Latro, Cerberus, Suns New, Long and Short - Gene Wolfe
January 15, 2004 12:49 AM   Subscribe

We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life--they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.

Gene Wolfe      -     Now step within Father Inire's mirrors....
posted by y2karl (25 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
We can continue with Galen Strickland's profile of Gene Wolfe at Templeton Gate.
Geoff Cohen has a The Gene Wolfe Web Page, seems a humble, artless and charming compendium of Wolfean arcana, major and minor--Who hadn't figured out the similarities in Star Trek: the Next Generation episode Darmok to the language of those loyal to The Group of Seventeen in The Citadel of the Autarch? Raise your hands.--until you stumble, like a child coming across The Wonders Of Urth And Sky in Ultans's Library, upon The Map Of The Whorl.      Then the mind reels, the intellect stands abashed...    Shun it if you've not read the Books of New, Long and Short Suns, however, as far too many details thereof are revealed.

Another Ultan's Library is an online journal for the study of Gene Wolfe. An example from there is Five Steps towards Briah: Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Long Sun as is this review of The Book Of The New Sun.

Cave Canem is a website devoted to the first Wolfe novel I read: The Fifth Head of Cerberus Did you know that Severian notes the appearance of the aborigines of St. Anne as warriors in the army of the Ascians in The Citadel Of The Autarch, by the way?

Here are three online stories: Copperhead, Castaway, Under Hill and an excerpt from his new novel Knight.

Here is one description of Wolfe's writing--

Gene Wolfe's body of work in the science fiction field, along with that of Delany, Dick and Le Guin's, is perhaps the most influential of any writer of the past two decades. Of them all, Wolfe is the one least interested in technology, most interested in the uses of pure science in his fiction. And he remains interested in the use of the conventions, tropes and images of genre sf, whereas the others moved away from them in the 1980s. Always one to envision the metaphorical possibilities of scientific ideas and images, Wolfe's fiction is so rich and evocative, his style so precise and complex, that much of his influence has been stylistic.

--which comes from David Hartwell, Wolfe's editor at TOR Books, and Kathryn Cramer.

Here's another--

Each book is a puzzle-box. Events in them are baffling to a truly unusual degree, and the books themselves are sliding-door, false-bottom architectonic affairs. And all very sober and serious in tone, while at the same time wildly original and imaginative. Like watching a skilled magician give a flawless and obviously endlessly rehearsed performance without once smiling at the audience, or at himself, or taking a bow when it's over. There's a sort of stern, vaguely theological chill always threatening to take hold, and often it does. Passionless but intense. Cerebral without really being about ideas. Psychologically gripping and convincing, but in a distorted, thin way. The protagonists tend to have oddly stipulative motives. We really don't know why they are doing what they are doing. Nor is this a failure of the author's capacity for characterization. A great many of the minor characters are as rich and fully developed as any one might hope to meet. But the main characters are - by craft and design - eerily hollowed-out, compelled ghosts, changlings, people who are not who they think they are. It's as though all the puzzle pieces are sort of somnambulating themselves into proper position, if only one could quite tell what part of the overall picture they are bound for.

That comes from the high-end blogosphere: John & Belle Have A Blog with some high-end of the blogosphere comments by various readers--my, these people are brainiacs. I am in awe.

Reviews of Wolfe are ubiquitous on the net--I find David Langford's worth mention. Also ubiquitous the web is Wolfe's tribute to J.R.R. Tolken's em>The Lord Of The Rings

From noted internet polymath Allen B. Ruch's The Modern Word comes In the Garden of Forking Paths, a web page devoted to the works of Jorge Luis Borges, there is to be found a page to Wolfe and promise of more--The Mirror of Father Inire--to come.

Here there be interviews: by James B. Jordan, Lawrence Person in Nova Express, , and Kathie Huddleston in Science Fiction Weekly.

And here is the Urth List, an email discussion group about the works of Gene Wolfe.

So... It is possible already I had some presentiment of my future--or I simply brained my damage! At any rate, there's more than enough links leading to more than enough links above, and so I leave them with you, dear readers, to explore on your own.

posted by y2karl at 12:50 AM on January 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

Very well done, y2karl.
posted by Keyser Soze at 1:39 AM on January 15, 2004

But, pooh, that In The Garden Of Forking Paths Borges link was broken.
posted by y2karl at 2:06 AM on January 15, 2004

Many thanks for putting all this together, y2karl. I've only read two of Wolfe's books: Soldier of the Mist and Peace. I was lukewarm about the former book, but count the latter as one of the richest & spookiest reading experiences I ever enjoyed. Evidently I shall have to explore Wolfe's work further...
posted by misteraitch at 2:35 AM on January 15, 2004

It's hard for me to express my feelings about The Book of the New Sun without coming off as offputtingly effusive, so I will settle on saying about it what I say about all my favorite things when I want people to experience them: "Yeah, it's OK. It's got some... interesting parts -- you should check it out. Oh, and there's plenty of sex."
posted by evinrude at 3:11 AM on January 15, 2004

wow, thanks y2karl. i had wanted to do some research on wolfe a while back but was unable to find any good resources on the net. now you've saved me all the trouble! this is fantastic.
posted by poopy at 4:58 AM on January 15, 2004

y2karl, you have saved me tremendous work. Just Tuesday I was trying to put together a list of Wolfe links for my own readers, in a (perhaps doomed) attempt to explain my fascination. However, now I can just borrow from this!

