Listen to more in the Book of the New Sun series.
©1982 Gene Wolfe; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
So with this book, I have finally finished Gene Wolfe's tetralogy 'The Book of the New Sun'. While I don't think it quite measures up to Tolkien's 'the Lord of the Rings' or Dan Simmons 'Hyperion Cantos', and while I'm not a big fan of science fantasy (mainly due to my huge bias against fantasy), I was still kinda amazed at the sheer amount of what Wolfe pulled off with this novel. He played with the form, with the genre, with almost everything he began with. He explored time, love, relationships, pain and power. For me, 'the Sword of the Lictor' (book 3) almost discouraged me from continuing, but 'the Citadel of the Autarch' (book 4) pulled it all together.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
This is the last part of the Book of the New Sun tetralogy, which is acclaimed as one of the most intelligent, imaginative, beautifully-written works in fantasy. And, certainly, it is. Wolfe's richly rendered distant future setting of Urth is like nothing else out there and the novels thrum with wonder, gorgeous imagery, and philosophical contemplation. There are interesting characters, strange beings, and fantastic places. There are moments of terror, humor, awe, and sadness. There are multiple layers and puzzles whose illumination reaches from the final chapters back to small moments in Shadow of the Torturer.
The tetralogy is also known as one of the most oblique, self-referential, meandering, WTF works in the genre, and that’s certainly true as well. Revelations about the mutability of time and being cast things that happened in previous books in a new light, which isn’t surprising given that Severian’s interpretation of events never seemed totally reliable. At the end, it *appears* that Wolfe has left some significant questions unanswered, but Severian insists that everything we need to know is in the text he’s written so far. People on the internet (including one guy who apparently did his thesis on these books) have said that rereading the cycle provides more insight, that passages that didn’t seem particularly important the first time take on new significance. With a lot still fresh in my memory, that seems credible enough -- maybe in a few years, I’ll see what emerges for me from a second pass.
Yet, not fully getting a work doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. Taken on a scene-by-scene level, Citadel is as imaginative, thought-provoking, and moving as the rest of the Cycle. Severian at last finds himself at the front of the war with the Ascians, which was a vague background detail in the previous three books. The nightmarishly fascinating engagements with massive formations of mind-warped enemy troops, who speak in stock phrases reminiscent of Orwell’s newspeak, are a high point of Wolfe’s already impressive imagination and storytelling. I also enjoyed his resurrection of the soldier Miles, which proceeds in a somewhat comical way, and the storytelling competition between patients in a camp hospital, which seems to be sly meta-commentary from Wolfe on what the purpose of stories really is (an Ascian even has an entry).
And Wolfe does answer a number of questions directly. We learn who the autarch really is, and how Severian ends up becoming the autarch himself. Mysteries concerning Dorcas, Thecla, the goals of the aliens, and apparitions that had appeared to Severian get resolved, or at least illuminated enough for readers to draw their own conclusions.
If you search the internet, it becomes apparent that intelligent people hold widely varying opinions on Wolfe’s masterwork. Make no mistake, it is difficult and dense compared to most SF and fantasy, with multiple layers and allusions contained in its dreamlike world. Yet, if you feel up for the challenge, this is a work that pushes the envelope of what speculative fiction can be. I strongly recommend treating all four as one large book and taking them on in a single pass. Finally, I loved the audiobook treatment -- the cool, attentive reading of Jonathan Davis, a talent in his own right, was perfect for Wolfe’s precise, crafted prose.
I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
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 New Sun is not an easy read, but it???s what speculative fiction is all about ??? it???s brain-bending, it makes the reader consider and question, it stretches the intellect and opens the mind to new ideas and experiences. In The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe accomplishes all this and does it in a beautiful way. This is my measuring rod for excellent fantasy literature.
For readers who don???t want to be bothered by allegory and symbolism, or don???t want to risk scorching their synapses, there???s still much to admire in The Book of the New Sun, for though it wallows in weirdness, all of it is tied loosely together by Wolfe???s lovely language, detailed world-building, smart ideas, and astounding imagination.
Increasing my ops tempo by allowing storytellers to whisper in my ear(buds).
This is a review of the four volume THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN (TBNS) by Gene Wolfe; which traces the coming of age of Severian, once a member of The Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence.
In printed form the earlier works of Gene Wolfe can be quite challenging and this is the quintessential Wolfe novel. The esoteric language employed forces your eyes to slow down and read with great care. So many of the words, while supposedly all authentic English words, are unfamiliar that looking up at least a handful of them is necessary to understand the text. As a result, the reader’s mind has time to explore Severian’s world as the protagonist himself is doing. The printed books are heavy in the hand and the weight of the pages fore and aft serve as constant reminders of what has come before, and what is yet to be.
The most telling observation I can give about the audio book is that it transforms a massive tome into a much more personal narrative. As an audio book TBNS takes on a less intimidating, much more intimate and even more friendly character. The inexorable pacing of the narrator, Jonathan Davis, does not permit pauses for reflection, or speculation, the story plows on, without pausing to try to pronounce a word, without going back to regain the flow of the plot after a difficult flashback. And it is just fine.
Jonathan Davis is a most excellent narrator for TBNS. His voice has a deep calming quality that is well suited to recounting Severian’s story. He gives each character their own individual voice. He gives a fine performance ranking this among my favorite audio books. I can recommend all four of the volumes of TBNS here on Audible without reservation.
