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Old 04-15-2019, 02:38 PM
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Gene Wolfe has died. Author of the Book of the New Sun and much more.


Sad day for any fan of science fiction or just brilliant minds in general.

Gene Wolfe has died.

I've read several of his novels, but the Book of the New Sun is my nominee for the title "Science Fiction's Lord of the Rings". Not Dune. New Sun.

Wolfe was the kind of guy that made me realize that no matter how hard I try, I will never be as intelligent and brilliant as some people. So intelligent, he was beyond many of us.


"We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life—they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all."
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Old 04-15-2019, 02:53 PM
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“I have no way of knowing whether you, who eventually will read this record, like stories or not. If you do not, no doubt you have turned these pages without attention. I confess that I love them. Indeed, it often seems to me that of all the good things in the world, the only ones humanity can claim for itself are stories and music; the rest, mercy, beauty, sleep, clean water and hot food (as the Ascian would have said) are all the work of the Increate. Thus, stories are small things indeed in the scheme of the universe, but it is hard not to love best what is our own—hard for me, at least.”


ETA: Absolutely agree with your assessment of Book of the New Sun.

Last edited by Larry Borgia; 04-15-2019 at 02:55 PM.
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Old 04-15-2019, 03:01 PM
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Aww. A reread or picking up a new one is in order, I think.
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Old 04-15-2019, 03:28 PM
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Wolfe was an amazing writer. The Book of the New Sun was one of the few multivolume series worth reading, and a great novel in all respects. Free Live Free was a wonderful more mainstreamish book filled with subtle wonders.

My favorite Gene Wolfe story was when he was nominated for a Nebula for "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories." Isaac Asimov named him as the winner, but as Wolfe was getting up to accept it, someone whispered to Asimov, who turned white and said that that the "winner" was actually no award.

Afterwards, someone suggested to Gene he write a story entitled "The Death of Doctor Island" and it would win. Wolfe wrote it, and it did. He later wrote "The Doctor of Death Island" and "Death of the Island Doctor." All fine stories.
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Old 04-15-2019, 04:14 PM
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Indeed, The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories is my all-time favorite single-author science fiction anthology. Absolutely stunning stories in one collection; it is a masterpiece.

RIP Mr. Wolfe; you done fucking amazing.
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Old 04-15-2019, 05:03 PM
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Wolfe was one of the greats before Book of the New Sun ever hit bookshelves. His writing was amazing, witty, literate, and profound. Probably why he never won a Hugo.

He was also one of the nicest people in the field. That's not a huge honor, given how small his competition was, but even so he was conspicuously nice.
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Old 04-15-2019, 05:11 PM
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Notre Dame kind of makes a fitting pyre don't you think?

A truly great writer.
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Old 04-15-2019, 05:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Mahaloth View Post
Sad day for any fan of science fiction or just brilliant minds in general.

Gene Wolfe has died.

I've read several of his novels, but the Book of the New Sun is my nominee for the title "Science Fiction's Lord of the Rings". Not Dune. New Sun.

Wolfe was the kind of guy that made me realize that no matter how hard I try, I will never be as intelligent and brilliant as some people. So intelligent, he was beyond many of us.


"We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life—they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all."
I suspect Biotop. Or LightFoot. Or maybe SNFaulkner. Or...
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Old 04-15-2019, 05:40 PM
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I suspect Biotop. Or LightFoot. Or maybe SNFaulkner. Or...
What a coincidence we just played the New Sun mafia game, right?
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Old 04-16-2019, 04:24 AM
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That's not a huge honor, given how small his competition was, but even so he was conspicuously nice.
Hey, now. As best I can tell, Harlan Ellison only had only good things to say about Wolfe.
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Old 04-16-2019, 06:04 AM
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Though I don't remember hardly any of it, I enjoyed The Book Of The New Sun when I read it at age 20 or so. Apparently I only understood it on a superficial level, because I have since heard it had many layers I did not pick up on.
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Old 04-16-2019, 07:22 AM
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Alas! Alas! One of the greats has passed. Despite my username, I have only once ever read The Book of the New Sun. I shall have reread it, if I can dig out a copy.

Fun fact: Gene Wolfe developed the machine that cooks Pringles potato chips.
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Old 04-16-2019, 07:47 AM
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Though I don't remember hardly any of it, I enjoyed The Book Of The New Sun when I read it at age 20 or so. Apparently I only understood it on a superficial level, because I have since heard it had many layers I did not pick up on.
Yeah, I think it is a work that can be read on two levels.

1. A kind of twisted hero's journey type thing that is actually pretty good. The strong use of language is the draw, too.

