Gene Rodman Wolfe (May 7, 1931 – April 14, 2019) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He was noted for his dense, allusive prose as well as the strong influence of his Catholic faith. He was a prolific short-story writer and novelist and won many science fiction and fantasy literary awards.
Wolfe is best known for his Book of the New Sun series (four volumes, 1980–83), the first part of his "Solar Cycle". In 1998, Locus magazine ranked it the third-best fantasy novel published before 1990 based on a poll of subscribers that considered it and several other series as single entries.[a]
Wolfe during Nebula Awards in Chicago (2005)
|Born||Gene Rodman Wolfe|
May 7, 1931
New York City, U.S.
|Died||April 14, 2019 (aged 87)|
Peoria, Illinois, U.S.
|Occupation||Novelist, short-story writer|
|Alma mater||Texas A&M University|
University of Houston
|Period||c. 1966 – 2019|
|Notable awards||See subsection|
(m. 1952; died 2013)
Wolfe was born in New York City, the son of Mary Olivia (née Ayers) and Emerson Leroy Wolfe. He had polio as a small child. He went to high school and college in Texas, attending Lamar High School in Houston. While attending Texas A&M University, he published his first speculative fiction in The Commentator, a student literary journal.[b]
Wolfe dropped out during his junior year and subsequently was drafted to fight in the Korean War. After returning to the United States, he earned a degree from the University of Houston and became an industrial engineer. He was a senior editor on the staff of the journal Plant Engineering for many years before retiring to write full-time, but his most famous professional engineering achievement is a contribution to the machine used to make Pringles potato chips.
Having previously lived in Barrington, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, with his wife Rosemary, Wolfe moved to Peoria, Illinois, in 2013. He underwent double bypass surgery on April 24, 2010. Wolfe also underwent cataract surgery on his right eye in early 2013. Wolfe's wife, Rosemary, died on December 14, 2013, after a series of illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease. Wolfe said, "There was a time when she did not remember my name or that we were married, but she still remembered that she loved me."
Wolfe's first published book was the paperback original novel Operation Ares (Berkley Medallion, 1970). He first received critical attention for The Fifth Head of Cerberus (Scribner's, 1972), which examines "colonial mentality within an orthodox science fiction framework". It was published in German and French-language editions within the decade.
His best-known and most highly regarded work is the multi-volume novel The Book of the New Sun. Set in a bleak, distant future influenced by Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, the story details the life of Severian, a journeyman torturer, exiled from his guild for showing compassion to one of the condemned. The novel is composed of the volumes The Shadow of the Torturer (1980), The Claw of the Conciliator (1981), winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel, The Sword of the Lictor (1982), and The Citadel of the Autarch (1983). A coda, The Urth of the New Sun (1987), wraps up some loose ends but is generally considered a separate work. Several of Wolfe's essays about writing the Book of the New Sun series were published in The Castle of the Otter (1982; the title refers to a misprint of the fourth book's title in Locus magazine).
In 1984, Wolfe retired from his engineering position and was then able to devote more time to his writing. In the 1990s, Wolfe published two more works in the same universe as The Book of the New Sun. The first, The Book of the Long Sun, consists of the novels Nightside the Long Sun (1993), Lake of the Long Sun (1994), Caldé of the Long Sun (1994), and Exodus From the Long Sun (1996). These books follow the priest of a small parish as he becomes wrapped up in political intrigue and revolution in his city-state. Wolfe then wrote a sequel, The Book of the Short Sun, composed of On Blue's Waters (1999), In Green's Jungles (2000) and Return to the Whorl (2001), dealing with colonists who have arrived on the sister planets Blue and Green. The three Sun works (The Book of the New Sun, The Book of the Long Sun, and The Book of the Short Sun) are often referred to collectively as the "Solar Cycle."
Wolfe also wrote many stand-alone books. His first novel, Operation Ares, was published by Berkley Books in 1970 and was unsuccessful. He subsequently wrote two novels held in particularly high esteem, Peace and The Fifth Head of Cerberus. The first is the seemingly-rambling narrative of Alden Dennis Weer, a man of many secrets who reviews his life under mysterious circumstances. The Fifth Head of Cerberus is either a collection of three novellas or a novel in three parts, dealing with colonialism, memory, and the nature of personal identity. The first story, which gives the book its name, was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novella.
