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SYFY WIRE obituary

Acclaimed sci-fi author Gene Wolfe dead at 87

By Don Kaye
Shadow Of The Torturer Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe, one of the most acclaimed science fiction and fantasy authors of his era, has passed away at the age of 87 after a long struggle with heart disease.

Wolfe, who died on Sunday (April 14), wrote more than 30 novels and was perhaps best known for The Book of the New Sun, a series of four tales that included The Shadow of the Torturer (1980), The Claw of the Conciliator (1981), The Sword of the Lictor (1982), and The Citadel of the Autarch (1983).

The series, set a million years in the future, followed the quest of Severian, a torturer who is expelled from his guild after showing compassion to one of his victims. Like the famous Dying Earth stories of Jack Vance, The Book of the New Sun took place in a setting where science and magic were increasingly indistinguishable, which in turn blurred the line between sci-fi and fantasy in the novels themselves. Wolfe even went to the trouble of writing the books as if they were translated into English from a yet-to-exist future language.

Wolfe penned several more novels in the New Sun universe, including The Urth of the New Sun (1987) and two more series, The Book of the Long Sun (1993-1996) and The Book of the Short Sun (1999-2001), all of which came to be known as the "Solar Cycle" (Netflix, HBO, Amazon and others could all do themselves a favor by taking a long, good look at those books).

The author's other novels included his 1970 debut, Operation Ares, as well as Free Live Free (1985), There Are Doors (1988), the Soldier series, An Evil Guest (2008), The Sorcerer's House (2010), and A Borrowed Man (2015).

Wolfe was also well known for his shorter works, which included "The Fifth Head of Cerberus" (1972) and "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories," which was the title story of his 1980 collection The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories. That book also included the tales "The Doctor of Death Island" and the Nebula Award-winning "The Death of Doctor Island."

Known for writing largely in a first-person style and using unreliable narrators, Wolfe has been hailed as not just a great science fiction writer, but one of the best and most overlooked American writers of the 20th century. His prose was distinguished by its density and lyrical, allusive nature, while no less an authority than late sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison called him "one of the finest, most original writers in the world today."

Born in New York on May 7, 1931, Wolfe attended college at Texas A&M and fought in the Korean War before settling initially into a career as an engineer. One of his accomplishments in that job was helping to create the machine that is used to cook Pringles potato chips. He retired to write full-time in the 1980s.

Among his many awards are the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award in 1989, the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1996, induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007, and being named the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's 29th SFWA Grand Master in 2012. He also won four World Fantasy Awards, two Nebulas (out of 16 nominations), and six Locus Awards, many of those for his "Solar Cycle" novels.

Wolfe is survived by two daughters, one son, and three granddaughters, along with a unique, unsurpassed body of work.


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