Ultan's Library

a web resource for the study of Gene Wolfe

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A look behind the names

Scott Wowra

Scott Wowra

“Rope…” “The Long Coast…” “Thought…” 

Why does Latro, the narrator of Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist, give such strange and wonderful names to the places he visits in ancient Greece? How does he derive them and what does his choice of names reveal about his thinking?

Scott Wowra explores these questions in his scholarly new article, “Place Names in Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist”. Skilfully using the taxonomy of toponomy, the formal study of place names, he provides key insights into the way that Wolfe subtly reveals how his protagonist perceives the world that he lives in through the way that he assigns names to the places through which he passes.

“Place Names in Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist” is due to be published in Ultan’s Library on Wednesday 7 September 2016.

What would it be like…

The cover of Bone Swans by C. S. E. CooneyWhat would it be like for you as an aspiring author to have Gene Wolfe as your mentor?

Award-winning author and poet C. S. E. Cooney knows because Wolfe encouraged and advised her when she was starting out and, in an exclusive piece for Ultan’s Library, she tells us all about it. We share her experiences of authorial rejection and acceptance and, in so doing, get a fascinating glimpse into Wolfe’s own approach to the practicalities of getting published.

C. S. E. Cooney’s “An Homage to my Honorary Grandfather” is scheduled for publication in Ultan’s Library on Friday 1o June 2016.

Andre-Driussi examines the New Sun’s origins

Miachael Andre-DriussiIn his latest essay for Ultan’s Library, “The Feast of Saint Katharine (with a “K”)”, Wolfe scholar and lexicographer Michael Andre-Driussi examines the origins of the published four-volume The Book of the New Sun as a projected novella.

What might that novella have been like? Which parts of that original short version survive in the greCover image for Lexicon Urthus - A Dictionary for the Urth Cycle, by Michael Andre-Driussiatly expanded story that we now have? And why did Wolfe change his original plan and go for something so much longer?

Andre-Driussi sifts through the evidence and shares his findings with the readers of Ultan’s Library.

“The Feast of Saint Katharine (with a “K”)” is due to be published in Ultan’s Library on Wednesday 30 March 2016.

Ultan’s Library republishes a classic Wolfe story

In a complete departure from previous practice, Ultan’s Library, which normally publishes literary criticism on the works of Gene Wolfe, has republished a classic Wolfe short story.

“A Solar Labyrinth”, which originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1983 and was later collected in Wolfe’s anthology Storeys from the Old Hotel, is a jewel of a tale, a miniature masterpiece. Neil Gaiman chose it as the basis for his own homage to Wolfe, “A Lunar Labyrinth” (collected in Shadows of the New Sun) and described it as, “a short story of brilliance and beauty and, hidden deep in the shadows, danger and darkness.”

The central conceit, about a maze made of shifting shadows, is a wonder in itself, but the true marvel of the story is the way that its form so artfully matches its subject matter. Just as the penumbrous walls of Mr Smith’s maze complicate its solution by moving with the passage of the sun, so the story’s meaning inexorably shifts under the reader’s gaze. Does the story have a happy pastoral ending, or a sinister and malevolent one? And is this a story about mazes at all, or is it really about untangling the meaning of stories in general, and in particular those written by Gene Wolfe who, as the author of The Shadow of the Torturer and the rest of The Book of the New Sun, really does know a thing or two about constructing narrative solar labyrinths?

To help readers contemplate these imponderables, Ultan’s Library is also delighted to publish the chapter on “A Solar Labyrinth” from Marc Aramini’s masterly and compendious survey of Wolfe’s fiction, Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe 1951-1986. Many thanks to Marc for giving Ultan’s Library permission to do so.

Wolfe at Balticon 50

Maryland’s Balticon SF convention will be celebrating its 5oth anniversary in 2016. George RR Martin is the Guest of Honor (GoH) but as part of the celebrations, the convention has also invited back every living past GoH.

Gene Wolfe, who was GoH at Balticon 40, is due to be among those attending.

The convention runs on the USA’s Memorial Day Weekend, 27-30 May 2016. Further details are available on the Balticon website.

Rosemary Wolfe (1931-2013)

It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Gene Wolfe’s wife Rosemary this past weekend. 

Photo of Rosemary WolfeRosemary, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, died on Saturday 14 December in Peoria, Illinois, after a long period of illness and progressively worsening health. She and Gene had been married for over 50 years and had had four children. She was Gene’s muse, and it was to her that he dedicated his lone volume of poetry, For Rosemary.

A funeral mass will be held for Rosemary on Thursday 19 December at 11:00 am at St Bernard’s Church in Peoria.

