand the thrust of a story though some of its nuts and bolts remain mysterious. That is why so many people return to the Solar Cycle when they do not understand large portions of the story: it still has a narrative arc of redemption while many of the plot details remain puzzles. The arguments about so many of Wolfe’s later novels seem to hinge on whether there are sufficient reasons to keep reading even in the face of the weirdness, but Smithe’s stories are successes even within that framework. The book isn’t entirely satisfying as a reading experience, but as a conception of a complete story, I think we have enough to see where Wolfe was going.
I think overall, this genre and author are not my style; or at least I wasn’t in the mood or place to enjoy them to the fullest.