Saturday, 2 October 2010

Recent Wolfe acquisitions: Letters Home and Sir!

I have been fortunate enough to have received a few scholarships during my BA, including the Faculty of Arts Honours Scholarship, of which I just received my final installment. Since every other payment had gone immediately on living expenses and whatnot (and perhaps a few study-related books), I decided that this time I had to get something by Wolfe (whose work is the subject of my honours thesis). I have an wish list of Wolfe books that includes limited printings, rare chapbooks, and signed first editions, so I picked a couple of items from this list and purchased them a couple of weeks ago. They were:

LETTERS HOME

I had been wanting this book for years. Letters Home is a collection of Wolfe's letters to his mother written during the Korean War, in which he served as general infantry. The first edition, hardcover book is one of 250 signed and numbered copies printed in 1991 by U.M. Press. It is 185 pages long and includes an introduction by Wolfe and a few pages of photographs. It came with a small, 12 page paperback companion volume titled "A Wolfe Family Album," which includes a selection of Wolfe's photos from his childhood through to the 1980s. Two photos jumped out at me: a beautiful wedding photo of Gene and Rosemary Wolfe, and a photo of Wolfe, Frederik Pohl and Robert Silverberg at a house party in Melbourne, I'm guessing during Aussiecon 2 in 1985.

Wolfe has written very little about his experiences in Korea, although they have certainly influenced his fiction, with grisly war scenes playing major roles in The Book of the New Sun, The Book of the Long Sun and The Book of the Short Sun. I had to get a copy of Letters Home after reading Kim Stanley Robinson's brilliant introduction to The Very Best of Gene Wolfe (2009). In it, Robinson discusses Wolfe's frequent urge, in his fiction, "both to conceal and to reveal at once." He claims that this is also evident in the letters Wolfe wrote during the war, in which "he wants to be able to tell his mom what is happening to him, while at the same time wanting to protect her from any too vivid knowledge of the worst of what he is facing. He wants both to tell and not to tell" (vii). Since this thought-provoking (and sometimes infuriating) concealment is part of what I love about Wolfe's fiction, I couldn't resist buying this volume. I will read through it over the summer and probably blog about it again when I'm done.

   


SIR! (OCTOBER 1965)

This is the first dirty magazine I've ever bought. After convincing my beautiful, loving wife that I only wanted it "for the articles," I now have Wolfe's the very first short story publication (or first paid publication, rather, since he had two short stories published in the Texas A&M student magazine). The story, "The Dead Man," was printed in the October 1965 issue of Sir!, an old men's magazine, although it has also appeared in the short collection Young Wolfe (1992) and the special Gene Wolfe issue of Weird Tales of Spring 1988 (#290). I have not read the version printed in Young Wolfe (which is still on my wish list), but the one in Weird Tales is a slightly revised version of the original (no major changes, mostly just changes in word choices and grammar). In Sir! it appears with a full-page illustration of the (dead) protagonist climbing out of the alligator's den, with the deceased woman lying at his feet. There is also, on the first page of the magazine, a great little bio of Wolfe at age 34, living in Ohio; click on the black and white strip (below right) for a better view.

       

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