For Gene Wolfe Fans.

One of my favorite series of short novels was collected into something called The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe. These may be the best science-fiction/fantasy fusion stories ever written.

I have the original four volumes in the Pocket Books[sup]TM[/sup] paperbacks, and I have read them so many times they are starting to fall apart.

Unfortunately, the sequel series, The Book of the New Sun, leaves me cold. I really tried to read The Calde of the Long Sun, but I just couldn’t get through it. I haven’t even purchased the following books. I’m afraid that Mr. Wolfe may be getting overly impressed with himself.

A first person narrative from a character who is self-admittedly insane is a challenge to read. Wolfe impressed me in the first six pages of “The Shadow.”

I would also like to recommend Soldier on the Mist (Tor Fantasy[sup]TM[/sup], 1986), and the sequel Soldier of Arete(Tor Fantasy[sup]TM[/sup], 1989).

These are the putative journals of a Greek solidier in a Roman army. Said soldier has a head injury that causes him to forget everything when he sleeps. Most chapters begin with, “I was awoken by a man who claims to be my friend.”

Okay, I’m rambling, but books in this style are hard to come by.

Let’s talk.

Actually, despite my username, I haven’t read the books in a while. You just might inspire me to dig them up to read over the summer…

Mmmm. My next big reading “project”, sometime when I have a week spare, is to sit down with all the “Sun” books (New, Long and Short) and read them all, in order, from Shadow of the Torturer to Return to the Whorl. And then think about them.

I did find the Long Sun books difficult to get into at first… they’re a surprising combination of standard sci-fi elements (needle guns, robots, generation ships) with some really deep ideas… and the speed of the ending in Exodus was something of a jolt. But I think they’re worth the effort.

My first introduction to Wolfe was through The Fifth Head of Cerberus, and, no disrespect to the novels intended, but I think he’s one of those writers who shine at the shorter lengths. The short story collections are really worth checking out.

I adore New Sun, and have spent many hours trying to track all of Wolfe’s sources for many of his invented words and concepts. I was disappointed to find that Michael Andre Driussi has already done the same thing…but was pleased to discover that he had made several mistakes.

I definitely enjoyed Long Sun, though it was a markedly different reading experience. It took me a little longer to warm to Silk than it did to Severian, but I found the result to be just as satisfying.

His books of short stories are, of course, brilliant.

Okay, I guess I have to apologize for the first sentence in the third paragraph of the OP. The sequel series was the The Book of the Long Sun, and I am embarrassed.

Given the posts from other Dopers, I guess I’ll have to try the “Long Sun” one more time.

I completely agree with Steve Wright and Maeglin about the short stories. I have an anthology printed in America called “Storeys From The Olde Hotel,” that I enjoyed a great deal.

Anyway, I got hooked by “Shadow” when I was about thirteen or fourteen. I got to the passage where Severian said something about seeing the veins in the backs of his hands and realizing that he was now a man. I said “wha… I don’t get it.”

Then I looked at the back of my hand.

BTW - Mr. Wright, I haven’t seen the “Short Sun” yet. Do you know if it’s available in the US?

[sub]I apologize to everyone about the sloppy OP.[/sub]

It is available in the US. The first book is On Blue’s Waters..

I also devoured Storeys From the Olde Hotel.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything by Gene Wolfe. My first book by him was “Shadow of the Torturer”. His books can be tough reads, but they are worth it! I don’t regret reading the New Sun series for a second, except for failing to read “Claw of the Concilliator”. I really need to read the trilogy again, in its entirety. eheheheh…

I got the first book of the Long Sun, but I never quite got into it. Maybe I should try again some time. But, I contend that Silk is NO Severian. I ADORE Severian!

Wow, Jurhael, if you didn’t read “Claw” how did you ever follow The Sword of the Lictor or Citadel of the Autarch? I got confused between chapters.

Wolfe has this ability to sketch characters in such a way that you, as the reader, can recognize them in one line, but still leave his first-person character oblivious to their identities.

You find your self sort of yelling to Severian, “You have to know where you’ve seen Dorcas before,” or, “It’s the Doctor, you idiot.”

And then you remember that Severian isn’t entirely sane. Clever technique.

I think one of the better examples of Wolfe’s character development is shown at the end of Chapter XIV of Shadow of the Torturer:

For all the compassion Severian shows later, that passage establishes his ruthless calculation. His insanity was established just as efficiently earlier.