2. A whole 'nother level. Unreliable narrator, multiple meanings to many things. I don't really get all of this and honestly, I am not smart enough to draw out all of these things.

Did anyone else read his last three novels? I did and would say that:

Sorcerer's House - Really good and worth picking up if you want to read something written late in his life.

The Land Across - Pretty good, but the middle was too boring.

A Borrowed Man - Not bad, but clearly a 50 page short story he expanded out to full length later. Decent, but I also found that it falls short.

If you had to pick one, Sorcerer's House is clearly the winner. His best "really late" book. Mysterious and when you reach the end, makes you look back on the entire book and re-think it, something Wolfe loved to make you do.
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Old 04-16-2019, 07:59 AM
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Though I don't remember hardly any of it, I enjoyed The Book Of The New Sun when I read it at age 20 or so. Apparently I only understood it on a superficial level, because I have since heard it had many layers I did not pick up on.
I read or listen to the series every year or so.There are, indeed, layers beyond the simple hero's journey, though it can be read just to enjoy that. I've also read Lexicon Urthus and a couple other books about the series. I read extensively at Urth.net when the discussion there was still primarily about the New Sun series. Bottom line? A fair few fans of the series see layers of meaning that aren't there. Some of their ideas are virtually fan fic. Wolfe was tricksy, though, and had a sense of humor. When asked by these folks whether they had discerned his true meanings, he always gave vague non-answers that neither confirmed nor denied.
I am sorry he is gone. He was not my favorite science fiction author. He was my favorite author of any kind.
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Old 04-16-2019, 08:10 AM
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Hey, now. As best I can tell, Harlan Ellison only had only good things to say about Wolfe.
And that really is saying something.

The truth is that everybody seemed to like Gene Wolfe. He was a writer's writer in that I think a lot of authors looked up to him. Neil Gaiman often listed him as one of the greatest writers in the English language.

I've seen interviews with him and honestly, he just seems like an older, kind of nerdy guy. You would not pick him out of a crowd as a great writer, just a guy.

He worked as an engineer for years before making enough money writing to go "full time" with it. He was a regular guy who turned out to be an amazing author.
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Old 04-16-2019, 11:23 AM
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I had lunch with Wolfe and Nancy Kress at some Worldcon. It was a very pleasant low-key conversation, without any of the ego normally found in the big names.

It's sociologically fascinating to watch a hierarchy of esteem spontaneously emerge in a group of writers as new faces appear in the group. It has to be in a private setting because everyone vies for priority in public, so much fans don't get to see this backstage stuff. In a hotel room in a con, though, people might come and go, allowing an observer to see the patterns of deference emerge and shift as if straight out of a textbook.
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Old 04-16-2019, 11:37 AM
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I had lunch with Wolfe and Nancy Kress at some Worldcon. It was a very pleasant low-key conversation, without any of the ego normally found in the big names.
So cool, what do you remember about what Wolfe and you talked about?
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Old 04-16-2019, 03:34 PM
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And that really is saying something.

The truth is that everybody seemed to like Gene Wolfe. He was a writer's writer in that I think a lot of authors looked up to him. Neil Gaiman often listed him as one of the greatest writers in the English language.

I've seen interviews with him and honestly, he just seems like an older, kind of nerdy guy. You would not pick him out of a crowd as a great writer, just a guy.

He worked as an engineer for years before making enough money writing to go "full time" with it. He was a regular guy who turned out to be an amazing author.
I met him briefly at a convention in the 80's. That was exactly my impression of him. I watched a panel discussion he was on and had some books signed and asked a couple of questions. He just seemed like a super nice, chill guy who happened to be a phenomenal writer. He seemed genuinely happy to mingle with fans and answer questions.

Last edited by Larry Borgia; 04-16-2019 at 03:35 PM.
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Old 04-16-2019, 03:51 PM
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Wolfe was a classy guy. When he was announced as the winner of the 1971 Nebula and then was informed that he wasn't actually the winner, Wolfe handled this awkward situation with grace https://www.sfwa.org/2019/04/in-memoriam-gene-wolfe/
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Old 04-16-2019, 03:54 PM
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Every few years I read adoration of him and give him another try, and every time I do I'm disappointed. I wish I could say why, but he's always just left me cold. Maybe it's time to try him again.
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Old 04-16-2019, 04:03 PM
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Despite my username, I have only once ever read The Book of the New Sun. I shall have reread it, if I can dig out a copy.
I laughed at this. Your username has inspired me to re-read it a couple of times over the years.
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Old 04-16-2019, 04:07 PM
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So cool, what do you remember about what Wolfe and you talked about?
Not a word, I'm afraid. That's why I'll never write my memoirs.
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Old 04-16-2019, 04:20 PM
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Every few years I read adoration of him and give him another try, and every time I do I'm disappointed. I wish I could say why, but he's always just left me cold. Maybe it's time to try him again.
You have to have a high tolerance for ambiguity. He does not spell everything out, either in BotNS or in his short stories. There's a lot the reader has to infer, and a lot that you'll never really know. The first time I read BotNS I had a strong feeling of "WTF did I just read." But I saw enough in it to try a second time.

