Gene Wolfe (1931–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1931, in Brooklyn, NY; Education: Attended Texas A & M University, 1949–52; University of Houston, B.S.M.E., 1956. Religion: Roman Catholic.
Agent—Virginia Kidd Agency, Box 278, Milford, PA 18337.
Writer. Project engineer with Procter & Gamble, 1956–72; Plant Engineering magazine, Barrington, IL, senior editor, 1972–84. Military service: U.S. Army, 1952–54; received Combat Infantry badge.
Science Fiction Writers of America.
Nebula Award, Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), 1973, for novella The Death of Doctor Island; Chicago Foundation for Literature Award, 1977, for Peace; Rhysling Award, 1978, for poem "The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps"; Nebula Award nomination, 1979, for novella Seven American Nights, and 1993, for Nightside the Long Sun; Illinois Arts Council award, 1981, for short story "In Looking-Glass Castle"; World Fantasy Award, 1981, for The Shadow of the Torturer, 1989, for collection Storeys from the Old Hotel, and 1996, for Lifetime Achievement; Nebula Award, and Locus Award, both 1982, both for The Claw of the Conciliator; British Science Fiction Award, 1982; British Fantasy Award, 1983; Locus Award, 1983, for The Sword of the Lictor; John W. Campbell Memorial Award, University of Kansas Center for the Study of Science Fiction, 1984, for The Citadel of the Autarch; World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY
Operation ARES, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1970.
The Fifth Head of Cerberus (three novellas), Scribner (New York, NY), 1972, reprinted, Orb (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Ursula K. LeGuin and James Tiptree, Jr.) The New Atlantis and Other Novellas of Science Fiction, edited by Robert L. Silverberg, Hawthorn (New York, NY), 1975.
The Devil in a Forest (juvenile), Follett (New York, NY), 1976, reprinted, Orb (New York, NY), 1996.
Plan(e)t Engineering, New England Science Fiction Association (Framingham, MA), 1984.
Free Live Free, Ziesing Bros. (Willimantic, CT), 1984, new edition, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1985.
Soldier of the Mist, Tor (New York, NY), 1986.
There Are Doors, Tor (New York, NY), 1988.
Seven American Nights (bound with Sailing to Byzantium by Robert L. Silverberg), Tor (New York, NY), 1989.
Soldier of Arete (sequel to Soldier of the Mist), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Pandora by Holly Hollander, Tor (New York, NY), 1990.
Castleview, Tor (New York, NY), 1991.
Castle of Days, Tor (New York, NY), 1992.
Latro in the Mist (contains Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete), Orb (New York, NY), 2003.
The Knight (book one of "Wizard Knight" series), Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
The Wizard (book two of "Wizard Knight" series), Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
The Island of Doctor Death, and Other Stories, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1980, reprinted, Orb (New York, NY), 1997.
Gene Wolfe's Book of Days, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1981.
The Wolfe Archipelago, Ziesing Bros. (Willimantic, CT), 1983.
Storeys from the Old Hotel, Kerosina (Worcester Park, England), 1988, Orb (New York, NY), 1995.
Endangered Species, Tor (New York, NY), 1989.
Strange Travelers, Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
Innocents Abroad: New Fantasy Stories, Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
Starwater Strains, Tor (New York, NY), 2005.
"BOOK OF THE NEW SUN" SERIES
The Shadow of the Torturer, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.
The Claw of the Conciliator, Simon & Schuster, 1981.
The Sword of the Lictor, Simon & Schuster, 1982.
The Citadel of the Autarch, Simon & Schuster, 1983.
The Urth of the New Sun, Tor (New York, NY), 1987.
Shadow and Claw (contains The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator), Orb (New York, NY), 1994.
Sword and Citadel (contains The Sword of the Lictor and The Citadel of the Autarch), Orb (New York, NY), 1994.
"BOOK OF THE LONG SUN" SERIES
Nightside the Long Sun, Tor (New York, NY), 1993.
