The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
For those of you enjoy audiobooks, this is the perfect time to finally read (or to re-read) Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer. Audible Frontiers recently put it on audio and the excellent Jonathan Davis is the reader.
The Shadow of the Torturer introduces Severian, an orphan who grew up in the torturer's guild. Severian is now sitting on a throne, but in this first installment of The Book of the New Sun, he tells us of key events in his boyhood and young adulthood. The knowledge that Severian will not only survive, but will become a ruler, doesn't at all detract from the suspense; it makes us even more curious about how... Read More
Gene Wolfe(1931- )
Gene Wolfe is best known for his award-winning science fiction epic The Solar Cycle, which includes The Book of the New Sun, and sequels. Mr. Wolfe has won numerous awards, including the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007. He lives in Illinois.
THE SOLAR CYCLE — (1980-2001) Contains the original series, The Book of the New Sun, and two sequel series: The Book of the Long Sun and The Book of the Short Sun.
The Book of the New Sun — (1980-1987) Omnibus editions available. Publisher: Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun is an extraordinary epic, set a million years in the future, on an Earth transformed in mysterious and wondrous ways, in a time when our present culture is no longer even a memory. Severian, the central character, is a torturer, exiled from his guild after falling in love with one of his victims, and journeying to the distant city of Thrax, armed with his ancient executioner’s sword, Terminus Est.
The Book of the Long Sun — (1993-1996) Publisher: In a decrepit school, children are taught to be soothsayers by Patera Silk, an innocent hero. Silk’s school is sold by his superiors to the crude businessman, Blood. Silk finds that he is a powerful sorcerer, and magic is in the air.
The Book of the Short Sun — (1999-2001) Publisher: ON BLUE’S WATERS is the start of a major new work by Gene Wolfe, the first of three volumes that comprise The Book of the Short Sun, which takes place in the years after Wolfe’s Book of the Long Sun. Horn, the narrator of the earlier work, now tells his own story. Though life is hard on the newly settled planet of Blue, Horn and his family have made a decent life for themselves. But Horn is the only one who can locate the great leader Silk, and convince him to return to Blue and lead them all to prosperity. Horn sets sail, in a small boat, on a long and difficult quest across the planet Blue in search of the now legendary Patera Silk.
The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe
The Claw of the Conciliator is the second book in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun quartet. If you read The Shadow of the Torturer and felt like you were lost (or drunk), and weren’t sure whether things would get clearer in the second book, I have to tell you that no, they don’t. But if you, like me, enjoy that dreamy I’m-not-sure-where-I-am-or-how-I-got-here-or-where-I’m-going-but-everything-sure-feels-fine literary experience, then read on, because Severian’s head is a strange and fascinating place to be.
The Book of the New Sun is one of those works that some people think is ingenious and others suspect is just drivel. This is not the series for a reader who wants a quick-paced action-filled story with a concrete beginni... Read More
The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe’s The Sword of the Lictor essentially contains no plot, but it’s the best plotless book I’ve ever read. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, period. I loved every moment of it! (I read this on audio; Audible Frontiers' audio version, read by Jonathan Davis, is exceptional.)
This third installment of The Book of the New Sun continues Severian’s journey from apprentice in the torturers’ guild to Autarch. He doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to his exalted position (if anything, I’d say farther) and we’re no closer to understanding how he’s going to get there. But that’s totally fine. Unburdened by a need to be anywhere or t... Read More
The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
The Citadel of the Autarch is a satisfying conclusion to Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. (A fifth book, The Urth of the New Sun, is a coda to the original four books.) We’ve known all along that Severian the torturer would be the autarch by the end of his story, but his fascinating journey to the throne is what this saga is all about… on the surface, at least.
What it’s really about, for those who want to see it, is the juxtaposition of future and past, the nature of time and space, perception and reality, religion and science, and the Earth’s and humanity’s need for redemption. All of this is explored in the context of the strange characters, situations, and places that Severian meets on his way.
The Book of the ... Read More
Litany of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe
Though not essential, it wouldn’t hurt to do some homework before reading Litany of the Long Sun, Gene Wolfe’s omnibus edition of two novels: Nightside the Long Sun and Lake of the Long Sun. Litany and its companion omnibus Epiphany of the Long Sun make up the Book of the Long Sun series, which is itself an independent part of Gene Wolfe’s Solar Cycle.
