I love Gene Wolfe. The Internet loves lists.
Here is my Gene Wolfe list.
- Gene Wolfe was an engineer. In that world, his biggest claim to fame was the development of a Pringle potato chip-making machine. He claims to know more about fracture points of Pringles chips than any man alive.
- Gene Wolfe, the writer, took the literary device known as the Unreliable Narrator into new directions. Consequently, his most famous character might also claim to know more about the fracture points of a Pringle chip than any torturer alive.
- He was a distant cousin to the famous Southern novelist, Thomas Wolfe, whose book The Web and the Rock, I much adored as a kid.
- Wolfe’s writing is underlain by a profound knowledge of scientific principles. In the Book of the New Sun, his characters explain complex theories to their futuristic medieval audiences as an adult might to a child: using fantasy and allegory. Take for example the explanation of the flier’s automation by the Autarch in the Citidel of the Autarch or Severian’s interpretation of Einsteinian Relativity.
- In the same book, Wolfe uses a number of what appear to be neologisms–or entirely new words, as fantasy/SyFy writers often do. They are not. Most are Latinate or Greek in origin. For example, the Ascians of the North, take their name from an old word that means “without shadow”. Other examples abound. In fact, some scholars have even gone so far as to create a lexicon for the world of the New Sun, just as some linguists examined J.R.R. Tolkien’s solvent family of Middle Earth languages.
- As a converted Catholic, Wolfe’s themes are heavily influenced by eschatology.
- I’ve seen in the same breath, Asimov considered the most over-rated science fiction writer, while Wolfe is the most underrated. This is changing, as Wolfe inches towards his eighth decade. A slow-burner to universal respect, if every there was one. Which gets us to #8….
- Neil Gaiman, among others, has made noises that Wolfe is perhaps the greatest living American writers in general.
- If you want to get a sense of the breadth of work he is capable of, I highly recommend reading the anthology: Storeys from the Old Hotel. Before
- To conclude this list, let us give one final nod to the macabre and complex nature of Wolfe’s work. Severian the Torturer, in order to inherit the collective wisdom of the Autarchs of Urth, is asked to eat his predecessors brains thereby insuring that the lineage is not lost to antiquity. That’s exactly what I said!