Wolfe's writing frequently relies on the first-person perspectives of unreliable narrators. He said: "Real people really are unreliable narrators all the time, even if they try to be reliable narrators." The causes for the unreliability of his characters vary. Some are naive, as in Pandora by Holly Hollander or The Knight; others are not particularly intelligent (There Are Doors); Severian, from The Book of the New Sun, is not always truthful; and Latro of the Soldier series suffers from recurrent amnesia.
Wolfe wrote in a letter, "My definition of a great story has nothing to do with "a varied and interesting background." It is: One that can be read with pleasure by a cultivated reader and reread with increasing pleasure." In that spirit, Wolfe also left subtle hints and lacunae that may never be explicitly referred to in the text. For example, a backyard full of morning glories is an intentional foreshadowing of events in Free Live Free, but is only apparent to a reader with a horticultural background, and a story-within-the-story provides a clue to understanding Peace.
Wolfe's language can also be a subject of confusion for the new reader. In the appendix to The Shadow of the Torturer, he says:
In rendering this book – originally composed in a tongue that has not achieved existence – into English, I might easily have saved myself a great deal of labor by having recourse to invented terms; in no case have I done so. Thus in many instances I have been forced to replace yet undiscovered concepts by their closest twentieth-century equivalents. Such words as peltast, androgyn, and exultant are substitutions of this kind, and are intended to be suggestive rather than definitive.
Although he was not a best-selling author, Wolfe is highly regarded by critics and fellow writers. He was often considered to be not only one of the greatest science fiction authors, but the one of the best American writers regardless of genre. In 2003, award-winning science fiction author Michael Swanwick said: "Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today. Let me repeat that: Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today! I mean it. Shakespeare was a better stylist, Melville was more important to American letters, and Charles Dickens had a defter hand at creating characters. But among living writers, there is nobody who can even approach Gene Wolfe for brilliance of prose, clarity of thought, and depth in meaning."
Among others, writers Neil Gaiman and Patrick O'Leary have credited Wolfe for inspiration. O'Leary has said: "Forget 'Speculative Fiction.' Gene Wolfe is the best writer alive. Period. And as Wolfe once said, 'All novels are fantasies. Some are more honest about it.' No comparison. Nobody – I mean nobody – comes close to what this artist does." O'Leary also wrote an extensive essay concerning the nature of Wolfe's artistry, entitled "If Ever A Wiz There Was", originally published in his collection Other Voices, Other Doors. Ursula K. Le Guin is frequently quoted on the jackets of Wolfe's books as having said "Wolfe is our Melville."
Critic and science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, reviewing The Shadow of the Torturer, wrote: "Gene Wolfe is engaged in the holy chore of writing every other author under the table. He is no less than one of the finest, most original writers in the world today. His work is singular, hypnotizing, startlingly above comparison. The Shadow of the Torturer breaks new ground in American literature and, as the first novel of a tetralogy, casts a fierce light on what will certainly be a lodestone landmark, his most stunning work to date. It is often said, but never more surely than this time: This book is not to be missed at peril of one's intellectual enrichment." 
Wolfe's fans regard him with considerable dedication, and one Internet mailing list (URTH, begun in November 1996) dedicated to his works has amassed over ten years and thousands of pages of discussion and explication. Similarly, much analysis and exegesis has been published in fanzine and small-press form (e.g. Lexicon Urthus ISBN 0-9642795-9-2).
When asked the "Most overrated" and "Most underrated" authors, Thomas M. Disch identified Isaac Asimov and Gene Wolfe, respectively, writing: "...all too many have already gone into a decline after carrying home some trophies. The one exception is Gene Wolfe...Between 1980 and 1982 he published The Book of the New Sun, a tetralogy of couth, intelligence, and suavity that is also written in VistaVision with Dolby Sound. Imagine a Star Wars–style space opera penned by G. K. Chesterton in the throes of a religious conversion. Wolfe has continued in full diapason ever since, and a crossover success is long overdue."