Wolfe’s “Solar” novels are all set in a universe where the earth’s sun is dying. For humanity to survive this astronomical apocalypse, a generation ship is sent to colonize distant planets. The ship is large and the voyage long, so much so that recent generations are unaware that the... Read More
Epiphany of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe
EPIPHANY OF THE LONG SUN is an omnibus that combines Caldé of the Long Sun and Exodus from the Long Sun.
A smooth speaker, naturally athletic, and an intuitive and inventive tactician, Silk may well prove to be the greatest Caldé that Viron has ever had. He even has impeccable manners. Even authors of fantasy, a genre that has created many near-perfect savior figures, run a risk when they make their heroes too good. Fortunately, Gene Wolfe’s defense against this charge is more in-depth than the throwaway “he’s a savior figure, so he’s supposed to be nearly perfect.”
In Epiphany of the Long Sun, Gene Wolfe compensates for Silk’s flawlessness by imposing an impressive set of handicaps and obstacles upon him. Even though he has the support of the people, S... Read More
THE BOOK OF THE SHORT SUN by Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe has earned a reputation for writing novels that benefit from being read twice. His works are often complex and they do tend to reward careful reading, so much so that it’s not uncommon to hear prospective readers asking which of his Solar Cycle works is the easiest to read. Wolfe’s Book of the Short Sun trilogy is certainly not the place to start, but it is an otherwise fine finish to this distinguished cycle of stories that bridge the gap between fantasy and science fiction, and for some readers, between literary and genre fiction.
In The Book of the New Sun, Severian is tasked with saving Earth and its dying sun. In The Book of the Long Sun, Wolfe tells the story of a generation ship that was launched to a nearby star... Read More
The Soldier — (1986-2006) Latro in the Mist is a 2003 repackaging of the first two books in the series: Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete which were written in the 1980s. Soldier of Sidon is a 2006 continuation. Publisher: Simultaneously cursed with the inability to remember his past and blessed with the ability to speak with gods, a soldier formerly in service to the Great King of Parsa (Persia) seeks answers to his many questions amid the fractured, wartorn landscape of the ancient world. Latro’s second-hand view of reality lends a dreamlike quality to a story that mirrors the struggle of human consciousness to explain events beyond its comprehension. In this sequel to Soldier of the Mist, Wolfe achieves a rare blend of history and myth, forming a single shimmering vision of a world unmarked by modern preconceptions.
LATRO IN THE MIST by Gene Wolfe
LATRO IN THE MIST is the omnibus edition containing two of Gene Wolfe’s historical fantasies set in ancient Greece: Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete. They tell the story of Latro, a Roman mercenary wounded while fighting on the side of the Persians at the battle of Plataea. The wound to the head robs him of most of his long term memory as well as his short, limiting him to only about twenty-four hours before he forgets. The other effect is that Latro finds that he is able to see the gods, mythical creatures and the spirits of the dead. On the advice of an oracle of Apollo he sets off on a quest to restore his memory so he can return home that takes him across most of Greece meeting both minor and major deities, as well as famous historical figures.
Soldier of the Mist opens with a dedic... Read More
Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe
Soldier of Sidon is the third book in Gene Wolfe’s Soldier series. Latro is a Roman mercenary who fought against the Greeks at Thermopylae. In spite of his battle prowess, he now wakes every morning with no memory of his past ever since receiving a blow to the head. Will Latro ever recover?
Gene Wolfe originally told Latro’s story in Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete, published in 1987 and 1989, respectively, and later published together in 2003. So this third installment has been a long time in the making. Considering how long Latro’s story has been waiting, readers could be forgiven for expecting Soldier of Sidon (published in 2006) to be a disappointment. Fortunately, both Wolfe and Latro have aged very well.
