“I would like [my readers] to better understand human beings and human life as a result of having read [my] stories. I’d like them to feel that this was an experience that made things better for them and an experience that gave them hope.” – Gene Wolfe
I was very sad to read of the passing of the American science fiction and fantasy writer Gene Wolfe. I’d heard nothing about it until I saw this article on Tor.com. I’ve only read a couple of books by Wolfe and this is something I am determined to remedy. I just wish it hadn’t taken such upsetting news to push me into rediscovering his writing.
It was Neil Gaiman who got me into reading Gene Wolfe. I was a big fan of Gaiman from his days of writing Sandman and the delightful Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett). I used to look out for interviews with Gaiman and it was in one of them that he raved about the sheer brilliance of Wolfe’s writings. This led me to pick up a copy of Starwater Strains (2005), his twelfth collection of short stories.
After enjoying that book, I bought a copy of The Book of the New Sun Volume 1: Shadow and Claw, Gollancz’s Fantasy Masterworks omnibus release of the first two books in the series. The Shadow of the Torturer (1980)–the first book in the series–won the World Fantasy Award as well as the British Science Fiction Association Award. It has been more than ten years since I read it but I can still remember it blowing me away. I felt like I was experiencing something new, something different than other works of the genre. I quickly read the second book in the series, The Claw of the Conciliator (1981), and enjoyed it, too. For some unfathomable reason though, I didn’t continue with the series. Nor did I read anything else by Gene Wolfe.
Until now… After reading of Gene Wolfe’s passing, I quickly ordered a copy of his first collection of short stories, the eye-catchingly titled: The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (1980). As of typing this, I’ve only read the titular story in this collection. And I loved it! I’ll be posting a review of the book when I finish it. Until then, please let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of Gene Wolfe’s oeuvre. I would love to hear about any recommendations or personal favourites you have of his books.
I want to conclude this post with a quote from an interview Gene Wolfe did with Neil Gaiman. It was a LOCUS interview from 2002, and Gaiman asked Wolfe, “What’s the most important thing about fiction?” Wolfe replied, “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. […] Both science fiction and fantasy can be literatures of hope. […] The basic hope is the hope that things can be different. […] We’re saying the world doesn’t have to be like this, and your life doesn’t have to be like this.
Requiescat in Pace, Gene Wolfe.