kids encyclopedia robot

Gene Wolfe facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Gene Wolfe
Wolfe during Nebula Awards in Chicago (2005)
Wolfe during Nebula Awards in Chicago (2005)
Born Gene Rodman Wolfe
(1931-05-07)May 7, 1931
New York City, U.S.
Died April 14, 2019(2019-04-14) (aged 87)
Peoria, Illinois, U.S.
Occupation Novelist, short story writer
Alma mater
Period c. 1966 – 2019
Notable works
  • The Book of the New Sun
  • Solar Cycle
  • Soldier of Sidon
Notable awards See subsection
Rosemary Wolfe
(m. 1952; died 2013)

Gene Rodman Wolfe (May 7, 1931 – April 14, 2019) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He was noted for his dense, allusive prose as well as the strong influence of his Catholic faith. He was a prolific short story writer and novelist, and won many literary awards. Wolfe has been called "the Melville of science fiction", and was honored as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Wolfe is best known for his Book of the New Sun series (four volumes, 1980–1983), the first part of his "Solar Cycle". In 1998, Locus magazine ranked it the third-best fantasy novel published before 1990 based on a poll of subscribers that considered it and several other series as single entries.

Personal life

Wolfe was born in New York City, the son of Mary Olivia (née Ayers) and Emerson Leroy Wolfe. He had polio as a small child. He and his family moved to Houston when he was 6, and he went to high school and college in Texas, attending Lamar High School in Houston. While attending Texas A&M University, he published his first speculative fiction in The Commentator, a student literary journal.

Wolfe dropped out during his junior year and subsequently was drafted to fight in the Korean War. After returning to the United States, he earned a degree from the University of Houston and became an industrial engineer. He was a senior editor on the staff of the journal Plant Engineering for many years before retiring to write full-time, but his most famous professional engineering achievement is a contribution to the machine used to make Pringles potato chips.

Wolfe lived in Barrington, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, with his wife Rosemary, where they raised four children. Wolfe also has three granddaughters. The Wolfes moved to Peoria, Illinois in 2013. Wolfe underwent double bypass surgery on April 24, 2010. Wolfe also underwent cataract surgery on his right eye in early 2013. Wolfe's wife, Rosemary, died on December 14, 2013, after a series of illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease. Wolfe said, "There was a time when she did not remember my name or that we were married, but she still remembered that she loved me."

Wolfe died at his Peoria home from cardiovascular disease on April 14, 2019, at the age of 87.

Literary works

Wolfe's first published book was the paperback original novel Operation Ares (Berkley Medallion, 1970). He first received critical attention for The Fifth Head of Cerberus (Scribner's, 1972), which examines "colonial mentality within an orthodox science fiction framework". It was published in German and French-language editions within the decade.

His best-known and most highly regarded work is the multi-volume novel The Book of the New Sun. Set in a bleak, distant future influenced by Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, the story details the life of Severian, a journeyman torturer, exiled from his guild for showing compassion to one of the condemned. The novel is composed of the volumes The Shadow of the Torturer (1980), The Claw of the Conciliator (1981; winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel), The Sword of the Lictor (1982), and The Citadel of the Autarch (1983). A coda, The Urth of the New Sun (1987), wraps up some loose ends but is generally considered a separate work. Several of Wolfe's essays about writing the Book of the New Sun series were published in The Castle of the Otter (1982; the title refers to a misprint of the fourth book's title in Locus magazine).

In 1984, Wolfe retired from his engineering position and was then able to devote more time to his writing. In the 1990s, Wolfe published two more works in the same universe as The Book of the New Sun. The first, The Book of the Long Sun, consists of the novels Nightside the Long Sun (1993), Lake of the Long Sun (1994), Caldé of the Long Sun (1994), and Exodus From the Long Sun (1996). These books follow the priest of a small parish as he becomes wrapped up in political intrigue and revolution in his city-state. Wolfe then wrote a sequel, The Book of the Short Sun, composed of On Blue's Waters (1999), In Green's Jungles (2000), and Return to the Whorl (2001), dealing with colonists who have arrived on the sister planets Blue and Green. The four Sun works (The Book of the New Sun, The Urth of the New Sun, The Book of the Long Sun, and The Book of the Short Sun) are often referred to collectively as the "Solar Cycle".

Wolfe also wrote many stand-alone books. His first novel, Operation Ares, was published by Berkley Books in 1970 and was unsuccessful. He subsequently wrote two novels held in particularly high esteem, Peace and The Fifth Head of Cerberus. The first is the seemingly-rambling narrative of Alden Dennis Weer, a man of many secrets who reviews his life under mysterious circumstances. The Fifth Head of Cerberus is either a collection of three novellas or a novel in three parts, dealing with colonialism, memory, and the nature of personal identity. The first story, which gives the book its name, was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novella.


Wolfe's writing frequently relies on the first-person perspectives of unreliable narrators. He said: "Real people really are unreliable narrators all the time, even if they try to be reliable narrators." The causes for the unreliability of his characters vary. Some are naive, as in Pandora by Holly Hollander or The Knight; others are not particularly intelligent (There Are Doors); Severian, from The Book of the New Sun, tells his story from perspective of his younger, ignorant self; and Latro of the Soldier series suffers from amnesia.

Wolfe wrote in a letter, "My definition of a great story has nothing to do with 'a varied and interesting background.' It is: One that can be read with pleasure by a cultivated reader and reread with increasing pleasure." In that spirit, Wolfe also left subtle hints and lacunae that may never be explicitly referred to in the text. For example, a backyard full of morning glories is an intentional foreshadowing of events in Free Live Free, but is apparent only to a reader with a horticultural background, and a story-within-the-story provides a clue to understanding Peace.