Lake of the Long Sun, Tor (New York, NY), 1993.
Calde of the Long Sun, Tor (New York, NY), 1994.
Exodus from the Long Sun, Tor (New York, NY), 1995.
"BOOK OF THE SHORT SUN" TRILOGY
On Blue's Waters, Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
In Green's Jungle, Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
Return to the Whorl, Tor (New York, NY), 2001.
Peace (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1975, reprinted, Tor, 1995.
The Castle of the Otter (essays), Ziesing Bros. (Willimantic, CT), 1982.
Bibliomen, Cheap Street (New Castle, VA), 1984.
Empires of Foliage and Flower, Cheap Street (New Castle, VA), 1987.
For Rosemary (poetry), Kerosina (Worcester Park, England), 1988.
Contributor of stories to anthologies, including awards anthologies Best SF: 70, 1970, Nebula Award Stories 9, The Best SF of the Year No. 3, and Best SF: '73, all 1974. Contributor of short stories to Omni, New Yorker, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and other publications. Collaborator with Neil Gaiman on A Walking Tour of the Shambles: Little Walks for Sightseers £16, published for World Horror Convention, 2002.
Work in Progress
Soldier of Sidon, a sequel to Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete.
With his five-volume "Book of the New Sun" series, American science-fiction writer Gene Wolfe "entered the ranks of the major contemporary writers of science fiction," Pamela Sargent asserted in Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers. The series, which was published between 1980 and 1987, takes place far in the future in a society reminiscent of medieval Europe in its social structure but where long-forgotten technologies appear magical. When Severian, an apprentice torturer, is exiled from his guild for aiding the suicide of a prisoner he loves, a journey of discovery is inaugurated that culminates in Severian's elevation to autarch, ruler of Urth. "The far-future world of Urth through which Wolfe's characters move is a world of beauty and horror, one in which humanity's great accomplishments are not only past, but also nearly forgotten, and in which the lack of resources makes the knowledge that remains nearly useless," noted Sargent. Thomas D. Clareson, discussing Wolf's writings in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, called the "Book of the New Sun" series "one of the high accomplishments of modern science fiction."
Wolfe was born in Brooklyn, New York, and developed an early love of reading, and his fascination with science fiction branded him as an outcast in high school. Although he excelled at English, he chose to purse engineering in college, taking a few years out to serve overseas in the Korean War. After finishing college, Wolfe found work as an engineer, and married childhood friend Rosemary Dietsch. Early in their marriage, the couple looked for extra income, and Wolfe hoped to write a novel to earn additional money; it took him eight years before his first story, "The Dead Man" was bought by Sir! for eighty dollars.
A second tale, "Mountains like Mice," when published in Frederik Pohl's If, cemented Wolfe's desire to write. From then on, although he worked primarily as an engineer, his writing career began to grow. He joined the Science Fiction Writers of America, and his stories were published regularly in Orbit. Damon Knight, Orbit's editor (whom Wolfe has called "the greatest influence on my career"), convinced the author to develop one short work titled "The Laughter Outside at Night" into a longer tale; this he did, and Operation Ares became Wolfe's first novel.
After publishing The Fifth Head of Cerberus, his second novel, Wolfe quit his engineering job and became an editor at a technical magazine. His fiction, well received by critics, was soon sold in Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden. It was at this point in his career that Wolfe began the story that evolved into the "Book of the New Sun," his most successful series of books.
The "Book of the New Sun" tetralogy takes place in the far future. The original volumes include The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor, and The Citadel of the Autarch; Wolfe subsequently added a one-volume sequel, The Urth of the New Sun. The first four titles were described by Wolfe in an essay for the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series (CAAS) as "the autobiography of the Autarch Severian, who began life as an orphaned apprentice in the Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence (known unofficially as the torturers guild), was exiled for showing mercy, and rose to the throne of the Commonwealth, a peculiar monarchy occupying the South America of a world remote in time from our own." Wolf considers The Shadow of the Torturer to be his most successful novel.
