Saturday, March 03, 2007

How To Read Gene Wolfe

Describing what makes him good has been compared to “a musical contemporary attempting to tell people what’s good about Mozart” (Chicago Sun-Times). A review of one of his books in The Washington Post Book World said, “If any writer from within genre fiction ever merited the designation Great Author, it is surely Wolfe,” and added that he “reads like Dickens, Proust, Kipling, Chesterton, Borges, and Nabokov rolled into one, and then spiced with all manner of fantastic influences, from H. G. Wells to Jack Vance, H. P. Lovecraft to Damon Knight.” The review later said, “Gene Wolfe has taken science fiction to its highest artistic pitch” and called him “SF’s greatest novelist.”

High praise. But that opinion isn’t limited to that one reviewer. Wolfe has been referred to as “quite possibly the most important writer in the SF field” (John Clute in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction), “a national treasure” (Damon Knight), “our Melville” (Ursula LeGuin), “The greatest writer in the English language today” (Michael Swanwick), ”the smartest, sublest, most dangerous writer alive today, in genre or out of it” (Neil Gaiman), and “the best novelist in America that you’ve never heard of, let alone read, because you don’t bother with ’science fiction’” (Washington Post Book World).

Kata John wrote the above at his blog. Drop by and read the rest.

I refer to this praise-filled post because the Gene Wolfe issue of FANTASY & SCIENCE FICION (April 2007) is already on sale, and you should get your copy before they disappear. (I've got mine!) The cover (see at left) has a portion of Wolfe's face added to a nice speculative bit of artwork that has asteroidy things orbiting a planet, but have portals that look like ancient Cathedral doors. Very cool.

The special Gene Wolfe section has "How to Read Gene Wolfe" by Neil Gaiman:

5) Reading Gene Wolfe is dangerous work. It's a knife-throwing act, and like all good knife-throwing acts, you may lose fingers, toes, earlobes or eyes in the process. Gene doesn't mind. Gene is throwing the knives.

6) Make yourself comfortable. Pour a pot of tea. Hang up a DO NOT DISTURB Sign. Start at Page One.

7) There are two kinds of clever writer. The ones that point out how clever they are, and the ones who see no need to point out how clever they are. Gene Wolfe is of the second kind, and the intelligence is less important than the tale. He is not smart to make you feel stupid. He is smart to make you smart as well.

Also in this issue: "Memorare" by Wolfe himself, "The Wolf in the Labyrinth" by Michael Swanwick, which states:

Wolfe is so extremely smart that he stands out even in a field that routinely attracts savants, autodidacts, brilliant loners, and wild talents; he writes both novels and short fiction with complete mastery; he's endlessly inventive and endlessly surprising; he fills his works with what programmers call "Easter eggs," puzzles and secret treats for those who care to fossick them out; he dares to take chances; his writing covers an astonishing range of subjects and styles; he creates people you care about; his research is meticulous and his facts reliable; he has the slyest sense of humor imaginable; and his prose is as good as prose gets. Plus, he's prolific. To be prolific at any level is to be beloved of God. But to be prolific and write like Gene Wolfe does is to be one of the Elect.

You'll also find "Gene Wolfe: The Man and His Work" by Michael Andre-Driussi.

Over at Christian Fandom's listserv, we are enjoying a special interview with Mr. Wolfe. Lucky us.

It's a Wolfe-y month!

Elliot must be in a haze of joy.


Anonymous said...

What I don't like about critics when they praise Wolfe is referring to God. I was in awe from the very beginning I started to read him (haven't read really much), but the whole lost immediatly dimension when I read about the catholic basement. I don't have necessarily a problem with catholic authors, not even if it is like some of Wolfe's so called "allegorical" works.
I can still feast on the genious humor, psychology, imagery and depression (though I'll test some day how much is due to the inspiration of Jack Vance's work), but when catholicism is taken as a quality characteristic - which is throughout the history of literature simply untrue, because it's often there but not the least because it makes it better, not more than any other moral, or ideal standard of a chracter, whatever -, then I recognise the american "neo-conservatism" and just don't care. It's futile to read things about Gene Wolfe without no necessity to care about it.
Sorry if someone thinks this is flaming.
It's probably not even a good spot to remark this.

Mirtika said...

Well, it's a form of bigotry. If the work is great, but then you find the "Catholic basement" and that kills it for you, it says more about you than about Wolfe. It's like saying, "Well, I loved so-n-so, but then I found out they had a feminist basement, and that ruined it."

If it's good, it's good. And if a person's religion ruins it for you, even if it's not overt or judgmental, then that's a bigoted attitude.