Year... Read More
The Wizard Knight — (2004-2005) Publisher: A novel in two volumes, The Wizard Knight is in the rare company of those works which move past the surface of fantasy and drink from the wellspring of myth. Magic swords, dragons, giants, quests, love, honor, nobility — all the familiar features of fantasy come to fresh life in this masterful work. The first half of the journey, The Knight — which you are advised to read first, to let the whole story engulf you from the beginning — took a teenage boy from America into Mythgarthr, the middle realm of seven fantastic worlds. Above are the gods of Skai; below are the capricious Aelf, and more dangerous things still. Journeying throughout Mythgarthr, Able gains a new brother, an Aelf queen lover, a supernatural hound, and the desire to prove his honor and become the noble knight he always knew he would be. Coming into Jotunland, home of the Frost Giants, Able — now Sir Able of the High Heart — claims the great sword Eterne from the dragon who has it. In reward, he is ushered into the castle of the Valfather, king of all the Gods of Skai. Thus begins the second part of his quest. The Wizard begins with Able’s return to Mythgathr on his steed Cloud, a great mare the color of her name. Able is filled with new knowledge of the ways of the seven-fold world and possessed of great magical secrets. His knighthood now beyond question, Able works to fulfill his vows to his king, his lover, his friends, his gods, and even his enemies. Able must set his world right, restoring the proper order among the denizens of all the seven worlds.
The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe
The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe is one of the best fantasy novels to appear in the last decade or so. The novel is split into two separate books, The Knight and The Wizard, but like Gene Wolfe’s classic BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, it’s really one big story split into separate volumes and best read back-to-back.
The Wizard Knight tells the story of Sir Able of the High Heart, a knight who is really a young boy pulled from our own world to Mythgardr, one of seven connected worlds that are mirrored on a combination of Norse mythology, medieval history and Christian theology. One of those other worlds, Aelfrice, is home to Disiri, an Aelf queen who helps Able towards manhood — even though he is mentally still a young boy inside a grown man's body — a... Read More
Peace by Gene Wolfe
Although virtually unclassifiable, Gene Wolfe's 1975 novel, Peace, was chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels AND Jones & Newman's Horror: Another 100 Best Books. While the novel certainly does have shadings of both the horrific and the fantastic, it will most likely strike the casual reader — on the surface, at least — as more of an autobiography, telling, as it does, the story of Alden Dennis Weer, in the first person.
Weer, a 60... Read More
Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe
It’s hard not to approach a Gene Wolfe novel with high expectations. After all, the man is responsible for some of the most brilliantly mind-bending science fiction and fantasy written in the last few decades. Such high expectations can make it hard to write an objective review (if such a thing is even possible) when the new book in question is quite good but just doesn’t blow you away like, say, his Book of the New Sun or The Wizard Knight. Make no mistake: Pirate Freedom is a great piece of fiction, but in terms of Gene Wolfe’s body of work, it just doesn’t rank as high as I’d hoped.
Our narrator, Chris, is an American who, as a boy, moves to Cuba with his father and is enrolled in a religious boarding school. Eventually he becomes a novice in the monastery, but as time pas... Read More
The Sorcerer's House by Gene Wolfe
The Sorcerer's House is a beautifully subtle new novel by master fantasy and SF author Gene Wolfe. The novel's protagonist is a recently released convict who, seemingly by complete coincidence, comes into possession of an abandoned house. As he moves in, he discovers that the house already has a few odd inhabitants...
A large part of the enjoyment of this novel is the process of discovery, as the protagonist slowly finds out more and more about the odd nature of the house and its inhabitants, as well as the relations between the other people living in his new town. Because I don't want to spoil this process of discovery, I won't say much more about the plot of the novel, aside from the fact that it will slowly suck you into its own twisted reality, and that it's perfectly suited to be read and re-read, because everything, from the very first page on, wil... Read More
Home Fires by Gene Wolfe
It’s almost an axiom that a Gene Wolfe novel will raise questions about life, death, memory, psychology and identity. It also goes almost without saying that there will be a feeling of events happening behind the scenes, of which the characters themselves are even unaware. In these respects, Home Fires is indisputably a Gene Wolfe novel.