Wolfe won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1996, a judged award at the annual World Fantasy Convention. He was inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named him its 29th SFWA Grand Master in December 2012; the annual Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award was presented to Wolfe during Nebula Awards weekend, May 16–19, 2013.
He was Guest of Honor at the 1985 World Science Fiction Convention and he received the 1989 Edward E. Smith Memorial Award (or "Skylark") at the New England convention Boskone. In March 2012 he was presented with the first Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Fuller Award, for outstanding contribution to literature by a Chicago author.
He also won many awards for individual works:
|"The Death of Doctor Island"||Novella||1974 Nebula Award|
|1974 Locus Award|
|"The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps"||Long Poem||1978 Rhysling Award|
|The Shadow of the Torturer||Novel||1981 BSFA Award |
|1981 World Fantasy Award |
|The Claw of the Conciliator||Novel||1981 Nebula Award |
|1982 Locus Award|
|The Sword of the Lictor||Novel||1983 Locus Award |
|1983 August Derleth Award|
|The Citadel of the Autarch||Novel||1984 Campbell Award |
|Soldier of the Mist||Novel||1987 Locus Award |
|Storeys from the Old Hotel||Collection||1989 World Fantasy Award|
|"Golden City Far"||Novella||2005 Locus Award|
|Soldier of Sidon||Novel||2007 World Fantasy Award |
|The Best of Gene Wolfe||Collection||2010 Locus Award|
|2010 World Fantasy Award|
This is a partial list of works by Wolfe, focusing on those which won awards.
A Borrowed Man is a 2015 science fiction hardboiled noir novel by Gene Wolfe.A Cabin on the Coast
"A Cabin on the Coast" is a science fantasy short story by American writer Gene Wolfe, initially published in the February 1984 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and collected in Endangered Species (1989) and The Best Of Gene Wolfe (2009). It was nominated for the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Short Story as well as the 1985 Locus award.A Walking Tour of the Shambles
A Walking Tour of the Shambles (Little Walks For Sightseers #16) (2002), written by Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe, is a novel in the form of a tour guide concerning a fictional part of Chicago called 'The Shambles'. It guides the reader through such non-existent landmarks as The House of Clocks (see the official website), Cereal House (home of the Terribly Strange Bed), and Gavagan's Irish Saloon. A collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe (cover by Gahan Wilson, with interior illustrations by Randy Broecker and Earl Geier), it was published with two different covers by the American Fantasy Press (one crediting "Gaiman and Wolfe", the other crediting "Wolfe and Gaiman".
Although Chicago doesn't have a Shambles, Philadelphia, for instance, does.Gene Wolfe's Book of Days
Gene Wolfe's Book of Days is a short story collection by American science fiction author Gene Wolfe published in 1981 by Doubleday.
The stories within the collection are each paired with a holiday within the calendar year that is thematically linked to the content of the story. Thus, a story about the resurgence of slavery ("How the Whip Came Back") is dedicated to Lincoln's Birthday.
The material here was combined with The Castle of the Otter to make the volume Castle of Days.Gene Wolfe bibliography
This is a list of works by Gene Wolfe, an American author of science fiction and fantasy, with a career spanning six decades.Home Fires (novel)
Home Fires is a 2010 science fiction novel by Gene Wolfe. It was published by Tor Books.Memorare (novella)
"Memorare" is a science fiction novella by American writer Gene Wolfe, published in 2007. It was nominated for the 2008 Nebula Award for Best Novella.Peace (novel)
Peace is a psychological fantasy/ghost story novel by American writer Gene Wolfe, published in 1975. It is the story of a man from a small Midwestern town in the early to mid-20th century, Alden Dennis Weer, who narrates various memories from different parts of his life, including his childhood, early adulthood, and middle to old age.Soldier of Arete
Soldier of Arete is a 1989 fantasy novel by American writer Gene Wolfe, published by Tor Books. The novel is a sequel to Soldier of the Mist.
Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of the Arete have been collected as Latro in the Mist.Soldier of Sidon
Soldier of Sidon is a 2006 fantasy novel by American writer Gene Wolfe.
