Tor.com content by

Fabio Fernandes

The Citadel of the Autarch, Part 3: Closing the Circle

So, reader, we are approaching the end of The Book of the New Sun. When we last parted ways with Severian, he had just been asked by the Pelerines’ mistress of postulants, Mannea, to seek out an old, wise anchorite living twenty leagues from their camp and bring him to safety, lest he be killed by the war that’s approaching his hermitage.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

The Citadel of the Autarch, Part 2: None of Us Are Free

In the last installment of this series, we left off when Severian was about to act as the judge in a storytelling contest between two men who both want to marry a fellow soldier in the war against the Ascians. This soldier, Foila, proposed that the one who told the better narrative would have her hand.

After hearing the stories told by the two candidates, fisherman Hallvard and farmboy Melito, Foila tells Severian he is not to judge just yet, saying that she will explain everything the next day.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

The Citadel of the Autarch, Part 1: A Festival of Stories

Welcome back to the Gene Wolfe Reread. It’s been a while since we last followed in the footsteps of Severian, who began his life as an apprentice in Matachin Tower and in a short span of time became a torturer, an outcast, a journeyman, a healer, an actor, a lictor, a lover, a father, and, the last time we saw him, someone ready to become a volunteer in the war against the Ascians.

As you may recall, my role in this reread is not exactly the one of a scholar, even though I am also one (as well as a fiction writer and a Gene Wolfe fan, naturally), but of a perplexed reader. When I called my first article of this series “The Reader in the Mist,” I did so to describe what I was feeling then—as a kind of a novice, being just initiated into the mysteries of Wolfe’s fiction.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

The Sword of the Lictor, Part 3: Weaponless in the Wilderness

The most recent installment of this reread showed us some of the horrors of Urth in the form of a few monsters (from that world or not) that cross Severian’s path as he leaves the city of Thrax behind him. His journey continues in this last section of the book, taking him very far—this time accompanied by a boy, the young Severian, who he adopts as a son. They won’t be short on adventure—and, in a way, they will face new monsters, as well.

Severian—our Severian—ponders which direction he should take. He knows he can’t descend far, for the Archon of Thrax is sure to be waiting for him, not to mention Agia. So he decides to go to the northeast, where stands the highest peak he had seen so far. At least half of that mountain is covered in snow. He imagines that even hard-bitten dimarchi won’t follow him there.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

The Sword of the Lictor, Part 2: Here There Be Monsters

In the most recent installment of our reread, we last glimpsed Severian having just delivered the adulterous Cyriaca to the Archon Abdiesus. Or so we thought—but things are not what they seem in Wolfe’s narratives, especially when dealing with an unreliable narrator such as Severian.

The Sword of the Lictor, at least in its first dozen pages, seemed to represent a respite from the journeyman narrative. But that is not to be so: one of the things that marked The Book of the New Sun indelibly in my mind happens in this particular novel—a novel which is, by the way, filled with monsters.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

The Sword of the Lictor, Part 1: Of Loves Lost and Found

With the previous installment of this reread, we’ve approached the halfway point of Gene Wolfe’s masterwork, The Book of the New Sun. (I’m referring, naturally, to the four volumes that comprise this story. The fifth, The Urth of the New Sun, is a coda, and it will be considered as such for the purposes of this rereading.)

The Sword of the Lictor begins with an epigraph by Russian poet Osip Mandelstam: “Into the distance disappear the/mounds of human heads. /I dwindle – go unnoticed now./But in affectionate books, in children’s games,/I will rise from the dead to say: the sun!”

It’s a beautiful elegy, and not very hard to interpret in the context of the saga: the poet is Severian, in his incarnation as Autarch, describing in a nutshell his trajectory, disappearing into the wilds of Urth until he rises again as the New Sun. But how is this transformation accomplished? The third volume gets us closer to the answer.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

The Claw of the Conciliator, Part 3: Revelations and Ritual

Our previous installment of The Claw of the Conciliator ended with Severian and Jonas barely escaping the strange killing bats known as notules. When an uhlan is apparently killed by these creatures, Severian attempts to resurrect him with the Claw…and the man wakes up. Jonas will insist that no resurrection occurred, that the uhlan never died in the first place:

I am much older than you are. Older than you think. If there is one thing I have learned in so many voyages, it is that the dead do not rise, nor the years turn back. What has been and is gone does not come again.

And this may seem true to us readers (I had typed the word “unbelievers” in the first draft), but the fact that the uhlan’s inert body was found full of notules inside him makes this very hard to believe.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

The Claw of the Conciliator, Part 2: Unholy Communions

In the previous installment of our reread of The Claw of the Conciliator, we followed Severian (along with his newfound friend, Jonas) into the city of Saltus, where he must perform two executions in his role as carnifex. He had an encounter with the Green Man (who we may meet again, but we won’t be seeing him again in this novel). And he received a note from (apparently) Thecla, only to find out it was actually sent by Agia, luring him into a trap—he then escapes from the trap with the help of the Claw of the Conciliator.

