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Gene Wolfe

The NEW YORKER has run a major profile of Gene Wolfe. Good reading, for the Wolfe fans out there... and an intriguing introduction to one of the field's greatest writers, for those who have yet to sample his work.

You can check it out yourself at http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/sci-fis-difficult-genius

The article becomes especially apt in light of the ongoing Hugo Wars.

One of the claims of the Sad Puppies has been that certain writers in our field have been wrongly overlooked when the rockets were being handed out. There is a certain amount of truth to that (please note, that unlike many on the other side, I am capable of conceding a point from time to time). We all know the names of the "overlooked writers" that the Puppies chose to champion.

I have my own list, very different from theirs. At the top of it is the name GENE WOLFE.

Gene Wolfe has never won a Hugo.

Nebulas, yes. World Fantasy Awards, yes. Locus Awards, BSFA Awards, Campbell Memorial Award (not to be confused with the Campbell New Writer award). Even the Rhysling Award for poetry, and something called the August Derleth Award. But never a Hugo. Eight nominations, zero wins.

I would rank Wolfe as one of the greatest SF and fantasy writers of the past half-century, right up there with Roger Zelazny and Ursula K. Le Guin. Yet he remains without a rocket.

The Hugo Awards are not perfect, no. No more than any other award. Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar. That did not mean that the Oscars were in the hands of some secret cabal. Hitchcock, by all reports, would have liked to have won, but he never let it bother him. He just kept on making movies, and Gene Wolfe just keeps on writing great books.

Will he get a Hugo some day? Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn't matter. His books will still be being read a hundred years from now. That's the "award" that matters most.

Gene Wolfe: one of the great ones. And a class act.


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Apr. 27th, 2015 10:55 pm (UTC)
Aye, sir. I'll drink to that.
Sean Crisafulli
Apr. 27th, 2015 11:02 pm (UTC)
Do you have a favorite Gene Wolfe book, George? I'm looking for a new sci-fi novel. :)
Apr. 27th, 2015 11:37 pm (UTC)
Re: favorite?
The BOOK OF THE NEW SUN. A four-volume "trilogy."
Re: favorite? - ticktockman - Apr. 27th, 2015 11:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: favorite? - murasaki_1966 - Apr. 28th, 2015 06:13 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: favorite? - Alternate Snowcrash - Apr. 28th, 2015 12:43 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: favorite? - 13doug13 - Apr. 28th, 2015 09:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: favorite? - joshmst - Apr. 28th, 2015 03:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kalimac - Apr. 28th, 2015 12:37 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: favorite? - michaeltho - Apr. 28th, 2015 12:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 27th, 2015 11:24 pm (UTC)
So very true. One of the greatest.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 28th, 2015 01:59 am (UTC)
Not necessarily. Gene Wolfe is now one of my all-time favourite writers. However,, I couldn't read his stuff until I was in my late twenties. I kept bouncing off "The Book of the New Sun" multiple times. I could tell it was an important, great series, but I couldn't get my head around its complexity (in so many diferrent ways). I also meet people now who will akcnoledge that Wolfe is a great writer but that they don't like his books - there's a difference between acknowledging quality and liking something. Historically (ignoring the current issue) people voting on the Hugos (he's been nominated but not won so it's the voting, not the nominating) vote for what they can read and what they like over what they think is good but can't read or don't like.
(no subject) - dmscott - Apr. 28th, 2015 06:46 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 27th, 2015 11:56 pm (UTC)
Beyond a Hugo, I think Gene Wolfe deserves a Nobel Prize for Literature. I can dream, right?
Apr. 28th, 2015 12:10 am (UTC)
A Pulitzer would be good as well.
Jim Bro
Apr. 28th, 2015 12:05 am (UTC)
It's not too late. I think he has some stuff on the editor's desk right now, and I'm sure it's awesome.

His Wizard-Knight series was some of the best and most original fantasy in the last 50 years.

