Gene Wolfe, science fiction grand master


As reported elsewhere, Gene Wolfe, author of the Fifth Head of Cerebus, the four-volume Book of the New Sun, and numerous other works of complex, erudite science fiction and fantasy, was named this year’s recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award by SFWA. This is seriously cool news for a number of reasons:

1. A knowledgeable and sophisticated observer of science fiction predicted this about a year ago.

2. I live within a mile of his childhood home. Honest, he grew up in Houston. It’s possible he walked or biked by my house en route to the drugstore where he read pulp sf mags on the racks.

3. To other sf writers, he represents an aspirational archetype. The nearest metaphor is what an old *nix beard, full of command-line- and regex-fu, represents to a computer geek. Wolfe’s vocabulary is immense, and even better, not flashy. He doesn’t call Severian’s cloak “fuligin” because it has three syllables to the one of “black,” but because it’s darker than black and has connotations of sootiness, which metaphorically fits Severian’s starting position as an apprentice torturer. Wolfe is very adept at not explaining his sf props, and instead, providing enough context for the reader to figure them out. (E.g., the arquebusers and destriers.) And Wolfe is the master of using unreliable narration: the first and third novellas in Fifth Head of Cerebus, Severian throughout the New Sun books, head-injured Latro in the Soldier of the Mist series. Again, he doesn’t wield these as tricks, but to enrich the story–consider Severian’s eidetic memory, his response to the note regarding “Master Gurloes and the other masters” early in Claw of the Conciliator, and what that says about Severian that he never puts into his own words.

In sum, a well deserved recognition of the man Neil Gaiman called “our greatest living writer.”