A few months ago, I wrote for Tor.com about the first time I encountered Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun and how it struck me in a way that very little fiction, whether genre or literary, had done before. I’ve read The Book of the New Sun a number of times since, and have spoken about it frequently, and yet when someone asks me what it is about the tetralogy that makes it so resonant for me, I often find myself struggling to answer. That’s not due to me not being able to put my finger on what it is so much as finding it hard to pick one strand free of the larger fabric of the book. The Book of the New Sun works in an integrated way in which all the parts of fiction speak to and amplify one another—something that’s rarer than you might think in fiction—and if I try to explain what Wolfe does with one element, I quickly find the discussion shifting to the elements this first element touches. Better, always, just to go read Wolfe himself.
And yet, despite that, I’m going to do my best to focus here on one thing in particular: the way The Book of the New Sun is narrated and why Wolfe’s approach strikes me as distinctive, even unique.