Gene Rodman Wolfe, author, 1931-
Wolfe is a prolific writer of incredibly intricate, multi-layered stories whose works are little known outside the science fiction set, and seldom fully appreciated within it.
Born to the American midwestern middle class, Wolfe served a tour in the Korean conflict before taking an engineering degree. He was editing a trade journal named Plant Engineering when he realized he was selling enough of his fiction to quit the day job and write full time.
Originally a "nominal Presbyterian", Wolfe converted to Roman Catholicism, his wife's religion, after studies he made in catholic theology convinced him of its truth. He acknowledges a literary debt to G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, but too much has been made of the Catholic influence in his writing by that breed of academics who breeze past an author's writing on the way to explicating it.
According to Wolfe, no definitive bibliography of his published writings exists. The following, then, is offered only as an appetizer, a very abbreviated menu of Wolfe's most famous novels.
- The Fifth Head of Cerberus, 1972
Memory, identity, humanity, cognition; Wolfe smears the bright Crayola stripes of our comfortable notions into strange and dubious swirls in this, his breakthrough masterpiece.
- The Book of the New Sun
A tetralogy comprised of The Shadow of the Torturer, 1980, The Claw of the Conciliator, 1981, The Sword of the Lictor, 1981, and The Citadel of the Autarch, 1982.
The act of remembering is a large part of what makes us human, but sometimes only forgetfulness can keep us there. Those wishing to husband their disdain for science fiction should steer well clear of this amazing novel. When Bradbury, Heinlein, and Ellison are forgotten, Wolfe will still be revered for The Book of the New Sun. Note: Wolfe uses no neologisms in these books; all of the strange words he uses are English.
- Soldier of the Mist, 1986, and Soldier of Arete, 1989
The finest recreation of classical Greece you will ever read in fiction. Keep the Greek mythology and literature references handy-- reading this work merely for the excellent story that appears on its surface would be like admiring a great tapestry only for its fringe. Also released in an omnibus edition, Latro in the Mist, 2003.
- The Urth of the New Sun, 1987
The protagonist from The Book of the New Sun returns to open a few of the book's mysteries for the duller among us. <8^o
An excellent read, but more of an appendix to than a continuation of the tour de force it follows.
- The Book of the Long Sun
Wolfe's second tetralogy, comprised of Nightside the Long Sun, 1993, Lake of the Long Sun, 1994, Caldé of the Long Sun, 1994, and Exodus from the Long Sun, 1994.
Despite the similarity of title, the Long Sun books share no internal story elements with the Book of the New Sun. The ephemeral nature of perception and remembrance as the crux of being human are again central seams in the shroud Wolfe weaves for our certainties. Though something more of a sci fi set piece in its outer shell than is usual for Wolfe, The Book of the Long Sun is nevertheless so richly, vividly, and thoughtfully written as to make the reader homesick for the world he describes long after the book is closed.
Wolfe is still writing, as of 2004, and has told many, many wonderful stories that are not listed in this brief sampler.
Wolfe is far less well known than his merits deserve. "Serious" literary critics automatically dismiss any book with the slightest tincture of science fiction about it, while gushing on cue over the latest drivel to be excreted from the big publishing houses' assembly lines. It won't matter in the long run; when time washes away the myriads of "commercially correct" formula novels and leaves only the works of substance standing, our generation will be seen to have produced no greater master of the English language than Gene Wolfe.