The Book of the New Sun - Final Thoughts

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The Book of the New Sun - Final Thoughts

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1geneg
Sept. 3, 2008, 2:16pm

This is the place to come to discuss The Book of the New Sun after finishing it.

2CD1am
Sept. 3, 2008, 3:02pm

You said in the coffee house to post here when finished, so I'm posting. As I indicated on the thread for the first book, that is the only Wolfe I'm reading. It definitely was not a style of writing that I could get into.

3Jim53
Sept. 3, 2008, 10:16pm

I just want to thank the folks who have been contributing to this discussion. I'm really enjoying seeing all these viewpoints.

Now that we're presumably past spoilers... how many members of Severian's family have you identified?

4LolaWalser
Sept. 4, 2008, 11:07am

I'm entering a busier period and don't know if I'll have time (or the will, frankly) to discuss the book(s) in detail, so just my overall impression (finished yesterday)... self-aggrandizing fascistoid reactionary crapola. :)

The sadism, the misogyny, the wobbly structure, the technical flaws--I have to admit I'd have looked past all of them (though not forgotten them), if only Severian (Wolfe) actually saved (t)his world in the end. Note--we know that THIS world is eventually beyond saving; our sun is a star with an expiration date, however remote, and we can only hope that aliens or AI or, heck, future humans, will figure out a way to preserve human life, or at least the consciousness of it.

So it's not really that I hoped for a physical salvation of the planet (would be nice though! And in print it costs nothing!), but for a moral salvation of Severian's (Wolfe's) fantasy civilisation. First we have to redeem our imaginations, you see.

Instead, what we got after this four-book-long shameless narcissistic trip, is the same old same old Power Absolute in the body of a tyrant with a convenient multiple personality disorder (of course he has an excellent excuse for using that unbearably pompous royal "We"), and nothing better than vague hints that he may (but really, maybe NOT--in fact it looks like NOT) dissolve and reform some of the worst aspects of this fantasy, like the torturers' guild... Unless that despicable sophistry about 'all men being torturers' anyway, sways our not-too-bright dictator, that is.

Is this meant to be bleak? Well, the end of the world is not a cheerful prospect--and moreover, we KNOW it will happen.

But before it happens, is it really likely that humanity will have done no better by itself than what is imagined by Wolfe--flaying people 'scientifically' in order to obtain information (no, not even to punish them--the maid in the first book), reinstating and maintaining an immoral, totalitarian feudalistic social order, the medieval pyramid hierarchy with one ruler and aristocracy on top, and abject masses on the bottom?

And more to the point, is it really the case that even fantastic literature, the freest form of all, can offer us no better than this grim, abasing, enslaving, undemocratic vision?

I'm not even putting this back into circulation, I'm chucking it into a recycling bin. My little contribution to MY vision of a future better world. ;)

5CD1am
Sept. 4, 2008, 1:53pm

Yea, Lola!

6iansales
Sept. 4, 2008, 2:21pm

You can't blame Wolfe for "that unbearably pompous royal "We"", and it's unfair to even trot that out as a criticism. Severian is a redeemer - he has to represent Urth in order for the New Sun to come. The previous Autarch tried and failed. Severian succeeds in the sequel, The Urth of the New Sun, which we didn't include in this group read. I'll admit the treatment of women is not good, although how much of that is predicated on Wolfe's choosing Severian to be torturer I don't know. Still, Wolfe is Catholic. Yes, the world is mediaeval - but that's clearly a deliberate authorial choice. I'm not sure what you were expecting or looking for, but in no way is Wolfe actually claiming the world will end up like Urth. That's not the point of the books - it's not even the point of the genre. Criticising a fantasy because it's not democratic is a bit like criticising a dog because it eats meat.

I get the feeling you were determined to dislike the books, and you've managed to do just that. At the very least, tell us what some of these technical flaws are.

7LolaWalser
Sept. 4, 2008, 3:17pm

You can't blame Wolfe for "that unbearably pompous royal "We""

Oh, yes, I can. Except, I wouldn't really say I "blame" him for it, he probably couldn't help himself, let's say I'm making fun of him for it.

I don't care what Severian does in some other book. We're talking about this one, right?

I get the feeling you were determined to dislike the books, and you've managed to do just that.

On the contrary, I was really looking forward to returning to (or discovering) genres I've left long ago, or never read much to begin with.

At the very least, tell us what some of these technical flaws are.

I did so in other threads. The writing is poor. The "characters" are ciphers, the first-person narration irritating, the structure rachitic at best (if I compare it to Dali's melting watches, does everyone promise not to take it as a compliment?), the language variously tone-deaf, obscurantist, pompous and clicheed. (I did mention elsewhere the bits I liked, too!)

