A great sun has set.
April 15, 2019 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Gene Rodman Wolfe, 1931-2019. A titan of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and American literature has passed.

Previously.
posted by doctornemo (112 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
I just finished rereading The Book Of The New Sun. Damn that man was a genius.

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posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:42 AM on April 15 [8 favorites]


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posted by Token Meme at 9:43 AM on April 15


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posted by Archer25 at 9:45 AM on April 15


Oh, how sad, although he had a long life and leaves great work behind him.

A really terrific writer who honestly should be famous outside of "we like fancy-pants science fiction" circles - even though he's very famous there. One of very, very few conservative writers whose work I can read.
posted by Frowner at 9:46 AM on April 15 [17 favorites]


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posted by Slothrup at 9:52 AM on April 15


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posted by mordax at 9:53 AM on April 15


My favorite Gene Wolfe story concerns a visit to a class John Clute was teaching. They had read The Shadow of the Torturer. One of the students asked “Early on, Severian bring Thecla four books. Two are named, and the third seems to be a hagiography. Was the fourth one The Book of the New Sun?” Wolfe stared at the student for a moment and replied “You won’t catch me out so easily.”
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:56 AM on April 15 [23 favorites]


This is very sad.

I've been attempting to read through The Book of the New Sun for the past few years. It is a dense read but one that I still enjoy despite how obtuse it feels at times. I may have to go back and give it another attempt because I see what he's doing, I'm just having trouble with it on a personal level.

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posted by Fizz at 10:00 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I met Wolfe several times. At each encounter he was so friendly, genial, and patient.

The first time I was about 24 years old. Attending an sf convention, listening to a panel, I looked to my right and thought, huh, that guy looks a lot like Gene Wolfe. I squinted at his badge and made out "G...e... n... e... W..."
I nearly levitated out of my chair.

The Book of the New Sun had blown me away by then. I'd done cosplay from it. My copies were marked up and read nearly to death (a couple of years later my wife and I would take them on our honeymoon). I'd pored over his cryptic stories and read at least two other novels while walking Ann Arbor's streets, unable to put them down.

I think I said something like "Mr Wolfe? What a pleasure no an honor um did you ah have erm ByzantinecultureinmindwhenyoucameupwiththeworldofUrth?"

He smiled gently, then spoke carefully of Greek linguistics and the influence of the western middle ages on fantasy.

I think my brain fused into a Bose–Einstein condensate. I pestered the poor fellow frantically before he was swamped by other fans.

Every time I saw him afterwards he was the same: kind, thoughtful, always open. Never predictable in what he'd say.

I've read, I think, everything he's published since. Stories, poems, novels that are extraordinary in human literature. I tried to own it all. Haven't taught the stuff yet.

I wanted very much to ask him about his military experience after my brief time in war. I never will.

Ah hell. I can't say more.
posted by doctornemo at 10:00 AM on April 15 [26 favorites]


I have an unfinished fan letter on my hard drive that I will never send.

I'll probably post excerpts here later.

But I am somewhat consoled that I somehow managed to say the right thing the one time I got to meet Mr. Wolfe. When I asked him to sign his then-new book Soldier of Sidon, he asked me what I thought of it and I said I wasn't sure because I had only read it once.

Oh how he loved that! He signed my book, "To Michael, for his insight." And it made me glad because that was one of the best and truest things I can say about Wolfe's books. They reward re-reading.

Wolfe tells of his first time reading The Fellowship of the Ring that he rationed himself to read only one chapter a night. But then he decided there was a loophole: he could go back and re-read all the previous chapters before starting the next one. And I often think that Wolfe's ideal reader that he wrote for was someone who would go back and re-read everything before starting each chapter.

