INTERVIEW: Gene Wolfe

Saturday , 2, August 2014 Leave a comment

Twelve Tomorrows does an excellent, wide-ranging interview with SF grandmaster Gene Wolfe:

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. I’ve been impressed with a lot of people—with Kipling, for example; with Dickens—but I don’t think I’ve been greatly influenced by them.

What struck you about Chesterton?

His charm; his willingness to follow an argument wherever it led….
You are always generous to Jack Vance, recognizing his series The Dying Earth [1950–1984] as the inspiration for The Book of the New Sun. But inspiration is implicit criticism, too. Why did you feel compelled to depart from Vance’s idea of “remote antiquity”?

Because he had already done it.

I know you thought Algis Budrys a tremendous writer.

A. J. was a friend. I admired Who [1958] enormously. The plot of Rogue Moon [1960] is striking: Budrys tells us that if you destroyed a man here and reconstituted him somewhere else, you’re fooling yourself if you think that the reconstituted man is the same as the original man. The man who goes into the matter transmitter is going to go dark; he’s going to die. You can create a new man with the memories of the dead man; but that doesn’t mean that the dead man is still alive. The dead man is dead.

A copied man turns up in The Fifth Head of Cerberus: a robotic simulation of the narrator’s great-grandfather. Mr. Million says, helplessly: “He—I—am dead.”

Rogue Moon’s plot has tickled thinkers like Derek Parfit, who used it in Reasons and Persons as a thought experiment to prompt an entire field of philosophical speculation. Its conceit has been widely imitated. Why isn’t Budrys more read today?

I don’t know. People like a lot of people who aren’t very good at all, and they don’t like a lot of people who are very good.

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