The New York Times carried the obituary yesterday:
Gene Wolfe, a prolific science fiction and fantasy writer whose best works, full of inventive language, mysteries and subtly conveyed themes, are considered to be among the genre’s finest, died on Sunday in Peoria, Ill. He was 87.
Wolfe was a thoughtful and fairly prolific author, beloved by other writers and readers both of science fiction and “mainstream” literature. He earned a number of key awards, but he never had a breakout movie or television adaptation to bring attention from pop culture.
Nevertheless, he left more of a mark – for better or worse – on the world than all but the most popular authors. Certainly, he wrote wrote The Fifth Head of Cerebus as well as other influential novels and short stories, but before that he was an engineer at Procter & Gamble, where he was given an assignment that was to change snack chip history.
Chemist Fredric Baur invented what was to be called the Pringles potato crisp in the late 1950s for P&G, who had tasked him to create something in response to complaints about bagged potato chips. His crisp held together in what has become the familiar curved oval shape, but it was flavorless and unpleasant.
A few years later, Alexander Liepa examined Baur’s work and found a way to make them pleasant tasting. Pringles were born!
…except they weren’t. Even though the chip had been designed, the company didn’t have a way to mass produce them. That’s where Gene Wolfe entered the picture. A young mechanical engineer, Wolfe set to designing a machine which could form and cook the dough without damaging the chips.
As supermarket aisles throughout the world can attest, it was an early and significant success in the author’s life. He left the world on Sunday with his deep Catholic faith intact, a bevy of writing awards on his bookshelves, the respect and adoration of his peers, and a snack with a goofy bow-tied man on the label that can be found throughout the world. R.I.P., Gene Wolfe.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite snack chip?