Gene Wolfe
Unformed Golem
A poster brought up Gene Wolfe as a counterexample to tryhard dork jewy neurosis Gritty fantasy in another thread.  However this undersells Wolfe, who might be the greatest fantasy author of all time.  Wolfe's biggest influence by far is Jorge Luis Borges, his writing almost always has a "puzzle" aspect to it, typically via the mechanism of first-person narration.  This is the closest thing he has to an authorial schtick but Wolfe's method is a revelation compared to the typical literary employment of this perspective.  Like most other great artists, Wolfe doesn't just iterate the same thing; aside from a first-person viewpoint his writing deals with quite disparate themes and especially settings.

Prior to taking up the pen for a living, Wolfe worked as a mechanical engineer where he allegedly designed the machine that produces Pringles.  He was also an observant Catholic and veteran of the Korean War.  Although he generally doesn't hit you over the head with any of these things, do find their way into his books.

No one truly obeys unless he will do the unthinkable in obedience; no one will do the unthinkable save we.

His magnum opus is The Book of the New Sun, a quadrilogy that begins with The Shadow of the Torturer.  BotNS is part of an even longer "Solar Cycle".  If you don't read much and just want to get The Best of Gene Wolfe then just read BotNS.  While it has a deserved reputation for being "challenging" it is not beyond any sensitive young man who can put down his phone for thirty minutes at a time.

You people who have never tried it think the technique is simple because you’ve heard it can be done.

A common recommendation by anyone who thinks you can't handle BotNS is The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Wolfe's first "real" novel (he more or less disavowed Operation Ares as juvenilia).  It is a collection of three related short stories and is itself rather short, about 250 pages.  You could also pick up one of his short story collections; the most common are "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories" and "The Best of Gene Wolfe".  I like these but the short story is even more dead than the novel and even the "Best Of" anthology has some entries that the average reader will probably not like.

Lois had gone out of my life (I should say that she had left my future—I could never eradicate her from my past, no matter how hard I tried)

If for some reason you don't like "Science Fiction and Fantasy" then consider reading Peace.  It is partly Wolfe's riff on Ray Bradbury's style, although I think I'm the only person under the age of 50 who has read any of Bradbury's novels.  It is a superior example of the now virtually abolished Small Town Americana subgenre.

A knight is a man who lives honorably and dies honorably, because he cares more for his honor than for his life. If his honor requires him to fight, he fights. He doesn’t count his foes or measure their strength, because those things don’t matter. They don’t affect his decision.

Finally there is my own recommendation for "where to start" if BotNS doesn't sound like something you want to read: The Wizard Knight.  This is one of Wolfe's later novels, and it's also rather long (around 800 pages).  It is an isekai story about a young boy who finds himself (probably after drowning although there are other theories) in an Arthurian fantasy world under a pantheon of Norse gods.
BillyONare
I’ve only read The Knight and The Fifth Head of Cerberus. Wolfe is fascinating in part due to his morality, not like you would imagine a “trad Christian”, it is utterly pagan, atavistic, and beyond good and evil. As an example, the protagonist of The Knight is a boy whose body is transformed into a hulking grown man by an elf queen so that she can get more pleasure from being fucked by him. He falls in love with her and his main goal is to be reunited with her. He also becomes a complete fascist and uses bullying, threats, and violence to deal with those of lower rank than him while being a toady yes-man to those of noble blood. It’s completely alien to modern shitlib anti-ideals or the Chungus traditionalism of Tolkien/Lewis/Dostoyevsky, refreshing to read, and has verisimilitude that is utterly lacking in writing that is deformed by fagot morality. One would think Gene Wolfe is a man writing from the 16th century rather than the 21st.

https://web.archive.org/web/202304020004...untains-2/
anthony
(10-12-2023, 07:16 PM)BillyONare Wrote: I’ve only read The Knight and The Fifth Head of Cerberus. Wolfe is fascinating in part due to his morality, not like you would imagine a “trad Christian”, it is utterly pagan, atavistic, and beyond good and evil. As an example, the protagonist of The Knight is a boy whose body is transformed into a hulking grown man by an elf queen so that she can get more pleasure from being fucked by him. He falls in love with her and his main goal is to be reunited with her. He also becomes a complete fascist and uses bullying, threats, and violence to deal with those of lower rank than him while being a toady yes-man to those of noble blood. It’s completely alien to modern shitlib anti-ideals or the Chungus traditionalism of Tolkien/Lewis/Dostoyevsky, refreshing to read, and has verisimilitude that is utterly lacking in writing that is deformed by fagot morality. One would think Gene Wolfe is a man writing from the 16th century rather than the 21st.