In the Washington Post Book World, James Gunn called The Shadow of the Torturer "an engrossing narrative and perhaps a book in which wisdom can be found." Discussing the entire series, Los Angeles Times Book Review critic David N. Samuelson dubbed "Book of the New Sun" "a monumental achievement in the oft-despised genre of science fantasy. Well written, vividly imaged, symbolically united and internally consistent, it has the dubious distinction of dwarfing what mediocre competition there is." Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction book critic Algis Budrys wrote that "Wolfe is, I think, without peer at his own kind of story, and has a particular gift for the depiction of cataclysmic events through the eyes of a naive central character."
As the series continues in The Urth of the New Sun, Severian attempts to revive Urth's dying sun. Colin Greenland, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, stated that, "if this book is less brilliant than its predecessor, the flaw is one that is hard to spot with the unaided eye." According to Fred Lerner in Voice of Youth Advocates, "Wolfe employs a richness of language unmatched in science fiction, and his imagination is equally unfettered by the traditions of the genre."
After taking some time away from his "New Sun" universe, Wolfe released Nightside the Long Sun, the first of a new four-volume epic called "Book of the Long Sun" which takes place in the same future as his original tetralogy. Lake of the Long Sun, Calde of the Long Sun, and Exodus from the Long Sun rounded out the sequence. The action takes place inside the Whorl, a massive cylindrical starship whose inhabitants have long forgotten what mission, if any, the ship is on. Lit by a central "long sun," the culture of the vast ship is a cross between modern science and medieval superstition. The main character, Patera Silk, is a schoolmaster and priest who has a vision of the Outsider, a god who transcends the Whorl, that changes his life. While attempting to ransom his parish house from unsavory creditors, Silk uncovers the starting truth about the Whorl. Of the "Book of the Long Sun" series, New York Times Book Review critic Gerald Jonas wrote that "Wolfe loves his characters, and it is not possible to accompany them on their long and strange journey without sharing that feeling."
In 1999 Wolfe published the first of three books in a third series, "Book of the Short Sun." The action begins decades after the last of the "Book of the Long Sun" novels. Narrated by the character Horn, series opener On Blue's Waters follows Horn's quest to find Silk, the original leader of the colonies on the planet Blue, in an effort to save the decaying human cities. "Wolfe's prose is masterful and his main characters are well developed," wrote a critic in Publishers Weekly. As Horn searches for Silk across Blue, through the jungles of the planet of Green, and even to the original ship the Whorl, he begins to resemble the sainted figure he seeks, so much that even his wife and sons no longer recognize him. Through his journeys, Horn also comes to terms with the race of blood-drinking inhumu, and finds that his initial hatred for the species turns to a loving acceptance. "Longtime fans of Wolfe's complex plotting and ornate literary style will find much to cheer," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer of the third volume, Return to the Whorl. The same novel led Booklist critic Jackie Cassada to call Wolfe "one of the genre's most brilliant contributors."
Although Wolfe's series are divided into separate parts, many readers have grouped the books together as a single, drawn-out tale. "This huge twelve-volume cathedral of worlds is of infinite fascination, one of the most complex religious allegories ever set to paper," wrote Nick Gevers on the Infinity Plus Web site. In a review of Return to the Whorl for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Robert K.J. Killheffer commented: "I don't know if anything can outdo The Shadow of the Torturer for sheer wonderment and strangeness…. But Horn is an adult, where Servian is a boy, and Horn's story plumbs caverns of sorrow, hope, grief, and guilt." Killheffer concluded, "'The Book of the Short Sun' is a tale of personal redemption, not cosmic, and as such, it is not so fine an sf novel as 'The Book of the New Sun.' But it may be the finer novel overall."
