Wolfe, Gene 1931–
Wolfe, Gene 1931–
(Gene Rodman Wolfe)
PERSONAL: Born May 7, 1931, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Roy Emerson (in sales) and Mary Olivia (Ayers) Wolfe; married Rosemary Frances Dietsch, November 3, 1956; children: Roy, Madeleine, Therese, Matthew. Education: Attended Texas A&M University, 1949–52; University of Houston, B.S.M.E., 1956. Religion: Roman Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 69, Barrington, IL 60011.
CAREER: Procter & Gamble, project engineer, 1956–72; Plant Engineering, magazine, Barrington, IL, senior editor, 1972–84; writer. Military service: U.S. Army, 1952–54; received Combat Infantry badge.
MEMBER: Science Fiction Writers of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Nebula Award, Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), 1973, for novella The Death of Doctor Island; Chicago Foundation for Literature award, 1977, for Peace; Rhysling Award, 1978, for poem "The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps"; Illinois Arts Council award, 1981, for short story "In Looking-Glass Castle"; World Fantasy award, 1981, for The Shadow of the Torturer, 1996, for life achievement; Nebula Award, SFWA, and Locus award, both 1982, both for The Claw of the Conciliator; British Science Fiction Award, 1982; British Fantasy Award, 1983; Locus award, 1983, for The Sword of the Lictor; John W. Campbell Memorial Award, Science Fiction Research Association, 1984, for The Citadel of the Autarch; World Fantasy Award, 1989, for collection Storeys from the Old Hotel.
Operation ARES, Berkeley Publishing (New York, NY), 1970.
The Fifth Head of Cerberus (three novellas), Scribner (New York, NY), 1972, reprinted, Orb (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Ursula K. LeGuin and James Tiptree, Jr.) The New Atlantis, and Other Novellas of Science Fiction, edited by Robert Silverberg, Hawthorn (New York, NY), 1975.
The Devil in a Forest (juvenile), Follett (Chicago, IL), 1976, reprinted, Orb (New York, NY), 1996.
Free Live Free, Ziesing Bros. (Willimantic, CT), 1984, revised edition, Tor (New York, NY), 1985.
The Urth of the New Sun (sequel to "The Book of the New Sun" series), Tor (New York, NY), 1987.
There Are Doors, Tor (New York, NY), 1988.
Seven American Nights (bound with Sailing to Byzantium, by Robert Silverberg), Tor (New York, NY), 1989.
Pandora by Holly Hollander, Tor (New York, NY), 1990.
Castleview, Tor (New York, NY), 1991.
Castle of Days, Tor (New York, NY), 1992, reprinted, Orb (New York, NY), 1995.
Sword and Citadel, Orb (New York, NY), 1994.
Shadow & Claw (contains The Shadow of the Torturer, and The Claw of the Conciliator), Orb (New York, NY), 1994.
The Knight, Tor (New York, NY), 2003.
The Wizard (sequel to The Knight), Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
"THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN" SERIES
The Shadow of the Torturer, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.
The Claw of the Conciliator, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.
The Sword of the Lictor, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982.
The Citadel of the Autarch, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
Soldier of the Mist, Tor (New York, NY), 1986.
Soldier of Arete, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Soldier of Sidon, Tor (New York, NY), 2006.
"THE BOOK OF THE LONG SUN" SERIES
Nightside the Long Sun, Tor (New York, NY), 1993.
Lake of the Long Sun, Tor (New York, NY), 1993.
Calde of the Long Sun, Tor (New York, NY), 1994.
Exodus from the Long Sun, Tor (New York, NY), 1995.
"THE BOOK OF THE SHORT SUN" SERIES
On Blue's Waters, Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
In Green's Jungles, Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
Return to the Whorl, Tor (New York, NY), 2001.
The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1980, reprinted, Orb (New York, NY), 1997.
Gene Wolfe's Book of Days, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1981.
The Wolfe Archipelago, Ziesing Bros. (Willimantic, CT), 1983.
Plan(e)t Engineering, New England Science Fiction Association (Cambridge, MA), 1984.
Bibliomen: Twenty Characters Waiting for a Book, Cheap Street (Newcastle, VA), 1984.
Storeys from the Old Hotel, Kerosina, 1988, reprinted, Orb (New York, NY), 1995.
Endangered Species, Tor (New York, NY), 1989.
Young Wolf: A Collection of Early Stories, U.M. Press (Weston, Ontario, Canada), 1992.
Strange Travelers, Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
Innocents Aboard: New Fantasy Stories, Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
Starwater Strains, Tor (New York, NY), 2005.
Peace (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1975, reprinted Tor (New York, NY), 1995.
The Castle of the Otter (essays), Ziesing Bros. (Willimantic, CT), 1982.