Now, as I've already explained, I'm not a habitual reader of sf and fantasy, so I can't tell you how he compares in general within the genre, but relative merit is not the kind a true artist aspires to, I think. But still--for instance--I've read recently a book each by John Brunner (Stand on Zanzibar) and John Wyndham (The Midwich cuckoos). There is no doubt that Brunner and Wyndham are incomparably better writers, capable of creating convincing, vivid characters and situations, interesting tight plots, possessing an instinct for language, and original style. Incidentally, I've criticised Brunner's and Wyndham's female characters and underlying assumptions (misogyny) too, and Brunner at least offers an even more devastating vision of the future than Wolfe, the worse for being more realistic.

But they are still better writers, conveying an experience worth having (and Wyndham's book isn't even all that "serious", compared to Brunner).

Criticising a fantasy because it's not democratic is a bit like criticising a dog because it eats meat.

Really, so you see it as a defining characteristic of the genre? An inevitable side-effect of the propensity for m'lording and m'ladying, sashaying about bare-breasted in capes and swinging big, manly swords while pressing fierce beasts between well-muscled, manly thighs? Hmmm. Why yes, maybe I AM innately allergic to it. :)

Of course, fantastic literature is a much wider field than mere fantasy genre, and fortunately for readers, it offers infinitely better written works than this one, and to me at least, more interesting ones. Guess I'm just lucky!

8LolaWalser
Sept. 4, 2008, 3:21pm

I'm curious to hear what readers think of the "mysteries" surrounding various characters, Severian and Dorcas most of all. Was it worth it? What do the hidden connections bring to the story (apart from the mere presence of "something to puzzle over")?

9Jim53
Sept. 4, 2008, 3:45pm

Lola, you're definitely not required to care about what happens in another book (or this one for that matter), but I believe it does make a difference to see what Wolfe does in Urth of the Long Sun. I won't put a bunch of spoilers here, but it really turns the four books we've just read upside down, and makes the story much more rewarding.

You're right that TBotNS is essentially a one-character book. One can try to argue that Thecla, Dorcas, Appian, Agia, Paelomon, or Baldanders (any others?) is three-dimensional, but they're clearly foils for Severian's wanderings and efforts to figure out what in the wide world of sports is going on here. Do you think Severian has changed as the result of his experiences, or is he pretty much the same?

What is going on in Severian's world? Who are the actors? There seem to be "powers above the stage"; who are they and what are they trying to accomplish? The world seems pregnant with meaning along with mystery; just what is that meaning? And what does Wolfe mean it to say about our world?

10LolaWalser
Bearbeitet: Sept. 4, 2008, 4:30pm

I believe it does make a difference to see what Wolfe does in Urth of the Long Sun.

I'll take your word for it; for myself, I limit my criticism to what I've read. If Wolfe wrote a FIFTH book essential to understanding the other four, well, maybe they should market it as a quintology--sounds a bit like sequels-gone-mad to me.

As for the characters you mention... Thecla is tall, Dorcas is "childlike" (he really harps on this, and in circumstances where one doesn't want to imagine a grown man and a "child" together), Agia is one nasty bitch (but mighty f**kable), Palaemon is old, and Badlanders very, very big.

What have I missed?

ETA: Oh, and, no fair posing questions when I ended a post with one too! :)

11iansales
Sept. 4, 2008, 5:02pm

Oh, yes, I can. Except, I wouldn't really say I "blame" him for it, he probably couldn't help himself, let's say I'm making fun of him for it.

I don't get it. The royal "we" exists. It is. He used it. It's not as though he made it up.

The writing is poor. The "characters" are ciphers, the first-person narration irritating, the structure rachitic at best, the language variously tone-deaf, obscurantist, pompous and clicheed.

You seem to be accusing Wolfe of being a poor writer because you don't like the stylistics decisions he made. He created a world for his story, and chose a language to suit - and that includes all the obscure and pompous terms. Wolfe is a very careful writer - it defines his entire style. So any choices he made were deliberate choices.

I'll concede that Wolfe's characterisation isn't the best, but it's not as one-note as you claim. Thecla is more than just tall, Agia is not just nasty (although he does gone on bit much about how desirable he finds her but can't understand why), and Baldanders is much more than just a giant.

I think Wolfe's writing is variable, but stretches of it are very good. Oh, and rachitic? What does the book have to do with rickets?

