Gene Wolfe has died

by Henry Farrell on April 15, 2019

One of the great authors of our time

<blockquote>The past stood at my shoulder, naked and defenseless as all dead things, as though it were time itself that had been laid open by the fall of the mountain. Fossil bones protruded from the surface in places, the bones of mighty animals and of men. The forest had set its own dead there as well, stumps and limbs that time had turned to stone, so that I wondered as I descended, if it might not be that Urth is not, as we assume, older than her daughters the trees, and imagined them growing in the emptiness before the face of the sun, tree clinging to tree with tangled roots and interlacing twigs until at last their accumulation became our Urth, and they only the nap of her garment.

Deeper than these lay the buildings and mechanisms of humanity. (And it may be that those of other races lay there as well, for several of the stories in the brown book I carried seemed to imply that colonies once existed here of those beings whom we call the cacogens, though they are in fact of myriad races, each as distinct as our own.) I saw metals there that were green and blue in the same sense that copper is said to be red or silver white, colored metals so curiously wrought that I could not be certain whether their shapes had been intended as works of art or as parts for strange machines, and it may be indeed that among some of those unfathomable peoples there is no distinction.

At one point, only slightly less than halfway down, the line of the fault had coincided with the tiled wall of some great building, so that the windy path I trod slashed across it. What the design was those tiles traced, I never knew; as I descended the cliff I was too near to see it, and when I reached the base at last it was too high for me to discern, lost in the shifting mists of the falling river. Yet as I walked, I saw it as an insect may be said to see the face in a portrait over whose surface it creeps. The tiles were of many shapes, though they fit together so closely, and at first I thought them representations of birds, lizards, fish and suchlike creatures, all interlocked in the grip of life. Now I feel that this was not so, that they were instead the shapes of a geometry I failed to comprehend, diagrams so complex that the living forms seemed to appear in them as the forms of actual animals appear from the intricate geometries of complex molecules.</blockquote>



eg 04.15.19 at 4:32 pm

I have read some of the work, but not all of it yet — and of what I have read, it was truly exceptional.

He will be missed.


faustusnotes 04.16.19 at 1:20 am

Noooo! His Book of the New Sun was great and a huge influence on me (and on my GMing). This is sad!


JakeB 04.16.19 at 4:18 am

Many years ago when I was going through a very bad time, I happened to be given the Book of the New Sun, in four cheap paperbacks. I still remember how much the beauty of the writing, the endless, incredible, profusion of ideas, and the kind of distance it had from my problems (even though some of that distancing was probably derived from how well Mr. Wolfe managed to see through the eyes of a man like Severian) offered me a kind of respite. At time I think they might have saved my life. A, if not The, book of gold.


Mark Pontin 04.16.19 at 6:15 am

“That you and I … if we are recalled at all, will eventually be thought of as contemporaries of Xenophon and Mark Twain. That this is a small world at the edge of its galaxy, tumbling through the night, a provincial and rural backwater.”

Gene Wolfe, decades ago. This was a contributor’s note he wrote for an anthology (probably Damon Knight’s ORBIT) where he placed one of his early great stories (probably “Alien Stones”). I happened to copy it out because it struck me so.


Gabriel 04.16.19 at 7:30 am

One of the great stylists, and great writers, the SF/F world has produced. I didn’t always appreciate his work, but when I rebounded from it, I thought enough of his skills as writer that I always thought, ‘I’m not ready for this. Someday I will be.’ And that almost always proved to be the case.

I feel the same way that I felt when Lucius Shepherd passed: a great one is gone, and we are all poorer for it.


Z 04.16.19 at 8:39 am

Gene Wolf has died, and Notre-Dame de Paris has burned. Some days are real assholes.


Dr. Hilarius 04.16.19 at 3:28 pm

Fifth Head of Cerberus was my introduction to Wolfe. I read it and re-read it, knowing there were depths there and meanings still to be found. But it was Shadow of the Torturer that really hooked me. (Reading it was literally hallucinatory, I was hospitalized after a serious fall while climbing and read it as I slipped in and out of wakefulness on a demerol IV.) Wolfe was a writer of great intelligence and subtle craft. A tremendous loss.


Plarry 04.17.19 at 2:56 am

Sad, one of the modern titans of the genre. I always liked his Soldier of the Mist series better than the Book of the New Sun, but I don’t think he was that engaged by it.


william u. 04.17.19 at 5:26 am

“Gene Wolf has died, and Notre-Dame de Paris has burned. Some days are real assholes.”

I was already in a black mood from the Notre-Dame news, so when I saw the news of Wolfe’s death, I found it darkly fitting: that a writer who could so ably capture a world in decline, and that has already lost so much, should pass on the day we lose one of our great cultural treasures.

My black mood has lifted with the news that much of Notre-Dame is intact. Still, we lost much of it and we lost Wolfe.

The Fifth Head of Cereberus is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I think anyone new to Wolfe (and I am one, relatively speaking) should start there. As for The Claw of the Conciliator, it is one of the strangest books I’ve read in a long time.


JimV 04.18.19 at 12:21 pm

I believe GW’s books were written in a higher language and we are reading them in translation, in which glints of the higher meanings shine here and there. There often seems to be something deeper which I can sense but not fully comprehend.

Comments on this entry are closed.