It is the third part of the Soldier (or Latro) series of books, with two preceding novels, Soldier of the Mist (1986) and Soldier of Arete (1989). Soldier of Sidon continues the adventures of the Soldier series's protagonist, Latro, in Egypt at the time of the Achaemenid Empire.Soldier of the Mist
Soldier of the Mist is a 1986 fantasy novel by American writer Gene Wolfe, published by Gollancz in the UK and then Tor Books in the US. It has two sequels: Soldier of Arete (1989) and Soldier of Sidon (2006). Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of the Arete have been collected as Latro in the Mist.Straw (story)
"Straw" is an alternate history short story by Gene Wolfe, first published in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1975.The Book of the New Sun
The Book of the New Sun (1980 – 1983) is a series of four science fantasy novels or one four-volume novel written by American author Gene Wolfe. Alternatively, it is a series comprising the original tetralogy, a 1983 collection of essays, and a 1987 sequel. Either way, it inaugurated the so-called "Solar Cycle" that Wolfe continued after 1987 by setting other multi-volume works in the same universe.Gene Wolfe had originally intended the story to be a 40,000-word novella called "The Feast of Saint Catherine", meant to be published in one of the Orbit anthologies, but during the writing it continued to grow in size. Despite being published with a year between each book, all four books were written and completed during his free time without anyone's knowledge when he was still an editor of Plant Engineering, allowing him to write at his own pace and take his time.The tetralogy chronicles the journey of Severian, a disgraced journeyman torturer who is exiled and forced to travel to Thrax and beyond. It is a first-person narrative, apparently translated by Wolfe into contemporary English, set in the distant future when the Sun has dimmed and Earth is cooler (a "Dying Earth" story). Severian claims to have a "perfect memory", but at multiple occasions admits leaving out details and confides in the readers that he may be insane, making him an unreliable narrator.
In 1998, Locus magazine ranked the tetralogy number three among 36 all-time best fantasy novels before 1990, based on a poll of subscribers.Since the original four-volume novel, Wolfe has also written three short fictions and two book series that are set in Severian's universe.
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database catalogues it all as the "Solar Cycle" comprising the short works and three sub-series.The two later subseries are The Book of the Long Sun (1993–1996, four volumes) and The Book of the Short Sun (1999–2001, three volumes). Long Sun is set on a generation ship and Short Sun features the inhabitants of that generation ship after their long journey. Two of the Long Sun books were nominated for Nebula Awards.The Claw of the Conciliator
The Claw of the Conciliator is a science fantasy novel by American writer Gene Wolfe, first released in 1981. It is the second volume in the four-volume series The Book of the New Sun.The Knight (novel)
The Knight is a fantasy novel written by American author Gene Wolfe depicting the journey of an American boy transported to a magical realm and aged to adulthood who soon thereafter becomes a knight. The first of a two-part tale known collectively as The Wizard Knight is told in an epistolary style, and contains elements from Norse, Arthurian, and Christian Mythology. It received a nomination for the Nebula Award in 2005.The Land Across
The Land Across is a fantasy novel by Gene Wolfe. It was published in 2013 by Tor Books.The Shadow of the Torturer
The Shadow of the Torturer is a science fantasy novel by American writer Gene Wolfe, published by Simon & Schuster in May 1980. It is the first of four volumes in The Book of the New Sun which Wolfe had completed in draft before The Shadow of the Torturer was published. It relates the story of Severian, an apprentice Seeker for Truth and Penitence (the guild of torturers), from his youth through his expulsion from the guild and subsequent journey out of his home city of Nessus.
In 1987, Locus magazine ranked The Shadow of the Torturer number four among the 33 "All-Time Best Fantasy Novels", based on a poll of subscribers.The Sorcerer's House
The Sorcerer's House is a 2010 epistolary fantasy novel by Gene Wolfe. It was published by Tor Books.The Sword of the Lictor
The Sword of the Lictor is a science fantasy novel by American writer Gene Wolfe, first released in 1982. It is the third volume in the four-volume series The Book of the New Sun.
Works by Gene Wolfe
|The Book of the New Sun|
|The Book of the Long Sun|
|The Book of the Short Sun|
|The Soldier series|
|The Wizard Knight|
|Short story collections|
Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Awards (SFWA Grand Masters)