Empires of Foliage and Flower, Cheap Street (New Castle, VA), 1987.
For Rosemary (poetry), Kerosina, 1988.
Letters Home, U.M. Press (Weston, Ontario, Canada), 1991.
Contributor of stories to anthologies, including awards anthologies Best SF: 70, 1970, Nebula Award Stories 9, The Best SF of the Year #3, and Best SF: 73, all 1974. Also contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Omni, New Yorker, and Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.
SIDELIGHTS: Gene Wolfe is a prolific novelist and short story writer whose science fiction and fantasy works have garnered a number of awards and endeared him to many fans. When Wolfe returned from serving in the Korean conflict, he worked as an industrial engineer for approximately fifteen years. One of the inventions for which he is responsible is a machine used in the manufacture of Pringles potato chips. Wolfe's interest lay elsewhere, however, and he edited the trade magazine Plant Engineering for a dozen years before becoming a full-time writer.
"With the publication of his series 'The Book of the New Sun,' Gene Wolfe entered the ranks of the major contemporary writers of science fiction," Pamela Sar-gent asserted in Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers. The series is set on Earth and takes place far in the future in a society reminiscent of medieval Europe in its social structure, where long-forgotten technologies appear magical. When Severian, an apprentice torturer, is exiled from his guild for aiding the suicide of a prisoner he loves, he begins a journey of discovery that culminates in his elevation to Autarch, ruler of Urth. "The far-future world of Urth through which Wolfe's characters move is a world of beauty and horror, one in which humanity's great accomplishments are not only past, but also nearly forgotten, and in which the lack of resources makes the knowledge that remains nearly useless," noted Sargent. Severian, however, possesses perfect recall, and his retrospective narration abounds in detail and meaning. As Thomas D. Clareson noted in his Dictionary of Literary Biography essay, Severian's account is "a rich tapestry rivaling any imaginary world portrayed in contemporary science fiction"; Clareson called the series of books "one of the high accomplishments of modern science fiction."
While "The Book of the New Sun" series has been celebrated for the vividness of its descriptions, reviewers also commend Wolfe's intricate imagery. It is this layering of image and meaning that has led critics to praise the overall literary quality of Wolfe's series.
While The Urth of the New Sun continues Severian's story, it is "neither afterthought nor reprise," Times Literary Supplement reviewer Colin Greenland remarked. The novel traces the journey of Severian, now Autarch, as he travels to a high galactic court to petition for the "new sun" that will renew Urth. In Free Live Free, Wolfe adds the power of the occult to the mix.
In the series that begins with Soldier of the Mist, Wolfe offers an innovative account of Latro, a soldier of ancient Greece whose memory is wiped clean every time he sleeps—payment for having seen the gods. La-tro's condition necessitates the keeping of a journal in which he records each day's events—with each new day he must read the journal and relearn his life. Guided by his text and various gods, Latro journeys to regain his memory. Wolfe continues Latro's story in Soldier of Arete, in which Latro becomes embroiled in the political and military rivalry between Greece and Sparta. John Calvin Batchelor observed in the Washington Post Book World that Soldier of the Mist, while difficult reading, is "a work of consequence." The author "is a master of science fiction," Batchelor concluded, "and for the best of all reasons, vaulting ambition." A third book in this series, Soldier of Sidon, was published seventeen years later.
Some of Wolfe's novels are set in contemporary American society and present the intrusion of fantastic elements into mundane reality. A subtle example of this is Pandora by Holly Hollander, a murder mystery narrated by a teenage girl named Pandora in which the investigation focuses on the contents of a mysterious box. In contrast, Castleview is an out-and-out fantasy in which the longtime residents of Castleview, Illinois, have all seen visions of a medieval castle floating in air. In the course of the novel, in which the reader follows the arrival to town of Will E. Shields, new owner of the local auto dealership, figures from Arthurian legend appear along with the fictional feline Puss-in-Boots and increasing numbers of dead bodies from bizarre accidents.
Although Wolfe became famous for his novels, the "The Book of the New Sun" series in particular, his literary reputation is also bolstered by his short fiction, notably the collections Storeys from the Old Hotel, a highly accessible gathering of imaginative fiction, and Endangered Species, a somewhat more challenging volume of philosophically inclined tales. The book was republished in a volume entitled Castle of Days that also includes the essay collection The Castle of the Otter as well as previously unpublished fiction and nonfiction. Clareson contended in his Dictionary of Literary Biography essay that Wolfe is "a major figure whose stories and novels must be considered among the most important science fiction published in the 1970s. He will undoubtedly become increasingly significant in the 1980s because he skillfully uses the materials of science fiction and fantasy to explore the themes which dominate contemporary fiction." "Gene Wolfe is a writer for the thinking reader," Sargent similarly stated; "he will reward anyone searching for intelligence, crafted prose, involving stories, and atmospheric detail. He is the heir of many literary traditions—pulp stories, fantasy, adventure stories of all kinds, and serious literature—and he makes use of all of them," she continued. "His work can be read with pleasure many times; new discoveries are made with each reading, and the stories linger in one's mind."
