“Tell us a story,” the young said, and so the old one downloaded this tale of his youth. But for you to understand it as they did, I must cast it in our own terms. Think of them gathered around a fire, although they were not gathered about a fire. Think of the old one as an old man, although he was not, and the young as so many children, although they were not. He stretches out his legs, puffs the charred old briar he has not got thoughtfully, and begins. (“Graylord Man’s Last Words,” from Starwater Strains, by Gene Wolfe)
Gene Rodman Wolfe (May 7, 1931 – April 14, 2019) was Sci-Fi’s Difficult Genius, an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He was noted for his dense, allusive prose as well as the strong influence of his Catholic faith. He was a prolific short story writer and novelist, and won many literary awards. Wolfe has been called “the Melville of science fiction”, and was honored as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
I blundered onto news of his existence mere months ago and my life has not been the same since. I think it was a panel discussion on YouTube that put me onto this trail. It appears that the Pringle’s logo has a haunting resemblance to his visage.
He was a senior editor on the staff of the journal Plant Engineering for many years before retiring to write full-time, but his most famous professional engineering achievement could be a contribution to the machine used to make Pringles potato chips.
Critic and science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, reviewing The Shadow of the Torturer, wrote: “Gene Wolfe is engaged in the holy chore of writing every other author under the table. He is no less than one of the finest, most original writers in the world today. His work is singular, hypnotizing, startlingly above comparison. The Shadow of the Torturer breaks new ground in American literature and, as the first novel of a tetralogy, casts a fierce light on what will certainly be a lodestone landmark, his most stunning work to date. It is often said, but never more surely than this time: This book is not to be missed at peril of one’s intellectual enrichment.”
Wolfe frequently plays games with the reader, he plays them fairly. Wolfe has said that he doesn’t give the important information twice, because he feels his intelligence insulted when other writers do so. The information you need is always there — but it might not be where you expect it to be.
If the information you need isn’t there, you’re probably attacking the wrong question.
Look up the words you don’t understand. Some of them aren’t in most dictionaries. Eventually this wiki will have a guide to a lot of those words.
Is one such resource enough?
I started my journey with The Best of Gene Wolfe and was fastened to this trail, swearing I will pursue this odyssey to my death.
Anthologies give a lot of tastes, what sticks with me includes the stories “The Death of Doctor Island,” “The Island of Doctor Death,” “The Fifth Head of Cerberus,” “Petting Zoo”, “The Tree Is My Hat”, “Seven American Nights”, and “A Cabin on the Coast.”
Next, Interlibrary loan: In this future libraries allow patrons to borrow cloned authors, the action leads to a frozen island where a cave is filled with corpses. The missing man is employed as a supplier of cadavers for medical schools, hence his attraction to the grim cave.
Home fires: A reunion of an old man and his young bride who has returned from serving in a war on a distant planet, on the cruise ship she decides to quit the army, also they fight off pirates who have taken over the cruise ship.
Peace: An old man reflects on his life, he tells some whoppers. This is a ghost story but you wont know it until maybe the third time reading it, then it becomes terrifying.
An evil guest: She is a Broadway star who has two love interests, one hires her to spy on the other, she finds herself on a tropical island where the locals worship her, but she ends up in poverty back in the big city.
Storeys from the old hotel: anthology here. Yummy!
The land across: In distant Eastern Europe a tourist/travel writer has his passport confiscated on the train, he is arrested for not having a passport, this leads to prison and then to finding treasure and ghosts while evading gangsters and evil police forces. He joins the police and is honored for his service, then he returns home to write about it.
The Urth of the new sun: Why would I start this massive series concerning the unreliable protagonist Severian with the epilog volume? Because it came to me first. Severian returns to Urth to facilitate the planet’s rebirth after the destruction of the world. He sometimes rides on interstellar boat-like vessels, some of which are really big, and spends some time in the slam.
Borrowed man: Back to the library where patrons can check out clones of authors for consultation, our protagonist writes detective stories. There are several action paths.
The Devil in a forest: In a medieval forest a coming of age story involves a kid and a dangerous outlaw, also the soldiers who pillage the village.
Shadow & claw: the first half of the book of the new sun: My dream is to read and re-read this New Sun series of books for the rest of my days. I have been keeping an inventory of the words I look up: mystes, badelaire, dhole, Armiger, Caracara, saros, cacogenic, nenuphar, Ophicleide, Cuirass, Diatryma, oubliette, dimarchi, Thylacodon, Arctother, Gnomon, Barylambda, Glyptodon, Glaive
And now Starwater strains, another anthology. Winter approaches. A summary bibliography