And if we can't get him a best novel, then hey, is there a statute of limitations on Cambell for best new author? He's always going to be new to some of us, after all.
Apr. 28th, 2015 12:36 am (UTC)
The thing is, EVERY award has its inexplicable gaps. Has Leonardo DiCaprio never won Best Actor because he's too conservative? Of course not. Sometimes good people just keep being overlooked.
Apr. 28th, 2015 08:10 pm (UTC)
There's also the fact that decisions get made within a year - a number of people have looked back on previous Oscars and gone, "really? X beat out Y? But Y is considered a classic of the era, and no one except film buffs has ever heard of X." Sometimes things don't age well, or any number of other reasons. (Or when viewed as a whole, their career is excellent; but each year, someone else reached a higher peak. As I suspect has happened with Di Caprio.)
Apr. 28th, 2015 12:39 am (UTC)
Thank you for suggesting!
Apr. 28th, 2015 01:22 am (UTC)
Wolfe is a wondrous and sly writer.
Gene Wolfe is one of those writers who can be reread multiple times because he is nuanced and there are so many levels to his writing. I have often admired his wit while watching him on a panel. He walked around the Readercon room with me once because I asked him to recommend a standalone book ( at that time I did not want to read trilogies) and we settled on Gene Wolfe Book of Days. I miss seeing how he strolled with Rosemary on his arm - another lovely person. He inspired me to start a collection of dictionaries because there are times when reading his work I want to know more about the exact meaning and etymology. He also keeps me guessing and sometimes even with a close reading, I know there is something eluding me. He respects his audience to be able to work it out which is why I think he has been overlooked. Not enough superfical flash and neatly tied up endings.

Truly a he is a classy man oozing talent.

Edited at 2015-04-28 01:26 am (UTC)
John H. Stevens
Apr. 28th, 2015 01:29 am (UTC)
And also. . . .
Wolfe's a Grand Master. And as you said he''ll still be read for a long time to come. I eagerly lead people to his books in our store at every opportunity, for all the reasons you listed and more.
Apr. 28th, 2015 02:02 am (UTC)
I wonder if he might not be too cerebral and too demanding of his readers, requiring them to *think* not just read I mean. I know, sf/f fans are all super-smart and super-readers, yeah of course; but maybe, just maybe, some are a little lazy, or a little too zoned out to concentrate, or (whispering now) not always the smartest people ever?
Apr. 28th, 2015 06:17 am (UTC)

(Actually, you may be right)
Apr. 28th, 2015 04:33 am (UTC)
Thank you for championing Gene Wolfe! I am glad both you and Neil Gaiman regularly mention him from the heights of your success. He deserves a much wider readership ... I always felt like the Hugos were somewhat extraneous if Wolfe never won one...

I have tried to spread the word about Wolfe for a long time, and I find that actually exploring some of his depth helps people appreciate him. I have a few videos discussing him online and have written more than 350,000 words about him ...

On Wolfe part 1 https://youtu.be/VKw_xUI6fDE
Fifth Head https://youtu.be/esAjkChAy7M
Peace https://youtu.be/v_8cybujZjU
New Sun https://youtu.be/dR6XewCfSK0
Gender in Wolfe https://youtu.be/kYPIoyvmsMY

I want the instant household name recognition of Shakespeare, Joyce, or Dickens (or Martin for that matter) for Wolfe ...

Apr. 28th, 2015 06:15 am (UTC)
Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe
I made an account just for this post.

I've been reading your blog for years, and it was your posts on Jack Vance that led me to read the Dying Earth novels. I'm really glad I did, as I would not have known what I was missing. There is some gorgeous prose in those books that rivals anything I've read in the classics. I also read his Lyonesse trilogy, which I enjoyed even more (was it an inspiration for your own A Song of Ice and Fire, I wonder?).

From there I searched out similar authors, and that is how I found Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. I was blown away by it. Reading it was the first time I realized the heights that speculative fiction could achieve. I think the only reason it isn't more popular is that it is an extremely challenging read. It isn't called the 'Ulysses' of science fiction for nothing.

So thanks Mr. Martin, for introducing me to two great writers.

P.S. The rich, witty dialogue in Vance's Cugel books would be a perfect fit for HBO. Just sayin'.
(no subject) - gummitch - Apr. 28th, 2015 08:14 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 28th, 2015 11:17 am (UTC)
On the other hand -- I am both an sff fan and a longtime New Yorker reader. I was introduced to The New Yorker in my teens by my aunt, who *still* refers to sff as "that space stuff you like." (I am now in my fifties and she in her seventies.)

Until about five years ago, I would not have expected to read a profile of Gene Wolfe, or an article about Doctor Who, in the magazine. The only coverage of science fiction literature or media at all would have been the occasional condescending film review. Now the New Yorker runs articles that take writers like Wolfe seriously. So, while it's true that Gene Wolfe isn't getting nominated for the Pulitzer or the American Book Award, the very existence of this article shows the increasing interest in, and acceptance of, sf & f in the mainstream.
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George R.R. Martin
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