Sci-fi master Gene Wolfe passed away in April of this year.
Between 1970 or so and the turn of the century, through a seemingly unending flow of novels and stories, the American science fiction writer Gene Wolfe, who has died aged 87, enjoyed a creative prime more intense and rewarding than any of his contempories.
Wolfe became famous for the polish and skill of his more conventional seeming sci-fi, though even early readers detected complexities under the surface. There were hints of the more hidden master, a dark artificer whose haunted, potent myths about human destiny have increasingly attracted the kind of intense study more usually given to authors outside the sci-fi field such as William Gaddis or Thomas Pynchon.
In Wolfe’s work, some very deep issues of identity and destiny secretly shape that dream. Seemingly innocent children who know us too well were frequently found in his early work, though he almost never wrote for younger readers. The tales assembled in The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (1980) and The Wolfe Archipelago (1983) are exemplary.
His full-length fiction plumbs the same depths, but expresses the soundings very differently. The finest of his novels, some of them published in several volumes, are invariably told in the first person by highly unreliable narrators, no longer children, ancient beyond their years. Usually their stories are presented as manuscripts passed down to us over time through unknown channels.