Although they remain his prime contributions to the sci-fi genre, Wolfe's writing has extended far beyond the universe of the "New Sun" books. His stand-alone novel Soldier of the Mist is innovative in its account of Latro, a soldier of ancient Greece whose memory is wiped clean every time he sleeps—payment for having seen the gods; Latro's condition necessitates the keeping of a journal in which he records each day's events—with each new day he must read the journal and relearn his life. Guided by his text and various gods, Latro journeys to regain his memory. Wolfe continues Latro's story in Soldier of Arete, in which the soldier becomes embroiled in the political and military rivalry between Greece and Sparta. John Calvin Batchelor observed in the Washington Post Book World that Soldier of the Mist, while difficult reading, is "a work of consequence." The author "is a master of science fiction," Batchelor concluded, "and for the best of all reasons, vaulting ambition." As Killheffer explained in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, "Wolfe set himself to the arduous task of recounting a story through the eyes of a narrator who cannot recall events from one day to the next, and he stayed true to his conceit with astounding fidelity."
Wolfe's literary reputation is also bolstered by his short fiction, notably the collections Storeys from the Old Hotel, a highly accessible gathering of imaginative fiction, and a somewhat more challenging volume of philosophically inclined tales titled Endangered Species. As Sargent stated, "Wolfe is a writer for the thinking reader; he will reward anyone searching for intelligence, crafted prose, involving stories, and atmospheric detail. He is the heir of many literary traditions—pulp stories, fantasy, adventure stories of all kinds, and serious literature—and he makes use of all of them." Wolfe has continued writing short stories throughout his career, and his collections continue to garner praise from critics. In a review of Innocents Abroad, a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that the stories in the collection stand as "further proof that Wolfe ranks with the finest writers of this or any other day." Roland Green, reviewing the same title for Booklist, maintained that "Short fiction doesn't often get better than this."
Although much of Wolfe's science fiction has been known to teen readers for decades, in 2004, a duo of fantasy novels brought his books to a wider young-adult audience. The Knight and its sequel, The Wizard, feature a teen named Able who wanders into a mythical realm and becomes trapped in the heroic body of Sir Able of the High Heart by an elf queen. While trying to retain some of his own identity, much of which the elf queen has stolen from him, the teen finds himself slowly transforming into the knight he pretends to be. A Publishers Weekly critic called The Knight "a compelling, breathtaking achievement." In The Wizard, after leaving the world for a time, Able must return to try to resolve a conflict between the realm of King Arnthor and his enemies the Frost Giants, who seek to raid Arnthor's lands and capture human slaves. "This is fantasy at its best: revelatory and inspirational," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer of The Wizard. Of the "Wizard Knight" series, Booklist critic Green considered it "one of the few fantasies that can justly be compared with" J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
When asked by James Jordan in an online interview for Infinity Plus where he came up with the idea for the "Wizard Knight" books, Wolfe explained: "I met a nice little boy named Nick…. He was very, very bright, and crazy about knights and the whole medieval scene. I tried to figure out what attracted him to it so much, and began to write a book." Wolfe explained to Gevers in another Infinity Plus interview about his decision to combine chivalry with Teutonic mythology in the two books. "I started thinking about knighthood, and wondering why that period has an eternal fascination for us," Wolfe stated. "Greek myth is laid in the Golden Age. The Dark Ages are our Golden Age; most fairy tales, and all the best ones, are laid there."
A writer who enjoys his craft, Wolfe explained to Brendan Baber in an interview for the Lupine Nuncio Web site: "I've tried to do things that seemed to me should be done and nobody had done yet. But everybody who's worth reading is trying to do exactly that." Talking with British writer Neil Gaiman in a Locus interview about fiction's most important qualities, Wolfe responded, "The most important thing is that it assures the reader that things need not be as they are now. In other words, the most important thing is hope."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Andre-Driussi, Michael, Lexicon Urthus: A Dictionary for the Urth Cycle, Sirius Fiction (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 9, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 25, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 8: Twentieth-Century American Science-Fiction Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
Gordon, Joan, Gene Wolfe, Borgo Press (San Bernadino, CA), 1986.
