Gene Wolfe (1931– 2019)

UpdatesPosted by C. John Thu, April 18, 2019 21:28:32

Around a year ago I lamented the loss of one of my favourite authors, Ursula Le Guin. However, the loss of Gene Wolfe is a greater blow as I have listed him as my favourite writer on several occasions. That he died on Palm Sunday and the advent of Holy Week is fitting for somebody whose faith was important to him on both a personal level, as well as a strong but subtle influence on his writing and perhaps most prominently seen in his most famous work: The Book of the New Sun. Though Wolfe himself described less as an allegorical reference to Christ but more “a person achieving Sainthood”. I first discovered Wolfe (as I have said elsewhere) through his short fiction, and “The Eye Flash Miracles” was the first story of his I read—to be found in one of Damon Knight’s Orbit anthologies. Ursula Le Guin pointed to In the Shadow of the Torturer (the first volume in the book of the New Sun), and the rest is history. Many fine obituaries are being written, but as I did with Le Guin, mine will be a personal reflection.

Exactly 32 years to this day I met Gene for the first and last time. It was my very first Science Fiction convention, the annual British event held that year in Birmingham again at Easter. Wolfe wasn’t a guest of honour he was simply just there. A year or so earlier I had written a perspective on both the last book of the New Sun Quartet and the books leading up to it, for which I had won 2nd prize in a BSFA competition (an enthusiastic but somewhat naïve account of somebody in his early 20s). When I realized Gene Wolfe was at the con, I brought my recent copy of his latest book, Soldier of the Mist for him to sign (see below). I joined the long signing queue, but when I got to the front I froze and spluttered when he asked me how he should dedicate the book. I muttered something about having reviewed his book. Hence that’s what he put underneath his signature.

His books were never bestsellers in the traditional sense: he was very much a writer’s writer, but as was said on the cover of one of his books he brought “that literary rarity, wisdom” and I believe, truth. I may write more later, but given the week we are now entering maybe look up his short story “Easter Sunday” which is available on the net and published back in 1951 http://www.revolutionsf.com/fiction/eastersunday/01.html