Gene Wolfe died April 14 after a long battle with heart disease. Acknowledged as one of the field’s finest writers, his honors included a Life Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention in 1996, induction to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007, and recognition as a SFWA Grand Master in 2013.
John Clute aptly summed up Wolfe’s career in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:
Though never the most popular nor the most influential author in the sf field, Wolfe remains quite possibly its most important, both for the intense literary achievement of his best work, and for the very considerable volume of work of the highest quality.
Wolfe was a particular favorite of the World Fantasy Convention membership, who voted him four World Fantasy Awards, for The Shadow of the Torturer (1981), Storeys from the Old Hotel (1989), Soldier of Sidon (2007), and The Very Best of Gene Wolfe/The Best of Gene Wolfe (2010).
Paradoxically, the respect for Wolfe’s cumulative record of accomplishment rarely translated into Hugo or Nebula award recognition for the individual books or stories. Although nominated nine times, he never won a Hugo. He won the first of his two Nebulas in sympathy for Isaac Asimov’s gaffe at the 1971 ceremony, mistakenly announcing that Wolfe’s story “Island of Dr. Death” had won, then while Wolfe was on his way to the dais correcting himself that No Award had finished first. The mistake was eventually redeemed, as Wolfe explained:
A month or so after the banquet I was talking to Joe Hensley, and he joked that I should write “The Death of Doctor Island,” saying that everyone felt so sorry for me that it was sure to win. I thought about that when I got home and decided to try, turning things inside out to achieve a different story.
He did, and his novella “The Death of Doctor Island” won a Nebula in 1974.
Wolfe wrote over 30 novels, of which the best known are the five comprising The Book of The New Sun (The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator – his other Nebula winning work, The Sword of the Lictor, The Citadel of the Autarch, and The Urth of the New Sun.)
His first published story, “The Case of the Vanishing Ghost,” appeared in The Commentator for November 1951.
I can’t remember if the first time I saw Gene Wolfe at TorCon 2’s “Meet the Pros” party he was wearing one of the plastic straw hats SFWA President Jerry Pournelle urged on all the writers to make them more identifiable. That year Wolfe was a double Hugo nominee for his story “Against the Lafayette Escadrille” in Again, Dangerous Visions and “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” from Orbit 10.
He also cut a memorable figure as pro guest of honor at Aussiecon Two in 1985, where he made a fine speech, well-attuned to a fannish audience. He said that the difference between a real fan and a fake fan is that “A fake fan will always bring the discussion around to the book he’s read that year.” And he joked — with a dash of bitters — that the difference between a book publisher and a fanzine editor is that if a fanzine sells out the faneditor will print more.
An entire WolfeWiki is dedicated to his works and material about him
Gene’s wife, Rosemary, predeceased him in 2013. He is survived by two daughters, a son, and three grandchildren.