Published in 2010, Home Fires follows a successful 47-year-old criminal lawyer, Skip Grison, in a North America that is different from ours but frighteningly easy to envision. Grison’s fiancé or “contracta” is due back from outer space as the book opens. Chelle Blue is a soldier, a master-gunner in an interstellar war. She has been fighting for two years in her time; more than twenty years in earth time. Therefore, she is about twenty-five years old to Skip’s forty-seven. Skip fears that she will no longer love him because he is an old man... Read More
Home Fires by Gene Wolfe
Before Chelle left Earth to fight in the war against the alien Os, she contracted (entered into a civil marriage) with Skip. If she returned, more than twenty years would have passed for Skip but only a few years for her: Skip would be a successful, rich lawyer, and she’d be his beautiful, young contracta. Fast forward to the start of Home Fires, the latest novel by all-round genius Gene Wolfe: Skip is indeed a rich, successful partner in his law firm, and Chelle returns to Earth, still young and beautiful but physically and mentally affected by war’s traumatic experiences. To help welcome his contracta home, Skip sets up a meeting with her estranged and (more importantly) dead mother, arranging to have her brain scan uploaded into a new body. When Skip and Chelle go on a cruise to rekindle their relationship, Chelle’s mother shows up on the ship under an assumed name, and... Read More
The Land Across by Gene Wolfe
Kat and I both read Gene Wolfe’s The Land Across last week. I read the print version produced by Tor and Kat read the audio version produced by Audible and narrated by Jeff Woodman. I wrote most of the following review, but Kat insisted on sticking in her comments so she didn’t have to write her own review. That’s how this review became a conversation.
Bill: Let’s be honest. In an ideal world, nobody should be reviewing a Gene Wolfe book having only read it once. The guy just has too much going on, too much slippery subtlety, too much unreliability, too much word play and a sense that there is always a layer underneath the layer underneath the layer you think you caught a glimpse of. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and so despite knowing there’s a whole lot going on in The La... Read More
The Land Across by Gene Wolfe
If it’s a Gene Wolfe novel, it goes without saying that things will not be quite as they seem. The Land Across is no exception. In this post, which is not an actual review, I’m going to weigh in on what I think might be happening in the book. Warning; I’m going to discuss aspects of the plot in detail. If you are worried this will spoil the book for you, I recommend you read Bill and Kat’s review, instead.
In The Land Across, a young American man named Grafton journeys to a small Eastern European country not unlike Rumania or Bulgaria. It is called only “the land across the mountains.” The land is extremely difficult for outsiders to visit. Those who take the roads find themselves stymied by washouts or landslides, or turned away at the border even though their papers are all correct. People who ... Read More
Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams
John Joseph Adams assembles a wide variety of apocalypse-related fiction in Wastelands. some of which are older than I am, while others are more recent. What you end up with is a diverse anthology covering topics such as religion, war, and exploration while containing horror, comedy, and a sense of wonder.
The majority of the stories are easy to get into. Some stories are more subtle than others. Overall, Wastelands is an enjoyable read and the selection seems balanced. Having said that, here are my top three stories:
"Bread and Bombs" by M. Rickert is one of the more horrifying stories in this anthology, and this is achieved through her characterization and commentary on society. It's easy to jump into Rickert's text and there is a foreboding established early on w... Read More
Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery edited by Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders
Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery is a book I’ve been eagerly anticipating ever since it was first announced in 2009. I was particularly excited about the anthology’s impressive list of contributors which includes several authors I enjoy reading like Glen Cook, Greg Keyes, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Garth Nix, Tim Lebbon, Read More
Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery edited by Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders
Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery is an excellent new anthology of original short fantasy fiction, featuring an impressive mixture of established genre masters and newer, highly talented authors. The book’s introduction, by editors Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan, does an excellent job defining the sword & sorcery sub-genre and placing it in its historical context. This is an interesting read for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of the genre and doesn’t have a copy of John Clute and John Grant’s The Encyclopedia of Fantasy handy, but the main... Read More
Swords and Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders
As the title suggests, Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders have gathered seventeen new and original sword & sorcery tales in this anthology. The stories are written by a variety of successful authors, bringing to play a broad range of styles and themes. I’m a huge fan of sword & sorcery (it’s what got me into fantasy). So I was extremely eager to get my hands on this book.
I did find Swords and Dark Magic to be heavier on the “sorcery” than the “sword,” more so than is my preference. (Like the greatest S&S hero, Conan the Cimmerian, I subscribe to the belief that when the gods breathed life into mankind, we were gi... Read More
Operation Ares — (1970) Publisher: The invasion from Mars came in the early years of the 21st century. And all over America people were praying for it to succeed. For 2 decades, the United States had been slipping into a primitive past, turning its back on technology — and abandoning its Martian colony. Its “emergency” government was kept in power by repression, food was scarce, life grim.. and killer packs of wild animals prowled at night, making curfews a vital need.