I enjoy his writing so much that I think I might observe his death by doing that. Maybe with the first two Soldier books, or The Book of the New Sun, or Peace.
posted by straight at 10:05 AM on April 15 [22 favorites]


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posted by disclaimer at 10:05 AM on April 15


Oh this makes me sad. Wolfe is my favorite writer, but that's too facile a way to describe it. Wolfe is the writer in my mind, the one whose work I'm most certain I will never be able to exhaust or wear out. I've never written fan mail, but I have a letter that he wrote me, in response to one that my wife wrote to him on my behalf, in secret, as a birthday gift. It's a funny and clever note, and he sent an autographed chapbook along with it.

Here's a description I'm borrowing from Wolfe himself: if I approach his books on my shelf at home, I can almost feel the magic radiating from them.
posted by Ipsifendus at 10:13 AM on April 15 [7 favorites]


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posted by Unioncat at 10:20 AM on April 15


I read several of his books in my early teens; I suspect I didn't appreciate their full contents. *ahem* And yet I still remember them standing out above so much of the 1970s-80s SF & fantasy.

Which I am best to re-begin with -- Shadow of the Torturer (and thus the Book of the New Sun)?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:20 AM on April 15


☀️ 📚 🗡️
posted by Fizz at 10:21 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


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posted by RedOrGreen at 10:24 AM on April 15


This is not unexpected but still very sad.
I was happy and more, and if an old instructor had appeared and demanded to know the reason for my joy, I would only have laughed at him for needing causes and explanations in so simple a matter. I was alive, and the Outsider who knows very well what sort of creature I am-cared about me in spite of all.
"This is what I have," I told him, and raised my bread and my bottle, displaying them to the low, gray clouds. "I beseech you to share them with me, and I pray that you will not object to me and my animals sharing them with you."
Then I broke the bread in two, laid half of it upon his altar, and poured wine over it, cautioning Oreb not to touch it. After that, I wet a bit with a little wine and gave it to Oreb, ate a bite myself, drank deeply from the bottle and recorked it, and put away what remained of the bread.

He came, and stood behind me on the hilltop.

I have been preparing myself to describe that the whole time I have been writing, and now that the moment has come I am as wordless as my horse.

I knew that he was there, that if I turned, I would see them.

I also knew that it was not permitted me, that it would be an act of disobedience for which I would be forgiven but whose consequences I would suffer.

In Green's Jungles

posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:28 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 10:30 AM on April 15


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posted by /\/\/\/ at 10:32 AM on April 15


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posted by Gymnopedist at 10:35 AM on April 15


God, this one stings, especially so soon after the similarly dense Scott Walker. Is death trying to butcher the world into a more simple place?

If you're reading this and haven't read Wolfe and the Book of the New Sun sounds too daunting, try Peace. It's a fabulous and disquieting experience whatever level you read it at.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:36 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


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posted by jkaczor at 10:37 AM on April 15


Wolfe really changed my way of viewing fiction. The narrator is part of the story. I had never seen this before. It changes everything! I mostly read history but I'm aware that history is written by the victors. Now I look constantly for the side-views, the narrative that the author is hiding.
posted by SPrintF at 10:37 AM on April 15 [7 favorites]


My favorite Gene Wolfe story concerns a visit to a class John Clute was teaching. They had read The Shadow of the Torturer. One of the students asked “Early on, Severian bring Thecla four books. Two are named, and the third seems to be a hagiography. Was the fourth one The Book of the New Sun?” Wolfe stared at the student for a moment and replied “You won’t catch me out so easily.”

I don't understand this anecdote. What did Wolfe mean?
posted by The Tensor at 10:38 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


The Book of the New Sun had blown me away by then. I'd done cosplay from it.

Appropriate, in that the New Sun books were in part inspired by Wolfe seeing someone cosplaying as a torturer or execution at a con.

I first found The Book of the Sun decades ago n a bookshop on holiday and read it obsessively sitting on a beach somewhere. While eating Pringles. Took me years to learn how appropriate that was.

Goodbye, Gene. Thanks for everything.
posted by permafrost at 10:42 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


I've read the Book of the New Sun three times. I've read two books about the Book of the New Sun. I've only barely understood it. But it's still worth it.

