We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life—they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.

Gene Wolfe

Photograph of Gene Wolfe

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Place Names in Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist

“Hundred Eyed,” “Redface Island,” — Gene Wolfe’s (1986) Soldier of the Mist is awash with charming place names that evoke wonder and puzzlement. This essay uses the lens of toponymy, the formal study of place names, to explores how the protagonist Latro generates these intriguing and idiosyncratic labels. Introduction Noted toponymist George Stewart (1975) observed, Place-names […]

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An Homage to my Honorary Grandfather

Just shy of eighteen, I met Gene Wolfe. My father introduced us, and then we all went out to dinner: Gene, his wife Rosemary, my father, my stepmother Terry, and me. I’d been shy about meeting him—not because I’d read his books (I’d read one, The Shadow of the Torturer, just recently, not having any […]

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Aramini on A Solar Labyrinth

For some years now, Ultan contributor Marc Aramini has been engaged in an exhaustive chronological study of every piece of short fiction written by Gene Wolfe. The first half of his analysis, covering the stories from 1951-1986, has recently been published as Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe 1951-1986.[ Amazon UK […]

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A Solar Labyrinth

A Solar Labyrinth © 1983 by Gene Wolfe. This story first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and was later included in Wolfe’s anthology STOREYS FROM THE OLD HOTEL. It is reprinted here by kind permission of the author and the author’s agents, the Virginia Kidd Agency, Inc. MAZES MAY BE MORE […]

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“Reading Gene Wolfe is dangerous work… It’s a knife-throwing act, and like all good knife-throwing acts, you may lose fingers, toes, earlobes or eyes in the process. Gene doesn’t mind. Gene is throwing the knives.”
Neil Gaiman, How to read Gene Wolfe, 2002