The Fifth Head of Cerberus — (1972) Publisher: Back in print for the first time in more than a decade, Gene Wolfe’s The Fifth Head of Cerberus is a universally acknowledged masterpiece of science fiction by one of the field’s most brilliant writers. Far out from Earth, two sister planets, Saint Anne and Saint Croix, circle each other in an eternal dance. It is said a race of shapeshifters once lived here, only to perish when men came. But one man believes they can still be found, somewhere in the back of the beyond. In The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Wolfe skillfully interweaves three bizarre tales to create a mesmerizing pattern: the harrowing account of the son of a mad genius who discovers his hideous heritage; a young man’s mythic dreamquest for his darker half; the bizarre chronicle of a scientists’ nightmarish imprisonment. Like an intricate, braided knot, the pattern at last unfolds to reveal astonishing truths about this strange and savage alien landscape.
The Devil in a Forest — (1976) Publisher: Back in print after two decades, this fantasy tells of a young man who lives in a village deep in the forest in medieval times. Mark finds himself torn between his hero worship for charming highwayman Wat and his growing suspicion of Wat’s cold savagery. And Mother Cloot, who may have sorcerous powers, works in equally suspicious ways — perhaps for evil, perhaps for good.
Free Live Free — (1984) Publisher: “Free Live Free,” said the newspaper ad, and the out-of-work detective Jim Stubb, the occultist Madame Serpentina, the salesman Ozzie Barnes, and the overweight prostitute Candy Garth are brought together to live for a time in Free’s old house, a house scheduled for demolition to make way for a highway. Free drops mysterious hints of his exile from his homeland, and of the lost key to his return. And so when demolition occurs and Free disappears, the four make a pact to continue the search, which ultimately takes them far beyond their wildest dreams. This is character-driven science fiction at its best by a writer whom, at the time of its first publication, the Chicago Sun-Times called “science fiction’s best genuine novelist.”
There Are Doors — (1988) Publisher: There Are Doors is the story of a man who falls in love with a goddess from an alternate universe. She flees him, but he pursues her through doorways — interdimensional gateways — to the other place, determined to sacrifice his life, if necessary, for her love. For in her world, to be her mate… is to die.
Castleview — (1990) Publisher: Arthurian legend collides with Main Street, USA, in Gene Wolfe’s classic fantasy adventure. Castleview, Illinois, got its name from occasional sightings of a phantom castle on stormy nights — a place where the barrier between past and present is weak and strange things happen.
Pandora by Holly Hollander — (1990) Publisher: The box is heavy, locked, and very old. The only clue to its contents is the name written in gold upon its lid: PANDORA. Bright teenager Holly Hollander is understandably curious about what’s inside, but when the box is opened, death is unleashed… and Holly is the only one who can solve the deadly puzzle.
An Evil Guest — (2008) Publisher: Lovecraft mets Blade Runner. This is a stand-alone supernatural horror novel with a 30s noir atmosphere. Gene Wolfe can write in whatever genre he wants — and always with superb style and profound depth. Now following his World Fantasy Award winner, Soldier of Sidon, and his stunning Pirate Freedom, Wolfe turns to the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft and the weird science tale of supernatural horror. Set a hundred years in the future, An Evil Guest is a story of an actress who becomes the lover of both a mysterious sorcerer and private detective, and an even more mysterious and powerful rich man, who has been to the human colony on an alien planet and learned strange things there. Her loyalties are divided — perhaps she loves them both. The detective helps her to release her inner beauty and become a star overnight. And the rich man is the benefactor of a play she stars in. But something is very wrong. Money can be an evil guest, but there are other evils. As Lovecraft said, “That is not dead which can eternal lie.”
The 48th Annual Nebula Awards weekend was held by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at the San Jose Convention Center in northern California from May 17 through 19, 2013. Terry Weyna and I, who both live in Northern California and both are aspiring writers, decided to see what a bunch of published writers get up to when they party together.
Gene Wolfe and Teri Goulding
Marion Deeds: I think what surprised me most is how light on programming the weekend was. I thought there would be sessions about the nuts and bolts of a writing career, but I guess that SFWA members already have a pretty good idea about that. Still, I thought we’d hear about things like the new Amazon publishing arms, the Night Shade Books mess, that sort of t... Read More