He was a giant.
posted by adamrice at 10:43 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


"The Book of the New Sun" is the name of the 4 book series that begins with The Shadow of the Torturer but also the name of the book the narrator is writing in the world of the story. The people were asking Wolfe to confirm a theory about how time travel may or may not affect the narrative.
posted by straight at 10:44 AM on April 15 [7 favorites]


Permafrost, I think the story is that Wolfe saw costumers at cons, and thought it would be pleasant to have a character who would make for an easy costume. So he thought of a torturer, and it grew into five books.

Yes, five books. The Urth of the New Sun is a coda to the tetrology.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 10:47 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Wolfe really changed my way of viewing fiction. The narrator is part of the story.

Wolfe almost never used (damn, that past tense is killing me) a third-person perspective because there is no such thing as a third-person perspective and he considered "unreliable narrator" to be redundant.
posted by straight at 10:47 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


One of the greatest writers of our time. Book of the New Sun is an unrivaled work of genius.
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posted by Edgewise at 10:49 AM on April 15


Wolfe really changed my way of viewing fiction. The narrator is part of the story.

It's often the case in a Wolfe story that the composing of the story is itself an element of the plot; almost all of his longer works are texts that are also supposed to exist in the "imaginary" world that the text is about.
posted by Ipsifendus at 10:51 AM on April 15




From the introduction to the collection Castle of Days, where Wolfe also sneaks in a bonus story to reward people who read introductions:
I would like to leave you with a handful of words on how to read stories, these stories at least.

I urge you not to read one after another, the way I eat potato chips. The simple act of closing this book and putting it away for another day will do a great deal for the story you have just read and even more for the next...

Lastly, let me urge you to treat this and all books with respect. We will all benefit if you do. You cannot judge this book now. You will not even be able to judge it rightly when you have read its last story. Ten (or twenty) years from now you will know it was a good book if you remember any of the tales you are about to read.

Meanwhile, its author begs you to preserve it as a physical object, so that at an appropriate time it can be shared by others. If you have bought it, those others may be friends you have not met or children you have thus far only dreamed of. If you have borrowed it from a library, they are your peers in the community, having the same rights in it as yourself.
posted by straight at 10:54 AM on April 15 [12 favorites]


(I do remember tales I read in that book twenty years ago.)
posted by straight at 10:57 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


oh no.

🐺
posted by Iridic at 10:58 AM on April 15


Aw man. I read The Land Across a couple months ago and I’m still thinking about it. Time to grab some Pringles and start another one.
posted by rodlymight at 11:02 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


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posted by mstokes650 at 11:06 AM on April 15


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He's one of those authors I haven't read a lot of but feel like I ought to get around to someday. Which is still true.

I have one (second-hand) anecdote that's stuck with me:

Apparently, he had a reputation as a nice guy among authors because when someone asked him about a book of theirs, his response was either positive or "Unfortunately, I haven't read it." The reason for this is that he would stop reading a book as soon as he stopped enjoying it so he never read a book he didn't like.

This simple philosophy has saved me so much time and effort.
posted by suetanvil at 11:12 AM on April 15 [9 favorites]


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Oof. Just an utterly fantastic writer. I'll give his books. To my nephew someday.
posted by East14thTaco at 11:13 AM on April 15


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posted by telophase at 11:15 AM on April 15


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posted by Halloween Jack at 11:22 AM on April 15


Wolfe is my favorite author, but I always want to warn people that many of his books and stories contain misogyny and rape. I'm certain that his intent was always to say, "This is the way a lot of men treat women; it is horrible, and I refuse to ignore or romanticize it." But it is still there and I think not wanting to read depictions of those things would be a completely valid reason for someone not to want to read his books.
posted by straight at 11:31 AM on April 15 [10 favorites]


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posted by Sphinx at 11:46 AM on April 15


Wolfe wrote some amazing books; along with Book of the New Sun my favorite is the under-rated Peace. A few of his later books have some troubling missteps, but his wonderful prose, wisdom, and depth and breadth of knowledge make his books like no one else's
posted by librosegretti at 11:50 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


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posted by imelcapitan at 11:55 AM on April 15


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posted by Splunge at 11:59 AM on April 15


Time to grab some Pringles and start another one.