Really, so you see it as a defining characteristic of the genre? An inevitable side-effect of the propensity for m'lording and m'ladying, sashaying about bare-breasted in capes and swinging big, manly swords while pressing fierce beasts between well-muscled, manly thighs?

Fantasies of the type to which The Book of the Sun appears to belong - i.e., high fantasy, sword & sorcery, etc. (although technically it's not because it's science fiction)... well, yes: a mediaeval landscape is a defining characteristic of the genre. And that means no democracy. Because, you know, the historical periods on which most high fantasies are based weren't democratic. I'm not a big fan of high fantasy because it shows so little imagination by hewing to such a restrictive model, but I know to expect that when I pick one up. Hence, dog and meat.

At the moment, I'm 3½ books into The Book of the New Sun, and I'm wondering myself if it's worth the praise that's been heaped on it. Is it bad? No, it's not bad. Is it great? No, good perhaps, but not great. I've read better, and I've yet to be convinced the puzzles and obscure vocabulary lift it above itself.

12LolaWalser
Sept. 4, 2008, 5:30pm

I'm accusing Wolfe of being a poor writer because he's written a book poorly. You seem to disagree--so we'll have to agree to disagree. Or perhaps you'd rather devote a thread to criticising my criticism? :)

The royal "we"--I don't understand your remark about "inventing it" and whatnot. It's pompous in Severian's mouth, in this book, as Wolfe's language frequently is. I get where it "comes from", what with the aristocratic farrago of the setting, and how it's supposed to play on Severian's elevation and the multiple personalities he's ingested. It still grates, and it's silly.

Thecla is more than just tall, Agia is not just nasty (although he does gone on bit much about how desirable he finds her but can't understand why), and Baldanders is much more than just a giant.

"More" in the sense of commanding a couple more insignificant epithets, sure; more in the sense of having "personalities", like real people do--no.

Oh, and rachitic? What does the book have to do with rickets?

A rachitic organism or organ is deformed, bent out of shape, and usually weakened by the lack of vital nutrients at a crucial developmental point--like Wolfe's narrative structure. A simple metaphor.

Because, you know, the historical periods on which most high fantasies are based weren't democratic.

Well, you're at least in the neighbourhood of a point I made. This fantasy presents a far-future world, and I'm criticising any imagination drooling over and holding onto the worst aspects of human history and society and projecting those maybe millions of years from now.

I'm not being prescriptive, as far as freedom of writing whatever-the-author-fancies goes; I'm merely saying I don't like this, I think it's contemptible, and to each their own.

I've yet to be convinced the puzzles and obscure vocabulary lift it above itself.

I've posed a similar question, specifying the Severian-Dorcas connection. Is there anything "more" to it than the merest soap-opera twist, and how does that puzzle contribute to the book's worth, if at all?

13Jim53
Sept. 4, 2008, 5:40pm

This fantasy presents a far-future world, and I'm criticising any imagination drooling over and holding onto the worst aspects of human history and society and projecting those maybe millions of years from now.


I don't see any authorial drooling going on. I think Wolfe has decided that as the sun dies and people start feeling its effects, society would regress. Those who were able to leave earth for sunnier climes did so. Those we see here are those who were left behind. But the remaining society is not universally medieval; I thought the mix of the dominant medieval society with remnants of futuristic technologies and beings was pretty well done.

In answer to your question, I have some thoughts on the significance of some of the puzzles but I'm trying not to dominate the conversation. I'll bring them out soon, although I'd really like to hear from more folks. In the mean time, I'm just glad Sev didn't impregnate Dorcas; think how confused his son would be at being called Uncle Bob.

14CD1am
Sept. 4, 2008, 6:07pm

So Dorcas is Severian's grandmother? (I read only the first book.)

15LolaWalser
Sept. 4, 2008, 6:09pm

Jim, it's socially "medieval", as is of course Wolfe's chosen style, lexic conventions, costumes, manners etc.

Really, who cares how far advanced technology is, if people get flayed in public, then maimed, then quartered, or however it went with... Morwenna was it...

Wolfe's drooling in many places, incidentally, and I'm not sure the torturing scenes aren't ones he enjoyed the most. Severian makes a couple feeble noises which hint to his sense of having done wrong, but it's utterly inconclusive, in the end. He makes the rounds of the "clients" in the tower and, as far as I could make out, basically decides they really are scoundrels... so it's A-OK to torture them? See, to me what he's thinking about these things is a puzzle infinitely more interesting than that he bonked his grandmother. It is important, it is morally pressing to know how a being develops in time.

What we get is Severian the journeyman torturer in point A moved a space to Severian the autarch in point B.

