Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

April 20, 2019

Gene Wolfe, death of a master

Filed under: Gene Wolfe,science fiction — Razib Khan @ 7:19 pm

Gene Wolfe, Acclaimed Science Fiction Writer, Dies at 87. Wolfe’s prose could be challenging to read. I actually read The Book of the New Sun trilogy twice because of some elements of impenetrability in the style, though there’s a reason Wolfe was acclaimed. In general, I’m not a fan of “science fantasy” or the “dying Earth” genre, but Wolfe really made it work.

One thing about Wolfe that is of interest is that like J. R. R. Tolkien he was a Catholic convert, whose religion influenced his work. Arguably more directly and consciously in the case of Wolfe. But it is subtle enough that it doesn’t distract or warrant notice. In fact, I’d argue that Severian is much less clearly a Jesus-figure than Paul in the Dune series to the naive reader.

I’m not someone who minds authors telegraphing their viewpoints and ideologies into narratives, no matter what it is. But I think there’s no point in putting it into “speculative fiction” if it’s too direct. For example, I think one reason C. S. Lewis’ Narnia cycle is less popular than Tolkien’s work is that it reads as Christian fantasy, rather than fantasy with inflections from the author’s Christian viewpoint.

Wolfe, like Tolkien, had strong personal views. But he did not let them saturate his stories. The Christian outlines and themes in The Book of the New Sun are clear after someone points them out. But they aren’t salient at all when you are reading it without foreknowledge.

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