In Memoriam – Gene Wolfe

SFWA Grand Master Gene Wolfe (b.1931) died on April 14. Wolfe is widely considered to be one of science fiction and fantasy’s greatest stylists, writing complex and intelligent novels and short stories, while letting his wry wit show through.

After service in the Korean War, Wolfe earned a degree and became the senior editor of the journal, Plant Engineering. In recognition of this, several years later, NESFA Press published a collection of his writing entitled Plan(e)t Engineering.  Using his knowledge of industrial engineering, Wolfe developed the press which is used to form the shape of Pringles.

Wolfe’s first story, “The Dead Man” appeared in the magazine Sir! In 1965 and Wolfe’s stories began appearing sporadically in magazines over the next several years, garnering him attention and, beginning in 1971, award nominations. He eventually turned his skills to writing novels, many of which can justifiably be called classics.

His Book of the New Sun was published in four volumes, beginning with The Shadow of the Torturer.  All four volumes went on to win major awards, as would its eventual sequel, The Urth of the New Sun.  Tangentially related to The Book of the New Sun is the four volume Book of the Long Sun sequence and the three volume Book of the Short Sun. Wolfe also wrote the three volume series beginning with Soldier in the Mist and the duology, The Wizard Knight.

Wolfe has won the World Fantasy Award for his novels The Shadows of the Torturer and Soldier of Sidon and for his collections The Best of Gene Wolfe and Storeys from the Old HotelThe Shadow of the Torturer also won the British SF Association Award while its sequel The Sword of the Lictor earned a British Fantasy Award.  The final novel in the sequence, The Citadel of the Autarch won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

In 1971, Isaac Asimov infamously announced Wolfe as the winner of the Nebula Award for his short story “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories.”  When the reality was revealed, that “No Award” won the category, Wolfe took the news with good humor and Asimov joked that he should write a story called “The Death of Doctor Island,” which would be sure to win the Nebula Award. Wolfe did, in fact write a story of that title, which earned him his first Nebula Award in 1974.  He earned a second Nebula Award in 1982 for his novel The Claw of the Conciliator.  In 2013, SFWA named him a Damon Knight Grand Master.

Wolfe has also received a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Skylark Award, and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007.  In 2011, he was the recipient of the first Fuller Award by the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

SFWA President Cat Rambo said, “When we talk about fantasy and science fiction writers who were true virtuosos, Wolfe is one of the foremost among them, and I was honored to be at the 2013 Nebula Conference where he was made a SFWA Grand Master. His Book of the New Sun is a revelation to me every time I go back to reread it and his clear, thoughtful, ever-incisive voice will be sorely missed. This year has claimed several giants in the field, and Gene is most assuredly one whose loss will hit hard across the F&SF community.”

One Response

  1. James Keefe

    To the family of Gene Wolfe,

    My sincere sympathy on the death of your father. I went to school with your mother in Peoria in the 1940s. We went to the prom together in our junior and senior year. I always found your father’s work outstanding and challenging. Your mother sent me several of his signed books. He will be missed by many, especially by the SF community and readers of great literature everywhere .

    Jim Keefe

    James W. Keefe EdD
    Reston, Va

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