(urth) Wolfe at Readercon

Matthew Keeley matthew.keeley.1 at gmail.com
Sat Jul 18 19:57:48 PDT 2009

As I wouldn't have learned of Readercon were it not for this list, I
think I would be remiss if I didn't tell you something about the

Readercon was in Burlington, Massachusetts, about an hour away from my
house. As I didn't have three hundred dollars to spend on a hotel room
(Pity the poor impoverished grad), I decided to commute back and forth
each day. As a result, I didn't get to stay very late every day and I
doubtless missed many fine and interesting things. As this is the Urth
List, I'm only going to discuss Wolfe-related events at the con,
though there were several other Major Writers there, including John
Crowley and Samuel Delany.


This was my first con, and it's a trifle intimidating to finish
registration and then see your one of your favorite writers standing
not twenty feet away. Mr. Wolfe was scheduled to speak at the day's
first panel, on "Egocentrism and Creativity." I walked into the room
twenty minutes before the program was scheduled to start, screwed up
my courage, and approached Gene and Rosemary Wolfe. I said I was a
great fan of his work, etc. etc. Wolfe, as it turns out, is a much
nicer person than most of his characters. He introduced me to Rosemary
and to Patrick O'Leary, who was sitting with them. I saw Wolfe several
times throughout the weekend, and he always knew my name, even when I
was too far away for him to read my nametag. Great guy.

The panel itself was very good; when asked to introduce himself, Wolfe
just said "I practically invented Pringles." There was a lot of
applause. Three writers / books that Wolfe says most influenced him:
G.K. Chesterton, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Style Guide for Engineers (I'm
not sure on that exact title). The Plumly Thompson pick confused one
of the other panelists; Wolfe defended her merits over fellow
Oz-writer L. Frank Baum.

(Note that this next portion includes some spoilers for future works
and for An Evil Guest)

One of Readercon's specialties is the "Kaffeeklatsch," where writers
meet over coffee with ten or so of their fans. Wolfe's Kaffeeklatsch
was on Friday, I made sure to sign up early. The "klatsches" take
place in normal hotel rooms, though the beds have been replaced with
round tables. Wolfe's klatsch was standing-room-only. When I asked
what Wolfe was working on, he talked a little about Home Fires, the
second draft of which he finished in February. Apparently it involves
an energy-poor future Earth, an interstellar war, and complications in
love arriving as a result of time dilation. Wolfe is also writing a
short story about a talking refrigerator (!) and has written a story
called "King Rat" for a Frederick Pohl tribute anthology. Wolfe also
briefly discussed his past position as head of the Science Fiction
Poetry Association. Apparently many readers would approach him with
their poems. Wolfe would ask who their favorite poets were, and they
would respond that they didn't read poetry, they wrote it. One gets
the impression Wolfe suffered much in this job. Wolfe said his
favorite of his novels changes from day to day, but Peace is generally
near the top of the list. He also said An Evil Guest was the most fun
to write; he felt bad leaving Cassie. He also said that Bill Reis was
an interesting villain because "he was so close to being a hero" but
he still wanted to make himself "dictator" of Earth. I suppose this
helps AEG interpretation a bit?

Later in the day, Wolfe was on a panel about "Words as Magic." John
Crowley discussed the Old Masters' "underpainting" technique; he said
Wolfe's books give the sense of having been thoroughly-prepared and
"underpainted" in the same way. Crowley, unsurprisingly, was far more
eloquent there than I am here. Alas, I left after this panel, so I
missed Wolfe, Patrick O'Leary, Yves Meynard, and Michael Cisco
discussing "Reality and Dream in Fiction."


Wolfe was scheduled to read from The Sorcerer's House, which the
Readercon program says is coming out next year. I arrived late, so it
wasn't until after the reading finished that Wolfe had been reading
his new short story "King Rat." It has lions and spiders and
elephants, oh my, and is blackly comic. It is nothing at all like what
I've heard Sorcerer's House is like, so I felt pretty silly.


Alas, I didn't attend any Lupine panels or events Sunday. I did,
however, buy a few Wolfe books at the Readercon bookshop. David
Hartwell was selling a bunch of books; I picked up a copy of
Operations Ares from him for $5. The book was signed, which rather
surprised me. Mr. Hartwell says Wolfe no longer cringes quite so much
when he sees his first novel and is now willing to sign copies.

All in all a fantastic weekend - Readercon was absolutely full of
writers I like and admire, and they all seemed to be extremely nice
people. If you're in the New England area, definitely consider
Readercon next year.


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