For people wandering in: Wolfe had a day job as an industrial engineer and invented/designed the core machines for making Pringleses.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:01 PM on April 15 [16 favorites]


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posted by Lynsey at 12:03 PM on April 15


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posted by Doktor Zed at 12:05 PM on April 15


Today has not been my favorite day.

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posted by Justinian at 12:14 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


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posted by juv3nal at 12:15 PM on April 15


Gene Wolfe was one of the greats. The Book of the New Sun series, in particular, was an important text for me in my teens. My favourite work of his though was the Fifth Head of Cerberus. That book lead me to a lot of places intellectually that I hadn't experienced before which I was really grateful. I re-read it last year (it is a rarity for me to re-read anything) and fell in love it all over again. He'll be missed but he leaves behind a great body of work that was always destined to outlast him.
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:16 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I think Wolfe's best books are:

The Book of the New Sun (series, including the 5th book Urth of the New Sun)
Soldier of the Mist / Arete
On Blue's Waters (book one of Short Sun series)
Peace
Fifth Head of Cerberus
and stories collected in Endangered Species, Book of Days, and The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories

and his second-best books are:

The Book of the Long Sun (series)
Wizard Knight (two volumes)
The Devil in a Forest
Free Live Free
remainder of the Short Sun series
(maybe Pirate Freedom or Sorcerer's House? too soon to tell)
stories collected in Storeys from the Old Hotel - some of those go in the first tier

Gene Wolfe's novels are great but, in the opinion of his editor, David Hartwell, "Wolfe's body of short fiction is unequaled by anyone alive."

Here's my list of favorite and/or most accessible Wolfe short stories, listed by the collections where you can find them:

Best of Gene Wolfe: "Forlesen," "Westwind," "Seven American Nights," "A Cabin on the Coast"

Castle of Days: "How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion," "The War Beneath the Tree," "Forlesen"

Storeys from the Old Hotel
: "Westwind," "Trip, Trap,"

The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories: "The Death of Dr. Island," "Tracking Song," "Seven American Nights"

Endangered Species: "A Cabin on the Coast," "The Last Thrilling Wonder Story," "When I was Ming the Merciless," "War Beneath the Tree," "The HORARS of War," "The Other Dead Man"
posted by straight at 12:23 PM on April 15 [17 favorites]


"Then there's the cathedral," [said the old woman.] "I suppose you've heard about that?"

"The cathedral?"

"I've heard tell it wasn't what cityfolk call a real one—I know you're from the city by the way you drink your tea—but it's the only cathedral most of us around Saltus ever saw, and pretty too, with all the hanging lamps and the windows in the side made of colored silk. Myself, I don't believe—or rather, I think that if the Pancreator don't care nothing for me, I won't care nothing for him, and why should I? Still, it's a shame what they did, if they did what's told against them. Set fire to it, you know...They just stood back and watched it burn. It went up to the Infinite Meadows of the New Sun, you know."

A man on the opposite side of the alleyway began to pound a drum. When he paused, I said, "I know that certain persons have claimed to have seen it rise into the air."