Wolfe's language can also be a subject of confusion for the new reader.

This character of the fictional "translator" of his novel provides a certain insight into Wolfe's writing: all of his terms—fuligin, carnifex, thaumaturge, and so on—are real words.


This is a partial list of works by Wolfe, focusing on those which won awards.


  • The Book of the New Sun
    • The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) BSFA Award & World Fantasy Award winner, 1981; Nebula Award and John W. Campbell Award nominee, 1981
    • The Claw of the Conciliator (1981) Nebula and Locus Fantasy winner, 1982; Hugo and World Fantasy Awards nominated, 1982
    • The Sword of the Lictor (1982) Locus Fantasy and BFS Winner, 1983; Nebula and BSFA Awards nominee, 1982 Hugo and World Fantasy Awards nominee, 1983
    • The Citadel of the Autarch (1983) John W. Campbell award winner, Nebula and BSFA nominee, 1984; Locus Fantasy nominee, 1983
  • Free Live Free (1984) BSFA nominee, 1985; Nebula nominee, 1986
  • The Urth of the New Sun (1987) Hugo, Nebula, and Locus SF Awards nominee, 1988
  • The Soldier series
    • Soldier of the Mist (1986) Locus Fantasy winner, WFA nominee, 1987; Nebula nominee 1988
    • Soldier of Arete (1989) Locus Fantasy and WFA nominee, 1990
    • Soldier of Sidon (2006) World Fantasy Award winner, Locus Fantasy Award nominee, 2007
  • There Are Doors (1988) Locus Fantasy nominee, 1989
  • The Book of the Long Sun
    • Nightside the Long Sun (1993) Nebula nominee, 1994
    • Lake of the Long Sun (1994)
    • Caldé of the Long Sun (1994) Nebula nominee, 1996
    • Exodus From the Long Sun (1996)
  • The Book of the Short Sun
    • On Blue's Waters (1999)
    • In Green's Jungles (2000) Locus SF nominee, 2001
    • Return to the Whorl (2001) Locus SF nominee, 2002
  • The Wizard Knight
    • The Knight (2004) Nebula nominee, 2005
    • The Wizard (2004) Locus Fantasy and World Fantasy Award nominated, 2005
  • Pirate Freedom (2007) Locus Fantasy Award nominee, 2008
  • An Evil Guest (2008)
  • The Sorcerer's House (2010)
    • 2011 Locus Fantasy nominee
  • Home Fires (2011)
  • The Land Across (2013)
  • A Borrowed Man (2015)
  • Interlibrary Loan (2020)

Story collections

  • The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (1980) (The title story is "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories". Among others, the collection also includes "The Death of Dr. Island" and "The Doctor of Death Island". "The Death of Dr. Island" won the Nebula Award for Best Novella.)
  • Gene Wolfe's Book of Days (1981)
  • Storeys from the Old Hotel (1988) (winner of the World Fantasy Award for best collection)
  • Endangered Species (1989)
  • Castle of Days (1995)
  • Strange Travelers (2001)
  • Innocents Aboard (2005)
  • Starwater Strains (2006)
  • The Best of Gene Wolfe (2010)

Books about Gene Wolfe

  • Gene Wolfe (Starmont Reader's Guide, 29): Joan Gordon (Borgo Press, 1986, ISBN: 978-0930261191; reprinted as a Special Publication of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation, 2008, ISBN: 978-0930261184), an annotated bibliography and criticism on Wolfe's science fiction and non-fiction writing
  • The Wizard Knight Companion: A Lexicon for Gene Wolfe's The Knight and The Wizard: Michael Andre-Driussi (Sirius Fiction, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-9642795-3-7), a dictionary of words and names from Wolfe's Wizard Knight novels
  • Lexicon Urthus: Michael Andre-Druissi (Sirius Fiction, 1994, ISBN: 0-9642795-9-2), a dictionary of the archaic words used by Wolfe in The Book of the New Sun
  • The Long and the Short of It: More Essays on the Fiction of Gene Wolfe: Robert Borski (iUniverse, Inc., 2006, ISBN: 978-0-595-38645-1)
  • Solar Labyrinth: Exploring Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun": Robert Borski (iUniverse, Inc., 2004, ISBN: 978-0-595-31729-5)
  • Attending Daedalus: Gene Wolfe, Artifice, and the Reader: Peter Wright (Liverpool University Press, 2003, ISBN: 0-85323-818-9): Study of The Book of the New Sun and The Urth of the New Sun
  • Shadows of the New Sun: Wolfe on Writing / Writers on Wolfe: Peter Wright (Liverpool University Press, 2007, ISBN: 978-1-84631-058-4)
  • Strokes: John Clute (Serconia Press, 1988, ISBN: 0-934933-03-0)
  • Gene Wolfe: An annotated bibliography and criticism on Wolfe's science fiction and non-fiction writing: Joan Gordon (Borgo Press, 2008, ISBN: 0-930261-18-6)
  • Gate of Horn, Book of Silk: A Guide to Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Long Sun and The Book of the Short Sun: Michael Andre-Driussi (Sirius Fiction, 2012, ISBN: 0-964279-55-X)
  • Shadows of the New Sun, an anthology of stories by other authors which are all explicitly based on Wolfe stories (TOR Books, 2013)
  • Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951-1986: Marc Aramini (Castalia House, 2015, ASIN B011YTDGY2), a comprehensive literary analysis of Wolfe's fiction from 1951 to 1986, volume 1 of 2.

Film adaptations

  • The Death of Doctor Island, 35 mm short, 2008.
kids search engine
Gene Wolfe Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.