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Fabio Fernandes

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

The Fifth Head of Cerberus: Wolfe’s Holy Trinity

The first novel by Gene Wolfe that received acclaim from critics and fans (you’ll recall, per the introduction, that Operation Ares isn’t going to be covered in this reread) is, as almost everything related to this author, significant—by the fact that it’s not quite a novel. As in one of the mysteries of the Catholic faith, it’s a trinity that is one; in literary parlance, a mosaic: three interlinked novellas, telling different aspects of the same story.

Which story is this? This is never a simple question when reading Gene Wolfe. He doesn’t make it any easier for the reader—nor should he. Wolfe’s stories are labyrinths, and one should be very careful to enter them. As with any book, in fact, but in Wolfe’s case one tends to get lost in trying to understand things too clearly.

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Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

Introducing the Gene Wolfe Reread on Tor.com: The Reader in the Mist

How did I initially encounter Gene Wolfe’s work? When was the first time I heard his name?

I can’t remember exactly. Memory fails. It’s like a mist shrouding my eyes. It doesn’t help that I lost my only pair of glasses a few months ago and couldn’t afford a new one until last week, so this mist is not just a metaphor. The tribute to this Grand Master is quite fitting, I’m afraid.

But, if I could venture a guess, how then?

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Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

Steampunk Appreciations: Steampunk by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

The VanderMeers’ first Steampunk anthology (2008), can already be considered a classic, for the quality mix of the stories and non-fiction articles. The introduction by Jess Nevins, explains, “The 19th century roots of steampunk”—it’s a real treat, for it offers an extensive research on the origins of the steam-driven fiction writing. An important thing to readers who still don’t know what exactly is steampunk is: Nevins establishes the difference between the All-American Edisonade and the British Steampunk, clarifying things already in the beginning.

[The stories featured in Steampunk]

Series: Steampunk Week

Bruno Accioly: Creator of the Brazilian Conselho Steampunk

If there is an established fact on the Brazilian fandom, is this: there was never a force so strong, all-encompassing as steampunk in our shores. The flamboyant army of corsets-and-goggles with their mindboggling variety of steam-powered infernal devices has definitely conquered the hearts and minds of the Brazilian fans and writers. After almost four years of activity, Brazilian steampunk can’t be considered just a fad anymore. We’re not in Kansas, Dorothy: we are in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and several other big tropical cities which probably you’ve never heard of—but you will.

In the interview below, Bruno Accioly, one of the masterminds of the Brazilian steampunk movement as well as one of its Founding Fathers, spills the beans (or should we say the cogs?) on the steampunk Lodges (a thing that attracted the attention of a big name of the trade, the former cyberpunk Bruce Sterling, who wrote about them in Wired Magazine) and interesting plans for the near future. There are big things in store for steampunk in Brazil—and in the world.

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Series: Steampunk Week

A Clockwork Orange: Brave Weird World

Okay, all of you read A Clockwork Orange (or at least watched Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation), so I won’t be boring you with a review here. If you haven’t done any of the above, out out out out out, you dobby chellovecks. Go read the book then return. This here is the story behind the writing of Anthony Burgess’s classic novel — which is in itself the stuff stories are made of.

An ex-British Army officer by the end of World War II and a teacher of English Literature, Burgess joined the British Colonial Service as a teacher and education officer in Malaya in 1954. (This experience would lead him to become a writer, first, as he said, “as a sort of gentlemanly hobby, because I knew there wasn’t any money in it,” and to publish his first novels, Time for a Tiger, The Enemy in the Blanket and Beds in the East.)

However, Burgess was sent back to England and released from the Colonial Office in 1959, after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The doctors told him he didn’t have much more than a year to live.

[Burgess’ fate and that of the orange]

Series: Dystopia Week

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