"Oh, it rose all right. When my grandson-in-law heard about it, he was fairly struck flat for half a day. Then he pasted up a kind of hat out of paper and held it over my stove, and it went up, and then he thought it was nothing that the cathedral rose, no miracle at all. That shows what it is to be a fool—it never came to him that the reason things were made so was so the cathedral would rise just like it did. He can't see the Hand in nature."
-The Claw of the Conciliator
posted by Iridic at 12:33 PM on April 15 [16 favorites]


I am just now re-reading, after 20 something years, the Book of the New Sun series. Now on Sword. And let me tell you I am loving this series. The writing is so good. When I read it in college so much of it washed over me, but now I can take it so much more and it's a really good read. I want to know how to write like that. (The misogyny throughout is not good, and it's tempting to dismiss that as "a product of its time," but that would be wrong. It's a stain on what is otherwise an amazing series.) RIP, Gene Wolfe. You most definitely left a legacy, a canon of works I'll spend years getting through.

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posted by zardoz at 12:49 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


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posted by Foosnark at 12:54 PM on April 15


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The Shadow of the Torturer was a revelation for me as a young reader. I think it was the first book I had read where I really noticed and enjoyed the quality of the writing. After reading it I still keep looking for more books like that.
posted by mmmtofu at 1:06 PM on April 15


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posted by fleacircus at 1:12 PM on April 15


"This is the way a lot of men treat women; it is horrible, and I refuse to ignore or romanticize it."

I have no doubt that was his approach to it, but as a practical matter it has been a constant issue when I want to recommend books to female readers. Particularly The Book Of The New Sun, which I believe will survive into Literature classes as a great novel of the 20th century, suffers from this. It’s a shame, that’s all.

He definitely produced a lot of material without that problem though. So at least he is accessible as an author.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:13 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Valya Dudycz Lupescu onRembering Gene Wolfe.
posted by Ipsifendus at 1:14 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


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posted by HumanComplex at 1:16 PM on April 15


Ashwagandha: My favourite work of his though was the Fifth Head of Cerberus. That book lead me to a lot of places intellectually that I hadn't experienced before which I was really grateful. I re-read it last year (it is a rarity for me to re-read anything) and fell in love it all over again.

Reading The Fifth Head of Cerberus in my late teens was a profound reading experience. It's such an immensely well-crafted world, believable down to the smallest detail. It made me a lot less forgiving of authorial corner-cutting. But it also was one of the books I read which ended up leading me away from science fiction, which was 90% of what I read between the ages of 10-20, but has since made up perhaps 10%, as there aren't many science fiction works that can match it for how well made it is as a text.

It is rare to find the kinds of joy that Gene Wolfe offered readers, both in terms of world-building and writerly craft, on their own. Even rarer together in single works.

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posted by Kattullus at 1:17 PM on April 15 [7 favorites]


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posted by lalochezia at 1:18 PM on April 15


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posted by crocomancer at 1:24 PM on April 15


Also, as others have pointed out, his short fiction is fantastic, and often just as bewildering and dense as his novels. I have read "The Tree is my Hat" at least three times, trying to solve the puzzle of it, and think I've failed. Have to read it again. And again. And again.
posted by zardoz at 1:26 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


“This is simple truth: Tonight you and I, with billions of others, are sitting around the fire we call “the sun,” telling stories; and from time to time it has been my turn to entertain.”

— From the introduction to Endangered Species
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:27 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]


Goddamn, in the post-Game of Thrones conversation last night about puzzles in book series I was talking up Wolfe as the master.

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posted by xiw at 1:27 PM on April 15


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posted by Faint of Butt at 1:28 PM on April 15


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posted by misteraitch at 1:30 PM on April 15


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posted by Anonymous Function at 1:39 PM on April 15


I have bounced off The Book of the New Sun every time I've tried to read it. But now is as good a time as any to try again.

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posted by nubs at 1:49 PM on April 15


RIP. Great author, tax day is already shitty enough this year universe, just stop.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:53 PM on April 15


but as a practical matter it has been a constant issue when I want to recommend books to female readers.

as a female reader and great admirer of his books, who is sorry he is dead but who does not care for or find excuses for the way these things and people were represented, it is alarming to hear that such things are no issue for male readers, or present no equally great problem for those wanting to recommend books to male readers.

if these representations are easy for men to read, that is a great blow to the argument that Wolfe did it on purpose to trouble the reader. I would say that a male reader who is not bothered by these recurrent themes and Wolfe's treatment of them is not able to handle the material. which is a pity, because there are great virtues in it as well as faults, and it's a shame for men to be deprived of them.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:56 PM on April 15 [20 favorites]


Gene Wolfe's novels are great but, in the opinion of his editor, David Hartwell, "Wolfe's body of short fiction is unequaled by anyone alive."