https://web.archive.org/web/202304020004...untains-2/

I think Wolfe more or less said at various points that the primary fictional inspiration for Book of the New Sun was Jack Vance's Tales From the Dying Earth. The morality on display there is very picaresque. Rough Barry Lyndon like antics playing out in weird fiction worlds. Pagan is somewhat relevant to Wolfe, but heroic feels more important. What are pulp adventures novels but the heroic tradition struggling to stay alive? Wolfe I think very deliberately brings the perhaps essentially pagan nature of this spirit to the fore of his work now and then.

Sorry I may have had a point to this post but now I've lost it. Wolfe is a Christian who writes more complex heroic pulp fiction without feeling obliged to make it Christian. But perhaps it is, in accordance with his own understanding of what it means to be Christian. Which Wolfe says is primarily informed by Thomism. A medieval outlook. I have no finished thoughts here, just wondering out loud about the slow transformation of the heroic through European history and how Wolfe is playing with that.

Read The Devil in a Forest. I like that one and nobody talks about it.
Unformed Golem
Wolfe obviously believes in natural law as any good Catholic -- just like Tolkien.  This means that God and His ordering of things exist regardless of whether a given character thinks about them.  We live in a Christian world whether we're Christians or no.  "Christian morality" contains (the good parts of) "pagan morality".   The Wizard Knight is largely about this very idea, among other things -- this becomes more obvious in the second book (The Wizard) but it is also done with immense care and subtlety.  Fact: God is real.  Also fact: quasi-demonic elf witches sexually predate on me, an innocent 12 year old fascist bodybuilder.  Now what? 

That essay linked by @BillyONare should give you a pretty good idea that Wolfe is a serious and sensitive thinker.  He considers what he is writing very carefully.  Another of his purposes in writing WK was, in my opinion, as a rejoinder to black-and-gray GRRMcore fantasy -- that it is a moral and aesthetic choice, not what you get when you refuse to turn away from certain unpleasant facts in your tale of chivalry.

I haven't read The Devil in a ForestThe Sorceror's House is next on my list because it is supposedly an inversion of WK.
oyakodon_khan
If Book of the New Sun were to be sent to travel through the corridors of time until it ends up somewhere in humanity's past, it might well develop like it's in-universe namesake and become a religious text.
Unformed Golem
The Book of the New Sun is an absolute masterpiece. I would go so far as to say that anyone who hasn't read it isn't serious about either speculative fiction or modern American literature. This might sound a bit trivial, but even though it was written in the 1980s you could never mistake it for "eighties fantasy". Although it's easy to speculate on where Wolfe got some of his ideas and even his simple skill at writing, I do find it somewhat mysterious how he was able to operate on such a high level while generally participating in a professional community centered around downmarket genre fiction. I think it's a pretty major whitepill that he was able to emerge from the same milieu that mostly produced work like Pern or The Black Company.
Hamamelis
I have started reading the Wizard Knight because of this thread, and so far it comes close to being as excellent as the Book of the New Sun. As stated above by Billionaire, this type of thing does not get written because of sensibilites, but I doubt that many such stories were written anyway. A story that features characters who are cruel by virtue of their excellence, not because the author needs them to learn lessons about kindness. It's somewhat ironic that there are so many SF/Fantasy stories à la Song of Ice and Fire that try to be gritty and realistic and whatnot, but completely fail to produce characters that are not molded from some lib history book version of a tyrant, or just simply exaggerations of some egoistical homo oeconomicus (the mythological creature that steals to feed its family). Wolfe doesn't care about "realism" in that sense and produces characters that are infinitely more interesting.

The preeminent feature of Wolfe's novels to me are scenes or chapters that stay with me for years without me completely knowing why. I mentioned the botanical garden from BotNS in the shoutbox, but similarly, the whole narrative arc with the child Severian, the alzabo and the emperor Typhon has been ruminating in the back of my mind for a long while now, and I still don't really know what to make of it. Why did the boy have to die?

Belated post scriptum:
It occurred to me that Wolfe is one of the only authors, one of maybe three or four out of all that I've read, that manages to include sex in a tasteful, even beautiful way in his stories. Given how often his protagonists get laid, that's quite an achievement!
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