In Memoriam: Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe
Photograph by Matheiu Bourgois/AP

Most readers of this blog will have heard by now that science fiction grand master Gene Wolfe passed away last week. If you just wandered in out of the rain, you may not have heard of him.

Wolfe was a visionary author best known for his Book of the New Sun science fantasy cycle. He influenced generations of SFF authors including the sublime John C. Wright.

He also co-invented Pringles. ‘Tis true!

You’d think the funeral procession for a man of such high accomplishment would’ve stretched a mile. I had the chance to find out, since my folks live three blocks from the funeral home where Mr. Wolfe’s visitation took place. I estimate that roughly two dozen people attended, including myself and his surviving family.

It is well said that a prophet is not without honor except in his home town. There’s another lesson here: Legacy publishers are pretty bad at publicity. Wolfe should have been a household name. It’s just as well. We’re entering an age when there will cease to be any such thing.

If the public mourning for Mr. Wolfe lacked breadth, the outpouring of palpable grief and hope made up for it in depth. Everyone present was profoundly affected by the sight of the great man lying in repose in his American flag-draped casket. Snapshots of a long life well-lived with family and friends adorned a bulletin board nearby.

Neil Gaiman was in attendance. He’d planned to come into town and say hello to his longtime friend that Wednesday. He ended up saying his final goodbyes instead. His presence clearly meant a lot to Mr. Wolfe’s family.

Mr. Gaiman is the last SFF rock star. He has enjoyed a level of notoriety that was largely denied to Mr. Wolfe due to circumstance, a fickle twist of fate, or an unready public.

Neil’s comment: “I’m not worthy to untie Gene’s boots…He was the best of us.”

A simple funeral followed the visitation. The pastor of the Catholic parish my family belongs to presided. It wasn’t a funeral Mass, but at least the mourners–many of whom probably hadn’t set foot in a church in years–had the Word proclaimed to them and even got a brief lesson in Catholic sacramentality.

So fades another bright spark of wonder and beauty. This Holy Week, it seemed like Lent had gone into overtime. The passing of Gene Wolfe and the burning of Notre Dame felt as if God decided to take our toys away.

He’s right to do it. We don’t deserve them.

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