Gene Wolfe

1931 –

American author

Though neither the most well-known nor the most influential author in the science fiction field, Gene Wolfe is quite possibly the most important.

He started writing early, but did not find it easy to break into print. His first published story, "The Dead Man" for Sir, appeared years after he had begun to create fiction of some distinction. In his early career, much of his best work tended to appear in Damon Knight's Orbit anthologies, including the superb "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories" (1970). From the first, Wolfe's fiction almost uniquely married Modernism and science fiction, rather than putting them into rhetorical opposition. During the 1970s, Wolfe continued to publish short stories at a considerable rate.

Wolfe has written many novels of note, many more than can be properly addressed here. The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972), comprises three separate tales. Set on a distant two-planet system, the book combines aliens, anthropology, clones and other elements in a richly imaginative exploration of the nature of identity and individuality. The Book of the New Sun sequence (beginning with The Shadow of the Torturer, 1980) brought Wolfe to a wide audience. As a synthesizing work of fiction, The Book of the New Sun owes clear debts to science fiction and fantasy in general, and in particular to the dying-Earth category of planetary romance initiated by Jack Vance. The Latro sequence, beginning with Soldier of the Mist (1986), is set in ancient Greece and is narrated in chapters each representing a day's written-down recollections by a soldier whom a goddess has punished by removing his capacity to remember anything for more than 24 hours.

Wolfe's importance lies in a spongelike ability to assimilate science fiction and fantasy models and devices, and in the quality of the transformations he effects upon that material. Wolfe's control of language, too, is eloquently parodic, and many of his short stories deliberately echo other authors, from G.K. Chesterton and Rudyard Kipling on through the whole pantheon of science fiction. Wolfe's importance has been, therefore, twofold: the stature of his work is deeply impressive, and he wears the fictional worlds of science fiction like a coat of many colors.

Selected Bibliography:
The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972)
Peace (1975)
The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (1980)
The Shadow of the Torturer (1980)
The Claw of the Conciliator (1981)
The Sword of the Lictor (1982)
The Citadel of the Autarch (1983)
Soldier of the Mist (1986)
Storeys from the Old Hotel (1988)
Pandora, By Holly Hollander (1990)
Nightside the Long Sun (1993)
On Blue's Waters (1999)
Innocents Aboard (2004)
The Knight (2004)