I like it.

Severian is insane!? Where does it say that? Granted, he’s not all right in the head, but then so is every other person that he encounters. Who’s to say what is normal in the far-future world he lives in?

I do not trust him to narrate the truth, but I certainly never read him as insane. I took his visions quite literally.

I adore Gene Wolfe’s writing. He is by far the best of the “literary” fantasy/SF writers of his generation (and there are some other very good writers in that group). The Book of the New Sun was my introduction to him, and without a doubt Severian is one of the most compelling protagonists I have encountered. The skill with which Wolfe develops the character as a comfortable “everyman” for reader identification while simultaneously demonstrating the extreme and unique measures of his character–brilliant. Simply brilliant. BTW, if any fans of this series have not found their way to The Castle of the Otter, do so immediately. You will not be disappointed. “These are the Jokes” alone is worth the cover price (if you can find it for cover price).

BTW, I strongly second teh recommendations for Fifth Head of Cerebus and The soldier of Mist/Arete. The first is the best “three novellas as a novel” book I’ve ever read (with apologies to The Gods Themselves). The latter is one if the best incorporations of Greek mythology and history into readable fiction that I have ever read (with apologies to Mary Renault). One small correction, though, Latro is a Latin mercenary who had served in teh armies of Xerxes and found himself stranded in Greece afterward.

I will add one caveat to teh above. If Wolfe has any weakness, to me it is an unfortunate tendency to lose tension in a sudden climax/resolution after carefully building it through hundreds of pages of plot and character development. Soldier of Arete falls into that category, I fear. Still, the books are well worth the read.

Well, as I touched on briefly above, I think the brilliance of Wolfe’s Severian is that he is both very definitively “not quite like you or I” in his reactions and perceptions yet simultaneously he “feels” like an everyman narative character. I cannot stress too much how difficult it is to strike that balance successfully, yet alone flawlessly, but Wolfe’s Severian is a flawless example of the craft (IMO, of course).

Severian is not insane in the sense of being outisde the normative range for his society, but he is certainly not sane in the sense of within the normative range for human beings in current society. Yet at no time during my reading(s) of the books did I find myself jarred from identification with the character. When you think about that, in light of some of the actions taken by the character, the skill of Wolfe’s alchemy becomes clear. Had Severian reacted “sanely” (i.e. in a manner which I could actually identify with under similar circumstances), my identification would suffer because the distance between Severian and myself would be jarringly evident. By having Severian react "insanely (according to current norms), Wolfe manages to maintain a feel of “closeness” to the narrator. Severian “feels” just like one of the guys, despite the several extreme [even inhuman(e)] elements of his character.

Have I mentioned that it is a brilliant piece of writing? Well it is.

For the record, though, I still think Fifth Head of Cerberus is in many ways his best work. The patterns of that weave show me something new every time I pick it up.

I have never read his other books, but really enjoyed the Long Sun/Short Sun series. I guess I now have to get the Short Sun books as well. I did find that the initial book of the Long Sun was much different than the rest, as it dealt with (trying to avoid spoilers here) persons that didn’t realize their situation. In fact, the reader’s dawning awareness of the situation (not really fully realized until the second or thir book, if I remember correctly) was something that I really loved about the books.

“Wow, Jurhael, if you didn’t read “Claw” how did you ever follow The Sword of the Lictor or Citadel of the Autarch? I got confused between chapters.”

I haven’t the foggiest! That’s why I regret not reading it! Eheheheh!!
And no, I don’t consider Severian to be insane either.

Hey, folks? I think I can put this “is Severian insane?” thing to bed. He (Severian, the narrator of the New Sun) admits it in “Shadow.” He specifically says that you shouldn’t trust his narrative because he doesn’t trust his own memories.

The entire series supports this. Wolfe’s plotline is so disjointed for this exact reason. The narrator/main character isn’t in his right mind. Or is he?

That’s the point.

Do you trust your own memories? Especially of climactic events that happen quickly? Or perhaps of twisted, convoluted phenomena that involve numerous people and span great periods of time?

You do Wolfe no justice by reducing his “point” to a single admission from Severian. Nothing he says should be taken quite literally.

I do not find the plot disjointed at all. Can you elaborate on that?