Agreed.

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posted by soundguy99 at 2:02 PM on April 15


straight: "Gene Wolfe's novels are great but, in the opinion of his editor, David Hartwell, "Wolfe's body of short fiction is unequaled by anyone alive.""

Absolutely. The Book of the New Sun is incredible, but you are missing out if you don't pick up some of his short story collections.

If you missed it in the Tor story in the FPP, this New Yorker profile of Wolfe from 2015 is good.

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posted by Chrysostom at 2:10 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


nubs: "I have bounced off The Book of the New Sun every time I've tried to read it. But now is as good a time as any to try again."

This book
might help you out.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:12 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


it is alarming to hear that such things are no issue for male readers, or present no equally great problem for those wanting to recommend books to male readers.

There is a difference between troubled and traumatized, and I regret to say that the life experience of some the female readers I’ve talked to about the books would lead to the latter. We discussed it and they’d rather not.

If I found someone male or female who wasn’t troubled by those things I most likely wouldn’t be recommending books to them.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:31 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


When he was inducted in 2007 into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, Wolfe gave a surprisingly brief and self-effacing (almost shy) acceptance speech (this is paraphrased from my notes, but it was no longer than this):

"I'm not the most appropriate person to receive an award for Gene Wolfe. There are many people here who know him much better than I do: his wife Rosemary, his daughter Teri, David Hartwell, Gardner Dozois, Michael Andre-Driussi. I know Gene Wolfe as a scared little man, always groping around for an idea he can use. Not just an idea, but one that will bear fruit. I might plant it, but it is the sun and the rain and the soil and God that do most of the work to make it grow. This is one of the greatest honors of my entire life and standing here before you I feel shaken to my very core, so I hope you will forgive me if I do not stand here any longer."
posted by straight at 2:45 PM on April 15 [16 favorites]


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posted by inexorably_forward at 2:59 PM on April 15


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posted by XMLicious at 3:31 PM on April 15


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posted by lumpenprole at 3:46 PM on April 15


Terminus Est
posted by zakur at 3:54 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Again I'm thrown because I knew his name, and knew he was an author, but for years I had thought he was something completely different, I don't know what.

It's a shame that I only really learned what he really did today, but now I want to read his work.
posted by bongo_x at 3:56 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Hartwell and Dozois are gone, too. Sigh.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:12 PM on April 15


Such a good writer that it's hard to talk to him about people who don't know his work without sounding liked you've made him up to tease them.

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posted by mikelynch at 4:28 PM on April 15 [7 favorites]


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posted by offalark at 4:36 PM on April 15


Well, shit.
posted by inire at 4:41 PM on April 15


People talk about Wolfe's unreliable narrators and subtly tricky plots that leave some things for the reader to figure out and other things just unexplained. But the thing Wolfe does that I think is even more central to his style is the deliberate frustration of expectations. He is constantly leading the reader to expect and want something (information, a plot development, a turn in the conversation, an action scene, an explanation) but then giving the reader something else. That something else is usually strange and beautiful (or aweful), but you can only enjoy it if you can let go of your desire to have the other thing. For me, reading Wolfe sometimes feels almost like a spiritual discipline.

(And sometimes Wolfe pushes it too far, or farther than I'm willing to go. Some of his conversations seem willfully obtuse in ways that I stop seeing the character and only see Wolfe playing games. And setting aside expectations doesn't mean never being critical of the places he does go.)
posted by straight at 4:56 PM on April 15 [9 favorites]


I tried reading several of the New Sun books and never developed any interest—never understood the appeal. Then I randomly read Soldier of the Mist. Wow. So great.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:13 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Gene Wolfe was the only author who made me feel barely literate and I mean that in the very best way.

