I first encountered Gene Wolfe’s work when I was a sophomore in high school, when I accidentally stumbled onto the paperback of The Shadow of the Torturer at my public library. I picked it up not knowing anything about it, intrigued as much as anything by the fact that even though it was called science fiction it had a cover that looked like a fantasy novel: a masked and caped figure holding a massive sword. But it also had a blurb from Ursula K. Le Guin, whose Earthsea books I had loved, describing it as “the best science fiction I’ve read in years.” So, was this science fiction or fantasy?
This wasn’t clarified for me by the other words on the cover, where the book was described as a “world where science and magic are one” and, by Thomas M. Disch (a writer I wouldn’t read until years later) as “science fantasy,” a term I’d never heard before. Wasn’t science the opposite of fantasy? In short, I was confused and intrigued. I went into the book not quite knowing what to expect but feeling not unpleasantly off balance—which, I’m still convinced, is the best way to first encounter Wolfe.