This is an interview from last year, but why should time matter? Especially when it involves the notoriously tricksy, almost unclassifiable science fiction writer Gene Wolfe. When many lament the state of Catholic literature these days, they almost always forget and leave out the great Catholic writers working in genre fiction such as sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery. This is a shame. As anyone who has read Gene Wolfe can attest, his writing is every bit as artistically rich as many other acclaimed novelists. But since most of his writing falls into the world of speculative fiction, it gets pigeonholed as being somehow less serious.
In this wonderful and fascinating interview with Gene Wolfe from the MIT Technology Review, he covers a lot of ground. The interviewer sets the scene: “The house was nearly empty except for the author’s own books, some family photographs (including one of an implausibly young Wolfe in uniform), a little furniture, and a makeshift shrine, with a statue of the Virgin, rosary beads, and a Bible, in front of a window overlooking the back lawn.”
On which writers influenced him: “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.”
On being a Catholic writer: “I’m a writer who is Catholic, as a good many of us are. I do not write Catholic books intentionally.”
On Fulton Sheen (!!): “I once met Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who we’re trying to get made a saint now. He looked at you and you felt that he knew all about you, that he had taken your worth, both positive and negative, and had formed a correct opinion about you, and that was it… He had a quality of something really quite extraordinary. I was at a party once for locally important politicians—a former governor of Illinois, for example. And Sheen came through as somebody who was actually on a higher level. A hundred years from now, he was the only one at the party who would still be important. The rest of us were lost.”
And I love this exchange:
Q: “Many people say that science fiction matters because it is about contemporary society—that it is a kind of satire.”
A: “Unfortunately. It’s true that a great many people think that it must be.”
Q: “You mean: it needn’t be so.”
A: “You could write a book about a landing on Mars in which a landing on Mars is a metaphor for something that is going on now. You could also write a book about a landing on Mars that’s a landing on Mars.”
You should read the whole thing. And find out how Wolfe also helped invent Pringles.