And so we pick up the thread with Severian and Jonas, having returned from the cave, deciding to eat and rest. They then engage in an interesting conversation, during which the two get to know each other better. Severian supposes that Jonas must be an outlander—that is, a foreigner from very far away…maybe even from outside Urth, even though humans do not travel among the stars anymore. He poses three questions to Jonas, mostly about the nature of the man-apes, but also if the soldiers stationed nearby were there to resist Abaia. As I had noted before in relation to Severian’s strange dream at the inn in The Shadow of the Torturer, the gods of the deep are of great interest to Wolfe’s protagonist.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

The Claw of the Conciliator, Part 1: Holding the Power of Life and Death

So, after three installments on the first novel, we reach the second part of The Book of the New Sun. Since I am reading it all over again after more than thirty years, I find that I can’t remember much of Severian’s journey, but this forgetfulness seems to be a good thing, since I can almost regain the sense of wonder I experienced on my first encounter with the series.

If I had to describe now what I felt while reading The Shadow of the Torturer in one word, the word would be “uncertainty.” For now I can recall the concern, even anguish, that I felt for the young apprentice’s future on my first reading, even though it’s made clear from the beginning that he is somehow to become the ruler supreme of Urth—the Autarch—many years from the beginning of the story. But very soon I was captured by the rhythm of his narrative, to the point where I forgot about most of what I know about the overall plot, to the extent that I began to feel that anxiety all over again.

[And it’s a good feeling to have…]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer: Part 3

The previous installment of this particular rereading took us only so far as the Botanic Gardens—but Severian and Agia hadn’t entered the Gardens yet. So, after unwittingly destroying the altar of the Pelerines, they continue on their mission to collect an avern, the deadly flower which he must use in his impending duel:

The Botanic Gardens stood on as island near the bank (of the river Gyoll), enclosed in a building of glass (a thing I had not seen before and did not know could exist).

The building seems modern in comparison with the former spaceship that is the Matachin Tower, but we must take care when using words such as “modern.” More on that in a while…

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer: Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, when I was finishing the Part 1 of this article/review, I was talking to a student of mine at my Worldbuilding class at the university about how much I hate the Hero’s Journey. Really. To bits.

Naturally, that was a provocation of sorts: the reason I complain has more to do with the way everyone seems to overvalue and overuse this scheme, especially in films. Naturally, there are plenty of positive examples of the structure being used quite effectively, particularly in fantasy. The Lord of the Rings is one of the most mentioned, of course—but The Book of the New Sun tetralogy is one the most successful cases of the Hero’s Journey, IMHO, even if it doesn’t exactly fit the bill—and maybe just because that this series deserved much better recognition. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer: Part 1

In pre-Internet times, it was hard for everyone who didn’t live in an English-speaking country to buy science fiction and fantasy made in the US or in the UK. It was far from impossible, but very often it wasn’t feasible: we had to send letters (yes!—paper ones, mind you) to bookstores, but the whole operation would only be interesting money-wise if we gathered in a four- or five-person group to buy, say, two or three dozen books. And I’m talking about used books, of course. Most of my English-language books during the Eighties and Nineties were acquired this way, including Neuromancer (but that is another story, as the narrator in Conan the Barbarian would say), in the notorious A Change of Hobbit bookstore, in California.

Some of them, however, I borrowed from friends who had been doing pretty much the same, or buying the occasional volume in one of the two bookstores in Rio that carried imported books. One of these friends I’d met in a course on translation—Pedro Ribeiro was an avid reader, as I was, but his interests tended more to the Fantasy side. He introduced me to many interesting writers, such as David Zindell (who remains to this day one of my favorite authors), and, naturally, Gene Wolfe.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

The Devil in a Forest: Exploring the Evil That Lurks in the Hearts of All Men

I could begin this particular article on a metalinguistic key, telling of the coincidence that occurred just the other day, when I had just finished this book and suddenly heard the song “A Forest” playing in a bar. But this would be stretching the truth a little bit, and, even though Gene Wolfe had said in an interview that no narrator is reliable, after all, I’d rather tell the truth: I’m writing this article listening to King Crimson instead of The Cure.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

Peace: Wolfe’s Masterful Rumination on Nostalgia, Memory, and Uncertainty

If Gene Wolfe is oftentimes a writer hard to decipher, there is nothing unclear or equivocal about his allegiance to the genre. He is first and foremost a writer of science fiction and fantasy, and in this he was always straightforward.

But there are a few cases in his body of work when the reader is not that sure of what genre (if any) a particular narrative is part of. That seems the case with Peace.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.