Of course if he's not your cup of tea, there's nothing wrong with that.
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Old 04-16-2019, 04:29 PM
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The Book of the New Sun, along with The Lord of the Rings, were the most influential books of my youth. My love of language and history developed from them.

I reread Earthsea after LeGuin passed away, now I'll have to reread BotNS.
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Old 04-16-2019, 04:55 PM
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You have to have a high tolerance for ambiguity. He does not spell everything out, either in BotNS or in his short stories. There's a lot the reader has to infer, and a lot that you'll never really know. The first time I read BotNS I had a strong feeling of "WTF did I just read." But I saw enough in it to try a second time.

Of course if he's not your cup of tea, there's nothing wrong with that.
I don't think it's the ambiguity. A lot of my favorite writers are fatally ambiguous (see: Jeff van der Meer).

At the risk of turning myself into a caricature, I seem to remember thinking his women characters were pretty two-dimensional, serving as little more than foils for the men. And other things like that seemed to pop up, where I just didn't find his characters very plausible or interesting.

But like I say it's been a few years since I read anything by him, and maybe I need to give his work another chance.
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Old 04-16-2019, 05:27 PM
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I don't think it's the ambiguity. A lot of my favorite writers are fatally ambiguous (see: Jeff van der Meer).

At the risk of turning myself into a caricature, I seem to remember thinking his women characters were pretty two-dimensional, serving as little more than foils for the men. And other things like that seemed to pop up, where I just didn't find his characters very plausible or interesting.

But like I say it's been a few years since I read anything by him, and maybe I need to give his work another chance.
Well, if you try him again, I'd suggest An Evil Guest, which features a female protagonist. It's very odd, one of his more Lovecraftian (Sort of) works.
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Old 04-16-2019, 06:35 PM
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If you've never seen a young Gene Wolfe, here is a picture of him and his wife from years ago.
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Old 04-16-2019, 08:31 PM
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I was on a panel with him once at Boskone. Unfortunately, there were too many (eight), which is about two too many for a good panel. He was pretty quiet. At one point, someone from the audience asked "Is Mr. Wolfe going to say anything." Wolfe replied, "Evidently, yes." I think he only spoke once again in the hour.
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Old 04-16-2019, 11:21 PM
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I laughed at this. Your username has inspired me to re-read it a couple of times over the years.
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Old 04-17-2019, 06:43 PM
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My dad had a copy of The Island Of Dr Death And Other Stories And Other Stories. I read it and loved it. Then, it got lost. My mom gave me a new copy a few years ago. It is every bit as great as I remember. I try to read La Befana every Christmas.
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Old 05-11-2019, 06:05 PM
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Damn that is sad to hear, and I only just saw it now, a month on - knew he wasn't in great health but that's a tester all the same.

Actually listening to the Alzabo soup readthrough of BotNS at the moment, but several months behind with it, so wasn't aware. Only author that's really been there all my reading life - since I picked up Shadow as a young teenager and didn't really understand any of it, but was still entranced by the atmosphere and feel. Had a reread last year and that book just has the fire - like you know when you're reading something and it's crystal clear, you can feel it, that the author is doing something very special? Had to lay the book down occasionally just to pause and draw breath. The antechamber chapter in Claw with Severian and Jonas is, I think, one of my favourite passages in all of literature.

I've read all his books but don't really connect too well with his latter work (Short Sun was uncharacteristically emotional (plus very difficult IME) and the last one that really knocked me out). He reminded me of a great composer or painter, who having mastered the classical form, has nothing left to prove so starts to become quite experimental and minimalist. I can see how this enabled him to write in a different way, he'd use genre fiction tropes in his later work to write in quite a superficial, bland style that let him be extremely tricky and playful. But I missed the prose - Wolfe was a big admirer of Proust and he channelled that immersive, dream-like writing into his best work IMHO.

It's moving to hear that he was so well-liked to go along with the universal regard he was held in as a writer. RIP Gene.
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