A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, August 8, 2014

Where Wolfe

The estimable Michael Swanwick provides a link to an MIT Q&A with master writer Gene Wolfe. Its reading is recommended.

Which writers have most influenced you?
It’s a difficult question. My first editor, Damon Knight, asked me the same thing when I was just starting out, and I told him my chief influences were G. K. Chesterton and Marks’ [Standard] Handbook for [Mechanical] Engineers. And that’s still about as good an answer as I can give. ....
What struck you about Chesterton?
His charm; his willingness to follow an argument wherever it led.
You left college, were drafted, fought in Korea. How does war figure in your writing? ....
What military service does is rub off a lot of the pretense and self-deception from a person. You have to keep going, knowing that there are people over there who are trying to kill you. You’re right: they are.
What self-deception did the war strip away from you?
Oh, that I was smarter than other people.
Well, I’m sure you were.
[Emphatically] No. I wasn’t.

I see you often called a Roman Catholic writer. Once, even, “a very subtle but also very emphatic Roman Catholic propagandist.”  Is this identification unfair?
I think it an oversimplification. I’m a writer who is Catholic, as a good many of us are. I do not write Catholic books intentionally. I’ve never been published by a religious publisher.
You once said that pain tends to prove God’s reality rather than the opposite; that pain was not a theological difficulty for you.
No, it isn’t. If you catch a dragonfly and bend the end of its body up, it will eat itself until it dies. When people have had their mouths numbed for dentistry, they must be warned not to chew their tongues. I think if we assume that pain is simply an evil we’re oversimplifying things.
[Thinks a moment.] You’re saying that pain may be a necessary design feature that the Divine Engineer—
Yes, absolutely.
—put into his animated machines.
If you had living things without pain, they would have a very rough time surviving.
If it’s not too personal a question, do you consider yourself a professing Catholic?
Certainly I am. I go to mass; I receive Communion; I pray.
You don’t put yourself forward as an expert. You understand other people who are in similar situations, and not only in religious matters. I once met Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who we’re trying to get made a saint now. He looked at you and you felt that he knew all about you, that he had taken your worth, both positive and negative, and had formed a correct opinion about you, and that was it.
Did Sheen feel saintly? He was canny by your account; he had an intelligent eye.
Sheen was a very intelligent man. He was smaller than I had expected. I suppose he was about five-five, five-six, or something like that.
John XXIII was a little man, too.
Well, size only counts with football players, really.
[S]uppose the lion was intelligent and the deer were also intelligent. It’s very hard to imagine. You have to have sympathy with both. The lion cannot eat grass no matter how much you would like him to. But the deer do not wish to be eaten, and who can blame them for it?
If you’ve ever listened to people giving testimony at a trial, they are almost incapable of distinguishing between what they have actually seen or heard and their opinions of what it means.
You could write a book about a landing on Mars in which a landing on Mars is a metaphor for something that is going on now. You could also write a book about a landing on Mars that’s a landing on Mars.

1 comment:

  1. "He’s a ghost. Ghosts often don’t realize they’re dead. That’s the explanation of much of the behavior of ghosts that we find puzzling."


    Thanks. Very cool interview. I've only read the first Book of the Long Sun; I've held off adding to the pile since I trip over unread books to get into bed. (Still have a couple of yours in there, too.) But must add more Wolfe as soon as I make a dent.


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