The Book of the New Sun is a tetralogy composed of The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of The Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor and The Citadel of the Autarch. It is sort of a blend of both fantasy and science fiction in terms of genre, but with chapter titles like “Eschatology and Genesis” it is also much more than that.
This is one of those relatively rare novels in which the story and the way it is told are approached in novel ways. It is a first person narrative, the narrator, Severian, is trusty, but he admits that he doesn’t have much experience with writing or telling a story. Because of this things get left out, we often don’t find out what he is thinking until he speaks his thoughts, at other times his rambling metaphysical monologues [kinda reminds me of a blog I know] only apply loosely to the action of the story. More things are implied and inferred than told outright. For instance, Severian is not a very bodily person, he doesn’t talk about his body unless he is hurt or hungry. Yet it is obvious by the way other people [mostly women] react to him that he is both very strong and very handsome.
The world of Urth is either the future of our own world or the future in a different universe. The sun is old and a red giant [which, if it were true in our universe would swallow the earth, i think] and everyone speaks of a return to the old days when people traveled among the stars and the birth of a New Sun. The story reads at the top of a river but is constantly hinting at the dominant current at the bottom.
The plot is good because it is minimal. Severian gets exiled from the guild and sent to some town in the north to work as a carnifex or lictor. I guess I should mention that he is a journeyman torturer, a headsman. The book contains extra-dimensional beings, parallel-universe time travel, an ogrish, ever-growing Frankensteinian character and lots of casual sex. Nothing and no one are as they seem, especially Severian. At one moment he spares the life of his enemy, in the next he is killing refugees just because.
Throughout the book it seems like Gene Wolfe is reconciling the scientific mind with the romantic one. He does a pretty good job with this in Severian. I don’t know what else to say without spoiling some surprise.
I’m going to buy these. Wolfe is a Catholic, so perhaps one of the reasons I enjoyed this book and connected with it is because it is a Catholic work.
A good Gene Wolfe site.