Big frickin' deal. Where's the mental trip? Where's the hero's calvary, agony and catharsis? Geez, I may sprain the brain just writing this, but Rawling delivered a better Bildungsroman in Harry Potter.

16LolaWalser
Sept. 4, 2008, 6:11pm

#14!

YES!

And... he's his own twin brother, all twelve of them!

17bobmcconnaughey
Sept. 4, 2008, 10:06pm

just got the book yesterday and read 70 pages while waiting in the orthopedist's office this morning...How is this SF (except for being set in a future) - so far it seems like extremely overwritten fantasy? I do remember why i haven't successfully finished other of Wolfe's books that i started..and i happen to like fantasy a lot, unlike a fair % of the SF folk here. Live and learn. Another to donate to the library when i'm done.

18rojse
Sept. 5, 2008, 2:45am

My advice - don't read Urth of the New Sun. Threw it aside after trying to read the first hundred pages of it. Basically, Severian gets on a spaceship crafted like a sail ship, meets up with a few people, some of which try to kill him, and he has a series of mishaps in order to pad up the story before the central idea, which I did not even get to, I was so frustrated with the preamble.

19iansales
Sept. 5, 2008, 2:56am

Severian makes a couple feeble noises which hint to his sense of having done wrong, but it's utterly inconclusive, in the end. He makes the rounds of the "clients" in the tower and, as far as I could make out, basically decides they really are scoundrels... so it's A-OK to torture them?

He's been brought up as a torturer. He's a product of a society which believes torture and execution to be the right form of justice. How is he to magically acquire a moral compass which maps onto our own? Oh wait - the author applies his own morality onto that of the world he has so carefully crafted. If you're complaining about the fact that Severian's acts and thoughts appear immoral, then you've missed the point of the world-building. Science fiction and fantasy are not real people playing make-believe - not the good ones, anyway. An author has to be true to the world they have created.

20andyl
Sept. 5, 2008, 5:30am

#17 How is this SF?

I think it all depends on whether you go strictly by the 'form' of the book, or the real story that is hidden away within the pages of the book.

Quite obviously the form is that of heroic fantasy (albeit with an anti-hero and set in a dystopic world) although entwined with the religious mythology of Urth. The hidden story is SF (I am not going to spoil it for you) although it is obscured by the form.

21iansales
Sept. 5, 2008, 6:04am

Calling it a fantasy would be a bit like saying The French Lieutenant's Woman is a Victorian novel...

22Jim53
Sept. 5, 2008, 9:17am

#15 Lola, aren't you ignoring Severian's statement to Master P that "we have decided that it should not be done at all"? Despite P's protests, Severian clearly intends to disband the guild. Yes, he accepts P's offer of a tour, but he doesn't gloat at the prisoners; he listens to their protestations at some length and frees many of them.

I think Severian has changed significantly. The Severian of book 1 would have strangled Cyriaca and tossed her into the river without a second thought. As Ian points out, you can't expect him to magically become a man of modern sensibilities. He has clearly expanded his worldview and when he makes decisions he is looking at the good of the society, not just his own or his guild's. He is going to travel to Yesod and risk his manhood to attempt to bring the new Sun.

I think we must differ on what "drooling" means. I see Wolfe depicting scenes in brilliant detail, but I don't take that as evidence that he is enjoying some perverse enjoyment of them. Please say more about the evidence for this statement.

23GwenH
Bearbeitet: Sept. 6, 2008, 12:09am

As per geneg's request in the other thread, this is a simple post to indicate I've finished with Wolfe TBotNS. Details explained in Volume 1 thread.

I won't languish while waiting for the next group read choice. I'm currently reading Stars my destination by Bester. It's the first book I'm reading for a "SF as Literature" class I decided to take at a local college just for kicks. I have to admit to really liking this book - well written, highly imaginative, good characterization, and tight plot. There will also be several other books I've been meaning to read on the class reading list.

24LolaWalser
Sept. 6, 2008, 1:14pm

Jim, yeah, I remember that (re: torturing), but it's completely indecisive. We don't see what happens to those prisoners, we are not informed about what will happen to them (and the Guild) concretely.

you can't expect him to magically become a man of modern sensibilities.

See, this is very interesting, your choice of "modern" in the phrase. This world is a far-future world, one that superseded our "modern" civilisation. Why is the memory of Middle Age mores, language, dress etc. more accessible than that of any other? (Um, I know, on first level--because Wolfe says so. But you know what I mean...)