Note: The short afterwards that are part of each of the four volumes are not included in the audio versions. They should be read to get the full effect intended by the author Gene
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
In the first chapter of The Citadel of the Autarch (1983), Severian, no longer a lictor, is walking without career, sword, or companion towards the war. The perpetual conflict between the Ascians and his Commonwealth has been lurking off-stage in the first three of his books, but here we learn with Severian that "War is not a new experience; it is a new world." He watches energy weapons flash violet on the horizon and feels the ground shake beneath him. Hungry, thirsty, weak, and covered with rock shard cuts, he searches abandoned houses for food, forgoes corpse contaminated wells, watches soldiers ride or march by, flees from an officer, and finally finds himself alone in a glade with a dead young soldier, whom he attempts to resurrect.
Severian will experience the horror of war: a country boy traumatized by killing more people in a day than he'd seen in his entire life, the fear before a battle, the appalling deployment of powerful weapons and bizarre soldiers (from dwarf archers riding blind swordsmen and rainbow-winged naked women wielding energy pistols in either hand to children and old people who have no business being in an army), and everywhere confusion and carnage. He will encounter the enemy Ascians, who lack individual human will, speak by quoting excerpts from "Correct Thought" texts, wield advanced technology, and somehow remain terribly human. And he will fall ill and be maimed, scarred, and imprisoned.
And yet like its three predecessors, the novel is elegantly written with a rich, often exotic vocabulary and has much humor and beauty and many intensely poignant, philosophical, and ineffable moments. And it is about much more than war: identity, humanity, science and religion, the past, present, and future, and the numinous.
And Severian's love of stories enriches the novel. His listening as judge to the story-telling contest of his fellow wounded and sick soldiers is wonderfully imagined. Each of the four tales reflects the personality, culture, and agenda of its teller, each is of a different mood and genre, and each is well-told. The only item that Severian has carried with him from the beginning to the end of his road to the Autarchy has been the old brown book of tales he fetched for Thecla from the great library of the Citadel, and he is writing his own life-history so that it may be put into that library.
Jonathan Davis reads the four tales and the novel as a whole with perfect understanding, wit, empathy, and clarity. I can hear his voice now.
As the last book of Gene Wolfe's four-volume masterpiece, The Book of the New Sun, does The Citadel of the Autarch tie up all the loose ends and explain all the mysteries from the first three books? Yes and no. Often Severian offers multiple answers, as about the Claw of the Conciliator's occasional power to heal and resurrect. And although we do learn things like who built the mausoleum he played in as a boy, why Thecla was imprisoned and tortured, what the agenda of the alien Hierodules is, who his parents and grandmother are, what becomes of Agia and Dorcas, and how he became Autarch, much of the above unsettling and moving information raises even more questions.
The Book of the New Sun and The Citadel of the Autarch urge the reader to never cease interpreting the world and the self and to ever embrace uncertainty and faith. When for the first time he sees the sea, Severian has an epiphany revealing that because the "Eternal Principle" or Pancreator is in everything in the world, everything is sacred, from all the thorns on all the bushes to all the sand on all the beaches, so that "All the world was a relic. I drew off my boots, that had traveled with me so far, and threw them into the waves that I might not walk shod on holy ground." Like the best fantasy and science fiction, Severian's book changes the way we see the world.
This is deep literature clothed in dark Sci-Fi robes. In this, the final book in the series, we see our protagonist complete his transformation from Torturer to something more. Yet, we also get the sense that our narrator is unreliable. The careful reader/listener will see that Severian is editing history as he recounts it, but the fact that he cares about his actions and how the reader might perceive them now demonstrates the changes taking place. Wolfe concludes his beautiful story with striking imagery and subtle allusion.
Severian, the protagonist and narrator.
Davis is a magnificent actor who brings a full range of characters and portrays Severian beautifully. His careful acting reveals nuances which I missed when I read the book.
I listened to all 4 of the books in this series because I got them and figured I'd get my money's worth. I tried to focus on what was happening and I even enjoyed some of the scenes and I think the library style was well done. That said, this series had no point and no clear direction. There were more things left unexplained then explained and the reader was not rewarded with a worth-while journey. The thing is that with so many excellent books out there, why would anyone bother listening to something that could have and has been done better?
This book is on par with the second in the series. I do find the style of writing interesting. What I will say though is that when I examine how this story works, it's really quite amazing. I think that most readers that have gone through the whole series would conclude that all the books feel more like one book instead of just a part in the series. I found myself thinking back at certain parts and had to think, was that in book two or three. While I like George RR Martin a lot more, I will give this author credit. If you've made it this far, I implore you to analyze this work as a whole. As I've said in my other reviews, I really didn't care that much for the first book and I could see a lot of readers stopping there and can't blame them. I read in another review that one reads Gene Wolfe for the prose. I believe that to be true but I also think it's his ability to make everything fully seemless. So I do think the series was worth it but do not blame you if you're on the fence as to whether or not you want to continue. Everybody's style is different and sometimes it's good to challenge yourself and got outside your norm. This was one of those cases for me and I can honestly say it didn't disappoint.
Virtually no plot movement until the final two hours of the book. You know that the author has nothing left to say when four characters engage in a contest to tell the best story (for what it is worth, none of the stories were good). Too much metaphysical nonsense; far too little closure.
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