In the early 1990s, Wolfe started a new multivolume series to rival "The Book of the New Sun." "The Book of the Long Sun" includes the novels Nightside the Long Sun, Lake of the Long Sun, Calde of the Long Sun, and Exodus from the Long Sun. The main character of the series is a cleric named Patera Silk, whose universe comprises the vast interior of the cylindrical starship Whorl, an environment lighted by a "long sun" that runs the length of the cylinder. The society inside the Whorl is roughly medieval, but there are numerous elements of high—albeit decaying—technology. Silk's adventure begins when he prophesies the existence of a god, the Outsider, who is not one of the nine who rule the Whorl.
Tom Easton, reviewing Nightside the Long Sun in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, commented that "Wolfe is a master of style and texture." "His writing is stamped by extraordinary grace," added Easton in a review of the series' second volume, Lake of the Long Sun. "It flows so smoothly and clearly and evocatively that one is hardly aware that one is reading and not living."
The volumes of the "The Book of the New Sun," "The Book of the Long Sun," and "The Book of the Short Sun" series represent the whole of the "Solar Cycle." "The Book of the Short Sun" includes On Blue's Waters, In Green's Jungles, and Return to the Whorl. Blue and Green are the planets colonized by travelers from Urth. Horn is a colonist who journeys to the Long Sun Whorl to bring Silk back to Blue to become its governor. The three books of the series document his adventure. In the first volume, Horn goes by boat to the town of Pajarocu, from which a trip to the Whorl is supposed to be launched, but the head of the expedition takes his passengers instead to Green, where vampirelike inhumi capture and kill humans who stumble into their realm. As his adventures continue, he is perceived to be a wizard and encounters all manner of beings, including shape-shifters. In the final installment, travelers on the Whorl populate Blue and Green, and the complex threads of the series are pulled together. Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "Sentence by sentence, Wolfe is as fine a writer as science fiction has produced. He demands a lot from his readers. It is worth meeting him more than halfway."
"The richness of the three volumes of 'The Book of the Short Sun' beggars description," wrote Robert K.J. Killheffer in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. "As he has proven time and again, Wolfe can conjure worlds and characters to people them more vividly in the interstices of his text than most other writers can do in ten thousand words of lump description." In reviewing Return to the Whorl, Killheffer noted that Wolfe incorporates distinct religious themes into the series, saying: "Not even the Christological overtones of 'The Book of the New Sun' approach the overt meditations on ethics, the spirit, truth, redemption, and God that pervades this later series." Killheffer further commented, "It is a further measure of Wolfe's talents that he can merge the traditionally incompatible idioms of religion and sf so smoothly that the combination feels most effortless."
The Knight and The Wizard are two volumes of an epic tale about a teenage boy who finds himself in a magical universe. After an elf queen turns him into a powerful man, he deems himself a knight, Sir Able of the High Heart, and continues on a quest that requires not only sorcery, but also the human skills of courage and strength as he traverses a universe that exists on seven levels and acquires his sword, Eterne. His quest includes his confrontation with the Frost Giants, who are intent on capturing humans from the warmer South to work in their fields. A Publishers Weekly contributor reviewed the first volume, describing it as "a compelling, breathtaking achievement."
In The Wizard, described as "mordant, thrilling, all tangled up in heavy knots of double crossing and magic," by a Kirkus Reviews contributor, Sir Able is twenty years older and has regained the powers that had been taken from him. A Publishers Weekly writer who felt that this book can stand alone, or even be read first, commented: "Wolfe's words wash over the reader with transparent grace and charming playfulness."
Wolfe continues to publish well-received collections, including Innocents Aboard: New Fantasy Stories, which consists of twenty-two stories of fantasy and horror. In reviewing the volume for Publishers Weekly, the contributor wrote: "Wolfe is a literary treasure, as shown in these short stories as lucid as diamonds of the first water." "Short fiction doesn't often get better than this in the English language, let alone just in fantasy," commented Roland Green in Booklist.
The stories of Starwater Strains are of different lengths, with two longer pieces featuring a reality show that involves the government and a talking dog and a teen boy. A Publishers Weekly contributor described "Petting Zoo" as one of the "minor masterpieces." This tale finds an aging dinosaur and his human friend reminiscing about old times. The reviewer wrote that Wolfe's "ear for dialect shines in little morsels of horror like 'The Fat Magician' and the apocalyptic 'Mute.'" School Library Journal contributor Sandy Freund wrote that "the writing is perfectly suited to each story—clear and precise, with not a word wasted."