Our sincere and heartfelt condolences go out to Gene and all the family.

The Editors,

Ultan’s Library

Here are links to:

Gene Wolfe’s time at Plant Engineering

After his time as a process engineer for Procter and Gamble and before becoming a full-time science-fiction writer, Gene Wolfe worked (1972 – 1984) as an editor for the technical magazine Plant Engineering. He is usually described in biographical sources as “the editor” but, as he explained to Lawrence Person in an interview published as long ago as 1998, he was actually “an editor” rather than the sole or chief editor of the magazine:

LP: For quite a while you were the editor of Plant Engineering magazine. Do you think that doing so gave you any special insights into how the pace of technological change is reshaping society?

GW: Yes, I was an editor, actually, on the staff of Plant Engineering magazine. I was lucky enough to be the robot editor, so I got to work with modern, real world robotics. I actually have two diplomas from robotics schools I attended. So that was very nice. I guess I’m branching off into other things, but I also got to be the Letters to the Editor editor, which was good and fun and taught me a lot of stuff, and I was the cartoon editor. (laughs) Basically I had a real good job.

This interview, entitled “Suns New, Long, and Short: An Interview with Gene Wolfe”, was originally published in the Fall/Winter 1998 edition of Nova Express. It is currently available on the web here. It is also reprinted in Shadows of the New Sun: Wolfe on writing/Writers on Wolfe, edited by Peter Wright (Liverpool University Press, 2007), where the above quotation may be found on pages 173-174.

Intrigued to know more about this “real good job”, Ultan’s Library co-editor Nigel Price recently asked Wolfe about his time at Plant Engineering and the persisting description of him as the magazine’s editor. Wolfe replied as follows:

There is no revising print. When it’s out there, it’s out there for all time. I have never been able to catch and correct the assertion that I was editor of Plant Engineering. I was actually a senior editor on the staff. Senior editors had to supply cover articles, “supply” meaning write the articles and take the pictures, including a cover picture that could make it past the art director. Two or three of those a year, depending.

We had other responsibilities as well. I was the editor for power transmission (hydraulics, gears, pneumatics, belts, et cetera) and fastening and joining (welding, glue, screws, et cetera), and also the editor for cartoons and letters-to-the-editor. There was an electrical editor, a construction editor, a materials-handling editor, a maintenance editor, a safety editor, and so forth. It was hard at times, and easy at others.

Oh yes… How in the world did I forget this? I was also robot editor. I went to robot school twice, once for hydraulic ‘bots and once for all-electric. And I wrote or developed the robotics articles.

The revelation that Wolfe was once robotics editor for Plant Engineering provides an interesting insight into the background of the creator of Ossipago, the chems and taluses of the Whorl, and all the other various robots, androids and automata which we encounter in the Solar Cycle and elsewhere in his writing. Those wishing to read Wolfe’s non-fiction articles, however, will have a hard time finding them, unless they have access to back issues of Plant Engineering, as the author confirms that…

To the best of my knowledge none of my magazine articles have been reprinted anywhere. Sorry to disappoint you, but very happy to find that you will be disappointed.

Two new stories: “Dormanna” and “Innocent”

Two new and very different short stories by Gene Wolfe are currently available for free on the web.

A gentle story of alien encounter, “Dormanna” is available on the Tor website as part of a series of five stories, each by a different author and all inspired by an illustration by John Jude Palencar.

In contrast, “Innocent” is as disturbing a tale as Wolfe has ever written, a criminal’s extraordinary account of why he could not have committed the dreadful crime of which he is accused. An audio recording of the story is included in issue 8 of Tales to Terrify.

(Actually, there’s a third Wolfe story newly on the web, though it’s not a new story per se. Thanks to Simon Fletcher for pointing out that “The Legend of Xi Cygnus” has been reprinted in Lightspeed magazine here.)

New ghost story from Wolfe

A new story by Gene Wolfe entitled “Why I was hanged” is included in the anthology Ghosts by Gaslight, edited by Jack Dann and Ultan’s Library contributor Nick Gevers.

Described as a collection of “stories of steampunk and supernatural suspense”, Ghosts by Gaslight is published by Harper Voyager. There are 16 other stories in addition to “Why I was hanged”, including contributions from Peter S. Beagle, Lucius Shepard and Robert Silverberg.

Happy 80th birthday, Gene Wolfe!

Gene WolfeThe editors of Ultan’s Library should like to send Gene Wolfe many congratulations and warm best wishes on his 80th birthday, today 7 May 2011.

We wish him continuing health and vigour and avidly look forward to reading all the books, stories and essays which he has still to write.

Jonathan Laidlow & Nigel Price

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