... and I just now found out there was a third Soldier book published about a decade ago. How could I have missed that? This is like waking up and realizing it's Christmas Morning and you had no idea it was even December.
posted by Justinian at 7:02 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


'Forlesen' is one of those weird short stories that kinda sticks in your head...
posted by ovvl at 7:03 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


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From November thru January I read all of the Solar Cycle in publication order, tagging tye Latro books on the the end (thereby saving a first-read of “Soldier of Sidon” for dessert). What a magnificent body of work. As my own erudition has grown over time I catch more references and stylistic devices that he employs and the overall philosophical armature of the material swam vaguely into focus behind the self-contradictory narratives. I heartily reccommend it. I got so much more out of the Long and Short Sun books than I did on initial reading, especially the Short Sun material. For example, there is an argument to be made that Blue and Green are not an interstellar system that Typhon’s generation ship voyaged to - there is a possibility that they are Urth and the Moon many years in the future, although Urth of the New Sun undercuts this somewhat. That may be a distinction without a difference, though, since in Urth, Severian travels through time. Gene doesn’t rule out a multiversal universe, although it’s not his focus.

After completing the readthrough, I wrote him a heartfelt letter of thanks. I am glad I did so.
posted by mwhybark at 7:23 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Doh! The detail I forgot to mention in my anecdote about Wolfe's acceptance speech is that he was inducted the same night as Ridley Scott and Gene Roddenberry, both of whom had other people accept the award for them. So it was not just modesty, but also a good joke, and maybe also reading the room and being brief because most people weren't there because of him. (At least two tables full of people were!)
posted by straight at 9:07 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I mis-remembered some of the details of how Wolfe read Fellowship. Here's what he actually wrote about it, from this entire essay he wrote about Tolkien:
You are not likely to believe me when I say that I still remember vividly, almost 50 years later, how strictly I disciplined myself with that book, forcing myself to read no more than a single chapter each evening. The catch, my out, the stratagem by which I escaped the bonds of my own law, was that I could read that chapter as many times as I wished; and that I could also return to the chapter I had read the night before, if I chose. There were evenings on which I reread the entire book up the point — The Council of Elrond, let us say — at which I had forced myself to stop.
posted by straight at 9:13 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I've got all, or almost all of Wolfe's books, and I have to say that his treatment of female characters troubles me too. I could sort-of accept it in the New Sun series, given the peculiar nature and profession of the narrator, but as time goes on I fond myself less able to tolerate the way Wolfe treats his women: they seem to either exist for the convenience of the narrator or as subjects of his benevolence. When they don't fit into either category it's because they're either (literal) aliens, or because they're variously crazy, frigid, embittered, or dishonest. There's not one significant female character I can think of that exists for her own sake.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:35 PM on April 15 [7 favorites]


I love his writing. He was a titan.
posted by misterbee at 10:45 PM on April 15


nubs: "I have bounced off The Book of the New Sun every time I've tried to read it. But now is as good a time as any to try again."

This book might help you out.
posted by otherchaz at 11:05 PM on April 15


ah, dammit.
.
posted by jadepearl at 1:36 AM on April 16


.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:49 AM on April 16


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posted by filtergik at 4:31 AM on April 16


A titan, as other have said. Regarding his fictional treatment of women, perhaps the most charitable way to view it is to simply say that he didn't fully understand the feminine principle, the anima, and so tended to resort to stereotypes instead of archetypes?
posted by domdib at 4:51 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


First Notre Dame and now this -- the news has been so sad this week. I feel so forlorn.

And it is just Tuesday...
posted by y2karl at 8:36 AM on April 16


"There's not one significant female character I can think of that exists for her own sake."

