Despite the acclaim and more novels — “Peace” in 1975, “The Devil in a Forest” in 1976 and “The Shadow of the Torturer” (the first of the “New Sun” series) in 1980 — writing remained a sideline. From 1972 to 1984 Mr. Wolfe was an editor for Plant Engineering, a trade journal.
“We had a staff of 24, and all of us had several jobs,” he said. “It seemed to me that I had more than most. I was the robot editor; I was the screws editor, the glue editor, the welding editor. I was in charge of power transmission belts, and gears, and bearings, and shafts, and all sorts of stuff like that.”
With the success of the “New Sun” series, he became a full-time writer. The series, set in the distant future, involves the journeys of Severian, an apprentice torturer who as the saga begins violates code by showing mercy to a prisoner. He then proceeds to wander the land, encountering giants, cults and more.
“A wise reader will keep a dictionary nearby, but it won’t always prove useful,” The New Yorker said of the series in a 2015 article about Mr. Wolfe. “Though Wolfe relies merely on the strangeness of English — rather than creating a new language, like Elven or Klingon — he nonetheless dredges up some truly obscure words: cataphract, fuligin, metamynodon, cacogens.”
Mr. Wolfe liked to employ the unreliable-narrator technique, keeping readers guessing about what was true and what wasn’t. His stories could be bleak, but they also had dashes of comedy.
“I have been told often enough that I have a sense of humor that makes strong men faint and women reach for weapons,” he said in the introduction to “Castle of Days,” a 1995 story collection.