Lane, Daryl, William Vernon, and David Carson, editors, The Sound of Wonder: Interviews from "The Science Fiction Radio Show," Volume 2, Oryx (Phoenix, AZ), 1985.
Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, August, 1990, p. 143; June, 1991, p. 178; June, 1994, p. 161; February, 1995, p. 159; November, 2000, review of In Green's Jungles, p. 131.
Booklist, July 1, 1975; November 1, 1982; August, 1989; November 15, 1992; September 15, 1994, p. 118; August, 2000, Roberta Johnson, review of In Green's Jungles, p. 2126; February 15, 2001, Roberta Johnson, review of Return to the Whorl; December 15, 2003, Roland Green, review of The Knight, p. 735; July, 2004, Roland Green, review of Innocents Abroad, p. 1830; November 1, 2004, Roland Green, review of The Wizard, p. 472.
Chicago Tribune Book World, June 8, 1980; June 14, 1981.
Chronicle, February, 2004, Don D'Ammassa, review of The Knight, p. 30.
Extrapolation, summer, 1981; fall, 1982.
Kansas Quarterly, summer, 1984.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1999, p. 1854; October 15, 2004, review of The Wizard, p. 990.
Library Journal, November 15, 1990, p. 95; December, 1992, p. 191; August, 1994, p. 139; September 15, 1994, p. 94; December, 2003, Jackie Cassada, review of The Knight, p. 173.
Locus, February, 1990; December, 1993; August, 1994; September, 2002, "The Wolfe and Gaiman Show."
London Tribune, April 24, 1981, article by Martin Hillman.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 3, 1983, David N. Samuelson, review of The Citadel of the Autarch, p. 4; June 6, 1993, James Sallis, review of Nightside the Long Sun.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April, 1971; May, 1978; May, 1980, Algis Budrys, review of The Shadow of the Torturer, p. 23; June, 1981; September, 1994, p. 16; October, 2001, Robert K.J. Killheffer, review of Return to the Whorl, p. 49.
New York Times Book Review, July 13, 1975; September 12, 1976; May 22, 1983; November 24, 1985; July 2, 1989; May 13, 1990; May 9, 1993, p. 20; January 2, 1994, p. 22; September 11, 1994, Gerald Jonas, review of Calde of the Long Sun, p. 46.
Publishers Weekly, September 8, 1989; November 9, 1992; September 13, 1999, review of On Blue's Waters, p. 65; December 20, 1999, p. 61; January 22, 2001, review of Return to the Whorl, p. 307; December 1, 2003, review of The Knight, p. 45; June 14, 2004, review of Innocents Abroad, p. 48; October 11, 2004, review of The Wizard, p. 61; June 27, 2005, review of Starwater Strains, p. 46.
Science Fiction Review, summer, 1981.
Times (London, England), April 2, 1981.
Times Literary Supplement, May 18, 1973; January 15, 1988; January 15, 1988, Colin Greenland, "Miracles Recollected in Tranquility," p. 69.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1988, Fred Lerner, review of The Urth of the New Sun, p. 42; February, 2001, review of In Green's Jungles, p. 437.
Washington Post Book World, May 25, 1980, James Gunn, review of The Shadow of the Torturer, p. 8; March 22, 1981; July 26, 1981; January 24, 1982; January 30, 1983; November 24, 1985; October 26, 1986, John Calvin Batchelor, "Warriors, Gods, and Kings"; October 27, 1987; August 28, 1988; April 30, 1989; January 31, 1993; December 26, 1993; October 23, 1994.
Gene Wolfe Home Page, http://www.urth.org/∼gac/Wolfe (November 6, 2005).
Infinity Plus Web site, http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/ (October, 2003), Nick Gevers, Michael Andre-Driussi, and James Jordan, "Some Moments with the Magus: An Interview with Gene Wolfe."
Lupine Nuncio Web site, http://mysite.verizon.net/∼vze2tmhh/wolfe.html (March 20, 1994), Brendan Baber, interview with Wolfe.
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