In his newer novels, I'd say that the female characters in "Home Fires" and "An Evil Guest" might fall into that category. In the Long Sun series, Hyacinth is not alien, evil, crazy etc, and although it's questionable whether she's a significant character in her own right, she's certainly significant to the narrator. Likewise, the Mayteras are significant characters, and they're not evil or crazy, although you might think Maytera Marble is arguably somewhat alien as she's a cyborg. But Maytera Mint is the leader of the rebellion, and is pretty admirable in every respect.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:45 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Wow. Upon review, of the score or so links in my Wolfe post -- the 's' in previously -- maybe two are still alive, the rest, alas, dead. Well, on the other hand, not bad for 15 years ago.
posted by y2karl at 1:04 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


In the Short Sun, Wolfe posits (well, extends a beat from Long Sun) in introducing the vampiric alien chameleon-like species referred to as inhumi, meaning “buried” but also reading in contemporary English as “inhuman”. He does introduce what I beleive he intends to be a fully-qualified and sympathetically-portrayed female character belonging to this species. I think he intended his portayals of the inhumi characters to be an argument for universality in humanity, that is, that from his perspective humanity is resident in the soul and that beings which exist via means of reproduction we cannot easily condone also are soulbearers. Unfortunately, I think his theology and his rhetoric get tangled up in the themes of his writing here, and an unmistakable theme of his work is that females are aliens. I do very definitely think he sought to respect his muse and to harmonize it with a personal social practice of live and openness and kindness. I also think in the final analysis, this goal was one that he did not meet, surrending in the end to his muse.
posted by mwhybark at 7:31 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I am just now re-reading, after 20 something years, the Book of the New Sun series. Now on Sword. And let me tell you I am loving this series. ''

When you have finished, if you haven't seen it already, you might enjoy a short thing collected in Castle of Days called "These Are The Jokes" in which Wolfe has a dozen characters from The Book of The New Sun each tell a joke. They are appropriately foreign; you probably won't laugh but you can usually sort of see why that character would think it is funny.
posted by straight at 8:45 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


A couple-three thoughts on other SFF writers that night appeal to a Wolfe fan: LeGuin, Moorcock, Delany

It is worthy of note that none of these writers share his faith tradition, but that they all incorporate doubt in the form of unreliable narrators into their work. My understanding is that LeGuin and Wolfe had a long postal correspondence, as well. LeGuin came to see her earliest popular SFF work (the Earthsea books) as compromised by gendered assumptions about agency and intent, and wrote against them in the same mythos many years later. It is inconceivable to me that she and he did not discuss this. I still feel that he did not master his muse, and what a shame that is.
posted by mwhybark at 10:11 PM on April 16




I've got all, or almost all of Wolfe's books, and I have to say that his treatment of female characters troubles me too.

I think one good response to this is we can more deliberately read and recommend books written by and about women. Mwhybark mentioned LeGuin; I think her book The Lathe of Heaven is one of the best science-fiction novels I've ever read, including Wolfe's work. The protagonist is a man, but it is also largely about a woman and the difference between who she is and who he imagines her to be.

I've recently discovered Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman Series. I'm only part way into the second book, but it reminds me on several levels of things I've loved about Wolfe. (For instance, the first book has a little side mystery that can be solved by the reader but is never answered or even directly addressed by the characters.)

It also (so far) seems to be set in a world where misogyny and sexism have never existed. It's a refreshing place to visit even if you realize we could never get there by just pretending misogyny doesn't exist.
posted by straight at 8:29 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


Joanna Russ is Wolfe-clever and a fantastic writer. We Who Are about To is a big fave.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:01 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


One of my.favorite things to do back in day was to go through the used science fiction paperbacks in Horizon Books on 15th E -- now Ada's.Books, while Horizon is now in the basement of the.building on Malden Ave E behind Neumos.on E Pike -- to find near mint review copies bearing the Ex Libris stickers of Joanna Russ on the inside.title pages. I may still have one of those.
posted by y2karl at 3:05 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


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