Wolfe once commented, "The books and stories I write are what are usually called escapist, in the pejorative sense. They do not teach the reader how to build a barbecue, or get a better job, or even how to murder his mother and escape detection. I have never understood what was wrong with escape. If I were in prison, or aboard a sinking vessel, I would escape if I could. I would try to escape from East Germany or the U.S.S. R., if I were unfortunate enough to find myself in one of those places. My work is intended to make life—however briefly—more tolerable for my readers, and to give them the feeling that change is possible, that the world need not always be as it is now, that their circumstances may be radically changed at any time, by their own act or God's."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Andre-Driussi, Michael, Lexicon Urthus: A Dictionary for the Urth Cycle, Sirius Fiction (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 9, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 25, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 8: Twentieth-Century American Science-Fiction Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
Gordon, Joan, Gene Wolfe, Borgo Press (San Berna-dino, CA), 1986.
Lane, Daryl, William Vernon, and David Carson, editors, The Sound of Wonder: Interviews from "The Science Fiction Radio Show," Volume 2, Oryx (Phoenix, AZ), 1985.
Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, August, 1990, p. 143; June, 1991, p. 178; June, 1994, p. 161; February, 1995, p. 159; November, 2000, review of In Green's Jungles, p. 131.
Booklist, July 1, 1975; November 1, 1982; August, 1989; November 15, 1992; September 15, 1994, p. 118; August, 2000, Roberta Johnson, review of In Green's Jungles, p. 2126; February 15, 2001, Roberta Johnson, review of Return to the Whorl; December 15, 2003, Roland Green, review of The Knight, p. 735; July, 2004, Roland Green, review of Innocents Abroad: New Fantasy Stories, p. 1830; November 1, 2004, Roland Green, review of The Wizard, p. 472.
Chicago Tribune Book World, June 8, 1980; June 14, 1981.
Chronicle, February, 2004, Don D'Ammassa, review of The Knight, p. 30.
Extrapolation, summer, 1981; fall, 1982.
Kansas Quarterly, summer, 1984.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1999, p. 1854; October 15, 2004, review of The Wizard, p. 990.
Library Journal, November 15, 1990, p. 95; December, 1992, p. 191; August, 1994, p. 139; September 15, 1994, p. 94; December, 2003, Jackie Cassada, review of The Knight, p. 173.
Locus, February, 1990; December, 1993; August, 1994; September, 2002, "The Wolfe and Gaiman Show."
London Tribune, April 24, 1981, article by Martin Hillman.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 3, 1983, David N. Samuelson, review of The Citadel of the Autarch, p. 4; June 6, 1993, James Sallis, review of Nightside the Long Sun.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April, 1971; May, 1978; May, 1980, Algis Budrys, review of The Shadow of the Torturer, p. 23; June, 1981; September, 1994, p. 16; October, 2001, Robert K.J. Killheffer, review of Return to the Whorl, p. 49.
New York Times Book Review, July 13, 1975; September 12, 1976; May 22, 1983; November 24, 1985; July 2, 1989; May 13, 1990; May 9, 1993, p. 20; January 2, 1994, p. 22; September 11, 1994, Gerald Jonas, review of Calde of the Long Sun, p. 46.
Publishers Weekly, September 8, 1989; November 9, 1992; September 13, 1999, review of On Blue's Waters, p. 65; December 20, 1999, p. 61; January 22, 2001, review of Return to the Whorl, p. 307; December 1, 2003, review of The Knight, p. 45; June 14, 2004, review of Innocents Abroad, p. 48; October 11, 2004, review of The Wizard, p. 61; June 27, 2005, review of Starwater Strains, p. 46.
School Library Journal, November, 2005, Sandy Freund, review of Starwater Strains, p. 183.
Science Fiction Review, summer, 1981.
Times (London, England), April 2, 1981.
Times Literary Supplement, May 18, 1973; January 15, 1988; January 15, 1988, Colin Greenland, "Miracles Recollected in Tranquility," p. 69.
Washington Post Book World, May 25, 1980, James Gunn, review of The Shadow of the Torturer, p. 8; March 22, 1981; July 26, 1981; January 24, 1982; January 30, 1983; November 24, 1985; October 26, 1986, John Calvin Batchelor, "Warriors, Gods, and Kings"; October 27, 1987; August 28, 1988; April 30, 1989; January 31, 1993; December 26, 1993; October 23, 1994.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1988, Fred Lerner, review of The Urth of the New Sun, p. 42; February, 2001, review of In Green's Jungles, p. 437.
Infinity Plus Web site, http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/ (October, 2003), Nick Gevers, Michael Andre-Driussi, and James Jordan, "Some Moments with the Magus: An Interview with Gene Wolfe."