Gene Rodman Wolfe (May 7, 1931 – April 14, 2019), known as Gene Wolfe, was an undisputed genius in the fields of American Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is best known for his Book of the New Sun series. He has won the Nebula Award, Locus Award, and World Fantasy Award at least once each. He was the 2013 recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award. His response, in part: "If you keep this up I'll start thinking I'm a good writer."
Other works include Peace, Free Live Free, The Fifth Head of Cerberus, the Soldier of the Mist trilogy, around a dozen other novels and dozens of short stories.
Hallmarks include unreliable first-person Narrators, and a facility for wordplay that ranges from the dense and clever (every smeerp-like word in a Wolfe story is an obscure but genuine word with an appropriate real meaning) to the amusingly straightforward: one of his short story collections is called The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories, which includes "The Death of Doctor Island" and "The Doctor of Death Island" in addition to a story which is actually named "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories". Many of his later books and short stories have Catholic themes, as Wolfe himself was a Roman Catholic, although he was willing to show Catholicism twisted to evil or manipulative ends.
Fun fact: during his engineering career, Wolfe helped create the machine that makes Pringles potato chips. He said in retrospect he would have "made them thicker."
Works by Gene Wolfe with their own trope pages include:<!—index—>
- The Solar Sequence
- The Book of the New Sun (a long novel sometimes published in four or two separate volumes) and The Urth of the New Sun (a Sequel novel of average size)
- Book of the Long Sun (four novels)
- Book of the Short Sun (four novels)
- <!—/index—>"Mathoms From the Time Closet"<!—index—> (short story)
- Soldier of the Mist (three novels)
- The Sorcerer's House (stand-alone novel)
Other works by Gene Wolfe provide examples of:
- Alternate History: "How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion" (but with a typical Wolfe twist).
- Author Appeal: Elliptical puns, unreliable narrators, labyrinths, and wolves.
- Author Avatar: A possible reading of "Pandora by Holly Hollander" is that criminologist Aladdin Blue is Wolfe, dropping hints about how to solve the puzzles in his other books.
- Author Vocabulary Calendar
- Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Subverted, as described above
- Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit"
- Came Back Wrong: "The Other Dead Man"
- Chekhov's Gunman: In "The Last Thrilling Wonder Story" the hero is supposed to meet aliens, but then the author changes his mind to spite the hero. Later it turn out aliens were involved: they've already departed by the start of the story, but left something important behind.
- Christianity is Catholic
- Creator Backlash: A mild example. He has said many times that he didn't understand why people consider The Bood of the New Sun to be his masterpiece... though he did think it is very good.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The collection The Fifth Head of Cerberus takes place on an interstellar Earth colony on which slavery has made a comeback, a fact that doesn't seem to bother any of the main characters.
- Empathic Environment: The title "character" in "The Death of Doctor Island" is an engineered one meant to allow people to get beyond their mental illnesses. That can mean a lot of things, though.
- The Fair Folk: "No Planets Strike" has the Beautiful Ones of the planet Sidhe, who allow unlimited immigration in (supplemented by luring sailors off trading spaceships) but won't allow anyone to leave once there, kill those who try, and horrifically torture those who otherwise run afoul of them.
- A God Am I: In "The Last Thrilling Wonder Story", Wolfe as author wrecks a church (mutilating a statue of Mary and Christ) using an earthquake just to spite the hero, and barely catches himself from telling the hero flat out that he's the hero's god. By the end, it seems the God himself may be planning a little revenge on Wolfe.
- Literal Genie: In the story-within-a-story "Master Ash's Joke", a time traveller forced to do the bidding of a Rich Bitch who has had his family taken hostage wins free in the end by giving her exactly what she asked for.
- Specifically (since this story is in the very-hard-to-find The Castle of the Otter) she asks to see the death of the last living creature on Earth. He complies by taking her into the far future after all life has died, and leaving her alone there to die - with a mirror.
- Medium Awareness: In "The Last Thrilling Wonder Story" the hero knows he's in a story and converses with the author. And then there's this gem:Sir! Mr. Wolfe, sir!For Pete's sake, Brick. You'll wake everyone up.They can't hear me. They're on another part of the page.
- No Adaptations Allowed: None of his novels have ever been adapted into any other medium. The only adaptation of any of his work was a short film of "The Death of Doctor Island", a short story. This is likely due to his novels' heavy use of Unreliable Narrator. Many of his novels' plot twists and reveals rely on the narrators' lying, ignorance, or stupidity, none of which can be translated into a visual medium. Also, his works are so complex and unconventional that you'd be hard pressed to find any major studio willing to invest the money on a faithful adaptation of his work.
- Older Alter Ego: The protagonist of The Wizard Knight is a young kid who is transformed into a brawny Knight in Shining Armor in a fantasy world, but is still as naive as your typical Kid Hero.
- Old Shame: Wolfe forbade his first novel Operation ARES to be republished, because he had since matured as a writer. It hasn't been in print since the '70s.
- Out with a Bang: "There are Doors" had an alternate Earth where humans have a very different reproductive cycle; after sex, women store men's semen in their body for the rest of their life, and can use it to have as many children as they wish. Men die, as their immune system shuts down.
- Rage Against the Author: "The Last Thrilling Wonder Story"
- Richard Nixon, the Used Car Salesman: In "How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion", the "German Invasion" is an attempt by Volkswagen to corner the British small-car market. Three guesses who VW's sales rep is.note
- A famous British war correspondent is the primary opponent of the German salesman. And in the final paragraph, we learn that his colleague, our narrator, is an American army officer named "Dwight". (Which may count as a Genius Bonus for those readers who know him only as "Ike".)
- An American high official named Henry Kissinger also shows up in There Are Doors.
- Running Gag: Typhon is built up as the ultimate evil in both the Book of the New Sun and Book of the Long Sun before being offhandedly killed.
- Sci-Fi Ghetto: He's the science-fiction writer most likely to be nominated for a Nobel, according to other writers of the genre. However, because he wrote speculative fiction, he's never really broken into the mainstream.
- Split-Personality Takeover: "The Death of Doctor Island"
- Staying with Friends: At the end of Pandora By Holly Hollander
- Talking Is a Free Action: Wolfe's narratives are completely in thrall to this trope. Regardless of how direly a situation threatens a protagonist, bullets are flying, cavalry is charging, and the clock is counting down, there is always time to engage all the situation's participants in a polite and reasoned conversation guided by the protagonist. Regular interaction with the protagonist can pass on this super-power, as occurs with Horn and Maytera Mint.
- Time Dilation: Home Fires uses this along with a Mayfly–December Romance. The traveler is a female soldier, and her husband ages a couple of decades to her two years.
- Title Drop Anthology: Played with in The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories, a collection of thirteen short stories including one titled "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories".
- Tomato in the Mirror: "The Other Dead Man"
- Unreliable Narrator: Sometimes subverted: his narrators often lie when speaking but not in the text. This allows careful readers to tell what's actually happening. Dependent on the tradition of putting details in characters' speech to improve the flow of the writing and preventing readers from getting bored.
- The Vamp: Disiri from The Wizard Knight
- Viewers Are Geniuses