Be patient with my title. All will be explained.
Gene Wolfe was a combat vet, a true and faithful husband, a practicing Catholic, and an accomplished engineer. He was also the author of The Book of the New Sun, the single greatest accomplishment of science fiction to date, and stories like "The Eyeflash Miracles," "Alien Stones," and "The Hero as Werwolf." Short fiction is not given its due these days but these and other stories by Wolfe will be read a hundred, a thousand years from now. I am not exaggerating here. He was one of our best.
But you want insight into his character. Well, okay. The first convention where I ever got to spend any serious time with the man, he and I and my wife, Marianne Porter, were sitting at a table and he started to tell us about a library book sale he'd been to the previous weekend. He was excited because he'd gotten several shopping bags of old books for two dollars each. Then he said, "Looking through them, books published a hundred year ago, so many had inscriptions like 'To Amelia from her loving Aunt Mame.' You look at them, so many inscriptions, and all these people are... are... they're all dead!"
And he almost burst into tears.
Afterward, Marianne said to me (keep in mind here that she immediately fell in love with him), "That is the most emotional man I ever met."
He was, and I don't think that was unrelated to his genius.
The first time I ever met Gene was long before, in the late seventies when he was working as an engineer but had already written some of his most brilliant work, and I was struck by how astonishingly ordinary he looked. He was one of the most ordinary-looking men I had ever met. Later, upon retirement, he grew that wonderfully eccentric Gene Wolfe mustache and achieved an eccentricity befitting the man he was. But back then, in the Midtown Diner with Gardner Dozois and Susan Casper (I was definitely bottom man on the totem pole) he looked like the Continental Op--a man who would disappear into a crowd if you looked away from him for an instant.
Much later, I set out to write Stations of the Tide.
The protagonist of the novel was never named. Throughout, he was referred to as the Bureaucrat. It was important to the story that he be underestimated for most of the book and only revealed as extraordinary at the end. So when I created him, I thought of him being Gene Wolfe. On the outside, he was extraordinarily ordinary. But inside, he was... Gene Wolfe!
Not to discourage you from reading my novel but at the end the Bureaucrat wins. Of course he does. Inside, he's Gene Wolfe.
And now, goddammit, he's gone.
Vaya con dios, Gene. If God is just, you and Rosemary are together again.
And today's Image Book page . . .
Above: For those who came in late, my latest novel, The Iron Dragon's Mother, will be published in 69 days. To draw attention to this fact, I'm serializing the Image Book I made to help me imagine a strange world for the book.