Oh, and I made the mistake of reading the "first few pages" of The Knight. Before I was aware of what I was doing, I'd read a third of the book. It's remarkable.
posted by mkhall at 5:30 AM on January 15, 2004

lovely post, y2karl...
posted by taz at 6:07 AM on January 15, 2004

Great collection of links. The only thing that might be missing is the "persistant rumor" that he helped invent Pringles.
posted by tingley at 8:05 AM on January 15, 2004

Excellent post. Gene Wolfe brought me back to reading SF/fantasy again, after not having any interest in it for about a decade. (Of course, Wolfe's various Sun books, Delany's Dhalgren, and Tad Williams' Otherland are just about the only books of that stripe I've read in the past few years: I wish there were more writers who worked in that vein.)
posted by Prospero at 8:18 AM on January 15, 2004

Great post, and timely too. I'm rereading The Book fo the New Sun curently.
posted by Mick at 8:54 AM on January 15, 2004

Tingley's Pringles link, I think?
posted by y2karl at 9:09 AM on January 15, 2004

Great post. For those new to Wolfe, I would recommend The Fifth Head of Cerberus as a good starting point. Three extremely well-written novellas are in that book, and the novellas are short (and mysterious) enough to allow Wolfe neophytes to ease into the puzzle-box nature of his work before tackling any of the Sun books. For Wolfe in general, I'd say read Castleview last.
posted by ed at 9:34 AM on January 15, 2004

The Torturer series is one of the classics of 20th century genre fantasy. Right up there with The Once and Future King, The Worm Ouroboros, the Eternal Champion series, Neveryona and my own cheesy favourite, The Night Land, from which Wolfe seems to have drawn a lot of the inspiration for the historical background of the Torturer series.

I'd add Clark Ashton Smith's stories as well, but I'm not sure if they *have* an encompassing title.
posted by meehawl at 11:56 AM on January 15, 2004

Thanks, y2karl. Wolfe is possibly my favorite author.

Hey, anyone think we could convince Jackson to make Severian the Torturer movies?
posted by alex_reno at 12:34 PM on January 15, 2004

Hey, anyone think we could convince Jackson to make Severian the Torturer movies?

I've been toying with the idea of making a Torturer mod for Neverwinter Nights or Morrowind
posted by Mick at 2:32 PM on January 15, 2004

Has Wolfe ever written anything funny? I seem to recall a short story that had some idle whimsy in it, but that's it. I can't think of anything I've read of his that made me laugh.
posted by wobh at 12:14 AM on January 16, 2004

I can't think of anything I've read of his that made me laugh.

Oh, Jeez, in The Citadel Of The Autarch, the storytelling and banter between the wounded in the Pelerine's hospital had some flashes of wit, not the least from Loyal to The Group Of Seventeen. Oreb the night chough had some good lines in The Book Of The Long Sun.Soldier of The Mist had some laughs, too, as I recall. He gets some in. All this is off the top of my head, mind you, and my memory is more like Latro's than Severian's....
posted by y2karl at 1:26 AM on January 16, 2004

This also reminds me that it might be instructive to read carefully through short story collections from both Gene Wolfe and Roger Zelazny to see if I can pin down why I enjoy Zelazny so much more.
(This is a sure recipe for many evenings of delirious delights)
posted by wobh at 7:50 AM on January 16, 2004

I was jazzed when A Rose For Ecclesiastes first appeared in F&SF but that turned out to be for the Bok cover. Then I read the story. Man, what a disappointment. Especially the "poetry." Two moons hotrodding across a dusty sky blah blah. Eeyew.

When The Lamps Of His Mouth, The Doors Of His Face came out in the same pages, I concluded Zelazny was a hack rewriting the same trite story with the same hackneyed special effects. To me then, reading his stories was like watching episodes ofBatman on TV with the cartoon sound effect balloons in the fight scene: Bam! Pow!. My only sense of wonder after reading him was wondering why I had spent precious minutes of my finite life on such an utter waste of time.

You might as well put Norman Spinrad over Jack Vance. But there are people who do just that. Tastes difffer.
posted by y2karl at 8:59 AM on January 16, 2004

Hey, don't diss Zelazny. I think Lord of Light is pretty good.
posted by alex_reno at 12:45 AM on January 17, 2004

Oh, and Mick, if you get that thing going in NWN, I'd be interested in hearing.
posted by alex_reno at 12:47 AM on January 17, 2004

I was jazzed when A Rose For Ecclesiastes first appeared in F&SF but that turned out to be for the Bok cover.

Man, do I remember that! F&SF was the center of my life back then, and that cover was one of the best they ever ran (and they had some good ones—remember the Bonestells?). I liked the story better than you did, but the cover left a more permanent imprint.
posted by languagehat at 6:46 AM on January 17, 2004

Man, do I remember that! F&SF was the center of my life back then, and that cover was one of the best they ever ran (and they had some good ones—remember the Bonestells?).

Oh, indeed. Boy, I'd forgotten that issue had Eight O'Clock in the Morning by Ray Nelson and The Eyes of Phorkos by, ahem, Sir Lawrence Jones--and I have that stashed away somewhere here!--as well. What a great issue that was.
posted by y2karl at 9:17 AM on January 17, 2004

Thanks y2karl! I have a lot of Wolfe on my to-read list.
posted by azazello at 1:58 PM on January 17, 2004

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