When I was a boy, I read all the pulp magazines, which were still around in those days. You’ve no doubt seen collector editions, but in those days you could buy a pulp for 10 or 15 cents. One of my favourites was Famous Fantastic Mysteries, which reprinted good stuff from the turn of the century. Once, they did Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau [1896] as an entire issue. And I read it, and I absolutely loved it, and when I had read the last page I went back to the first page, and I started again. And when I started my fourth reading I thought, “Well, I know everything that’s going to happen now and I’ll just put it aside for a while until I’ve kind of forgotten it, and then I’ll read it again.” And I never looked at it again until I was about 50. And when I was that age, somebody wrote to me and said he was putting together one of those books that honour the hundred best science fiction novels. It would have essays from writers like me, and this person wanted me to do The Island of Dr. Moreau. I thought, “Gee, I remember that fondly. I will take him up on that. But first, obviously, I have to get a copy of it and read it, since I haven’t read it since I was a kid.” And I did …

Wonderful cover on that book, by the way — wonderful! The man was bare-chested — not quite muscular enough to be a hero, but muscular and good-looking — and behind him is this enormous, shaggy monster. And the monster has one hand on the man’s shoulder. In a most buddy-looking sort of way, you know. [Chuckles merrily.] I thought that was a lovely cover; I still do …

Anyhow, I read the book and immediately saw there were things in there that had completely sailed over me that were now hitting me like a brick. The book starts when the narrator gets on a ship from some city in South America. On the third day out, they ram a derelict and their ship sinks. He spends three days in a lifeboat with two men, a fellow passenger and a sailor, and he mentions, just in passing, that he never learned the name of the sailor in the boat with him. And another thing: the sailor and the passenger fall overboard in a struggle, and the narrator is picked up by a boat carrying Dr. Moreau’s doctor, who gives him “a dose of some scarlet stuff, iced. It tasted like blood, and made me feel stronger.” That one, too, just whizzed by me. All this stuff, and I was too dumb to appreciate it as a boy!

Gene Wolfe
Interviewed by Jason Pontin
MIT Technology Review 25th July 2014