Gene Wolfe steals my fudgsicle

by Henry on June 15, 2004

In comments at John and Belle’s “other blog”:, Fafnir from Fafblog speaks to the perplexity caused by reading Gene Wolfe.

bq. Gene Wolfe is a punk. He also greedily ate my fudgcicle once while signin my copy of “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories.” I said “hey gene wolfe that is my fudgcicle” an he said “maybe you only THINK it is your fudgcicle because you are plaaaaauged by the ghooosts of meeeeemory. wooooooo!” all the while makin wiggly fingers. And I went home thinkin that maybe I really was plagued by the ghosts of memory and maybe I wasn’t who I thought I was, was I Fafnir or was I Gene Wolfe, or was I a butterfly dreaming I was Gene Wolfe dreaming I was Fafnir? And the next day I woke up an realized that punk had just eaten my fudgcicle.

Exactly right. When you’ve finished a piece of prime Wolfe, whether novel or short story, you feel as if you’ve been hit on the back of the head. There’s something going on there that’s really, really important, but that you’re just not _quite_ smart enough to figure out. Even when he introduces someone else’s short story, he creates mystery – I’ve been trying for years to understand his hints as to the true meaning of Avram Davidson’s “Polly Charms, the Sleeping Woman,” a tale that’s oblique enough in itself.[1]

bq. Davidson was never one to explain everything. No more am I. But to his multitude of clues I will add two additional hints. The first is that the Ancients knew that it was possible to torture the dead by burning the hair of the corpse. The second is that the worst crime is not murder. And the third (did you really expect me to tell you everything when I numbered them?) is that you may wish to consider the fifty daughters of Endymion and the Moon.

Wolfe has a new collection out, “Innocents Aboard”: – there are some wonderful stories in it. But if you do buy it, remember that Wolfe’s not to be trusted. Keep a weather eye on your fudgsicle.

fn1. Both story and introduction are to be found in the “Avram Davidson Treasury”:, which also contains Davidson’s justly famous “Or All the Seas with Oysters,” a story which proposes that safety-pins are the pupae of coat hangers, which themselves are the larval form of racing-bicycles.



Ophelia Benson 06.15.04 at 7:24 pm

“And I went home thinkin that maybe I really was plagued by the ghosts of memory and maybe I wasn’t who I thought I was, was I Fafnir or was I Gene Wolfe, or was I a butterfly dreaming I was Gene Wolfe dreaming I was Fafnir?”

Maybe he was a butterfly dreaming he was a whale dreaming she was Gene Wolfe dreaming he was Fafnir. I bet that was it.


Bill Tozier 06.15.04 at 10:52 pm

When I was in eleventh grade, I ate The Shadow of the Torturer overnight as soon as I discovered it at Waldenbooks. I immediately forced it on my creative writing teacher. He took it begrudgingly, saying, “I’ve only taken two recommendations from my students through the years, and regretted both of them.” When he was done, he said, “Well, it reminds me of stories written by some disturbed children and schizophrenics I know.” I thought then, and still think, that the whole Torturer series was amazing.

Some years later, I read Wolfe’s Peace.

Go read it, and then tell me who was right.


J. Michael Neal 06.16.04 at 1:06 am

I read the first two books of the Torturer series a long time ago. At that point, I put them down and never read the others. I can’t say that I was really bored, and I can’t say that they were *bad*, really. I just felt like I’d gotten nowhere. Not in that good way that a fine character study gets nowhere, and often deteriorates as soon as a plot is introduced. Just nowhere.


Matt Weiner 06.16.04 at 2:55 am

So can anyone point me to a good FAQ on Book of the New Sun, or do I have to post my own (possibly slightly cranky) FAQs and hope that someone answers them? I mean–I’m perfectly happy to appreciate it for the amazing imagery, the man in the house that’s in the future ice age and the cacogens by the sea, and the gardens of whatsit in the first book, but I’d also like to pick everyone else’s brains about what might actually be going on.


Avram 06.16.04 at 4:24 am

From December 2003 to February 2004, I reread all of Wolfe’s Sun books (New Sun, Long Sun, Short Sun). As I was going I commented on them in my LiveJournal, occasionally linking to items from a couple of Wolfe mailing lists. Here’s the first such post. And some of my speculations are, um, silly.


Matt 06.16.04 at 8:36 am

Good FAQ on BotNS – basically you want the Urth list at where Wolfe’s novels have been under discussion since late 1996. Of course, the sheer volume of speculations may leave you even more confused than you were before you started.

Also good for occasional John Crowley tidbits too.


Terry 06.16.04 at 2:41 pm

O. My. God.

I read “Or All the Seas With Oysters” fifteen years ago and lost track of it, knowing neither the author or short story title. In the intervening years, I’ve wanted to share the story with others, but, until now, I could not.

Henry, I owe you a fruit basket.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 06.16.04 at 3:01 pm

Gene’s new story collection is called Innocents Aboard, not “Abroad.”

Mind you, this isn’t the first time Gene Wolfe has deliberately tried to drive bibliographers to distraction.


Henry 06.16.04 at 3:14 pm

Thanks – correction made. At least it’s not as big a screw-up as Locus’ infamous announcement of the forthcoming “Castle of the Otter”: Although it’s not as colourful either.

Terry – delighted to have reunited you with your long-lost short story – it’s a good one. The _Treasury_ is precisely what the title suggests – warmly recommended. Davidson’s Doctor Eszterhazy stories are also wonderful – Owlswick came out with a collection of them a few years ago, which you can sometimes find second-hand. Also his “The Phoenix and the Mirror.” I’ve just bought the newish collection of his Jack Limekiller stories, but haven’t had a chance to open it yet. And if anyone has a copy of his “Adventures in Unhistory” and is willing to offload it at a reasonable price …


Matt Weiner 06.16.04 at 6:38 pm

Thanks for the suggestions–in return, I will field any questions you have about Shirley Hazzard’s Transit of Venus. (Answers not guaranteed accurate.)

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