Gene Wolfe

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Gene Wolfe at the 2005 Nebula Awards

Gene Wolfe (May 7, 1931 – April 14, 2019) was an American science fiction and fantasy author, best known for his Book of the New Sun series. He has won the Nebula Award, Locus Award, and World Fantasy Award multiple times each.

His other works include Peace, The Fifth Head of Cerberus, the Soldier of the Mist series, about a dozen other novels, and very many short stories.

Hallmarks include unreliable first-person narrators, and a facility for wordplay that ranges from the dense and clever (every smeerp-like word in a Wolfe story is an obscure but genuine word with an appropriate real meaning) to the amusingly straightforward (one of his short story collections is called The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories, and includes "The Death of Doctor Island" and "The Doctor of Death Island" in addition to the title story, which actually is titled "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories"). Most of his later books and short stories tend to have Catholic themes, as Wolfe himself is a Roman Catholic.

Fun Fact: During his engineering career, he helped create the machine that makes Pringles. He said he would have "made them thicker."

Works written by Gene Wolfe include:

Gene Wolfe provides examples of the following tropes:
  • Alternate History: "How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion"
  • Author Vocabulary Calendar
  • Call a Rabbit a Smeerp: Subverted, as described above
  • Call a Smeerp a Rabbit
  • Came Back Wrong: "The Other Dead Man"
  • Christianity Is Catholic
  • Contemptible Cover: Some fans dislike the covers on many of his books for looking much more pulp-ish than the content.
  • Creator Backlash: A mild example. He had said many times that he didn't understand why people consider New Sun to be his masterpiece... though he did think it is very good.
  • The Fair Folk: "No Planets Strike" has the Beautiful Ones of the planet Sidhe, who allow unlimited immigration in (supplemented by luring sailors off trading spaceships) but won't allow anyone to leave once there, kill those who try, and horrifically torture those who otherwise run afoul of them.
  • Literal Genie: In the story-within-a-story "Master Ash's Joke", a time traveller forced to do the bidding of a Rich Bitch who has had his family taken hostage wins free in the end by giving her exactly what she asked for.
    • Specifically (since this story is in the very-hard-to-find The Castle of the Otter) she asks to see the death of the last living creature on Earth. He complies by taking her into the far future after all life has died, and leaving her alone there to die - with a mirror.
  • Old Shame: Forbade his first novel, Operation ARES, to be republished since he had matured as a writer. It hasn't been in print since the 70s.
  • Older Alter Ego: The protagonist of The Wizard Knight is a young kid who is transformed into a brawny Knight in Shining Armor in a fantasy world but is still as naive as your typical Kid Hero.
  • Out with a Bang: "There are Doors" had an alternate Earth where humans have a very different reproductive cycle; after sex women store men's semen in their body for the rest of their life, and can use it to have as many children as they wish. Men die, as their immune system shuts down.
  • Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman: In "How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion", the 'German Invasion' is an attempt by Volkswagen to corner the British small car market. Three guesses who VW's sales rep is.[1]
  • Running Gag: Typhon built up as the Ultimate Evil in both the Book of the New Sun and Book of the Long Sun before being offhandedly killed.
  • Sci Fi Ghetto: He was the science-fiction writer most likely to be nominated for a Nobel, according to other writers of the genre. However, because he wrote speculative fiction, he never really broke into the mainstream.
  • Split Personality Takeover: "The Death of Doctor Island"
  • Staying with Friends: At the end of Pandora By Holly Hollander
  • Tomato in the Mirror: "The Other Dead Man"
  • Unreliable Narrator: Sometimes subverted: his narrators often lie when speaking but not in the text. This allows careful readers to tell what's actually happening. Dependent on the tradition of putting details in characters' speech to improve the flow of the writing and preventing readers from getting bored.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses
  • The Vamp: Disiri from The Wizard Knight
  1. No, it's not Richard Nixon. Two guesses left.