As for becoming something "magically"--we are taken on this trip through four books. The time spanned isn't very long (although it's complicated by time travel, and multiple lives, apparently), but this is what we get, and it's ample for demonstrating how a character changes--IF the character changes at all.

I mentioned that I don't think that Severian changes satisfactorily, and that this is a grave fault considering the awful function Wolfe bestows on him. I've already expressed my thoughts on torture and the apotheosis of an absolute tyrant, erstwhile torturer--I wish Wolfe did too.

Severian, like "good" soldiers we can all recall, has tortured people on order. Does anyone imagine the psychology of such a person would be simple? (Maybe, in a cretin, and that he's not.) And yet, we are given nothing but shallowest insight, if it can be called that, into what motivates him and how he deals with it. He simply "obeys orders". He's strictly educated not to take sadistic pleasure in his work--but does he really not suffer from guilt, from horror, from self-revulsion? (If you think he does, I'd like some quotes.) On the contrary, he "innocently" looks forward to being the one chosen to rape a woman (of course) client who's slated for torture-by-rape. We're told of the "pride" he takes in doing his job well. How smart do you have to be to have the thought occur to you that causing pain and bodily harm may not be a job worth doing "well", or at all? How warped do you have to be not to feel pity?

Yes, there are some hints that all is not well with the picture, but (as in the case of the maybe/maybe not prisoner release and guild dissolution in the end) there is hardly more than a phrase here and there to indicate hesitation or doubt, and NEVER an explicit, thought-out stand.

Actually, I have trouble understanding many of Severian's actions. If the solution is, overall, that there are mixups and interferences from other lives, different destinies etc. I have to say immediately that I call shenanigans and bunk on the whole thing. Let us by all means have solutions to puzzles, but let us also have their meaning. For instance, Dorcas is Severian's grandmother. Fine--what's the meaning, the significance of that? Is every character an ancestor or a relative of his, and is the entire cosmos Wolfe built just the microcosmos of Severian's individuality?

That a "for instance", but I have another question, perhaps more concrete. Why is Severian so taken with Vodalus when they meet in the cemetery? Why does he want to join him and serve him? Severian knows nothing of the outer world, he's not even aware of how legendary (meaning, hard to believe in) is his own guild outside. Vodalus is a "political" agitator--what are Severian's politics?

25CD1am
Sept. 6, 2008, 1:53pm

I, too, couldn't understand why seeing Vodalus had such an impact on Severian.

26iansales
Sept. 7, 2008, 3:49am

Severian is only young when he first meets Vodalus, and the fact that he hides out in a mausoleum he treats as "his" (and later discovers actually is) shows that he's a romantic. Vodalus of the Wood is a romantic figure. There's also the suggestion that he is charismatic. And, of course, the Autarch is shadowy and unloved ruler - in fact, when Severian first meets him he doesn't know who he is.

And yet, we are given nothing but shallowest insight, if it can be called that, into what motivates him and how he deals with it.

Severian does his job to the best of his ability, and he does it because he believes it is the fairest and best form of justice. There's an entire lecture on the subject in The Claw of the conciliator. I'm not saying I was convinced by his argument as to why the guild should exist, or why what the guild does is better than any other form of justice - but that's what Severian believes.

He lets Cyriaca go. He had been asked to execute her, but he puts her in a boat. Later, he wonders if she got away safely. Lola, I'm beginning to suspect you only skim-read books 2 to 4...

27andyl
Sept. 7, 2008, 4:20am

#26

In fact the break point between old and new seems to be the point at which Severian ingests Thecla. From that point on he seems to consider others more than he did previously. This may be because it was Thecla or a general side-effect of analept usage. That type of sharing is bound to have some kind of effect even if it wasn't someone you loved.

28Jim53
Sept. 7, 2008, 11:11am

#27 just to play devil's advocate, Thecla seems to have been a rather vain, selfish "little rich girl" who rarely thought about anyone else till she was imprisoned. I'm not sure adding her consciousness to Severian's would make him more altrusitic.

On the other hand, this might be an example of one of Wolfe's tropes: even when we pervert what God has asked us to do--and I read the necrophagia as a perversion of the eucharist--we end up serving God's wishes in the end. Sev's union with Thecla does broaden his thinking somehow, and it prepares him to take into himself all the memories and personalities that will come with the old autarch's.

#24 and 25, I assumed Severian was simply a boy who had met "Robin Hood" and been entranced by glamour. Not only did he encounter this guy whose world extends way beyond his own, he saw him fire a weapon, saw the absolute babe he had with him, and actually managed to involve himself in the story. I don't know if there's anything more significant than that going on here. I am, however, open to other ideas.

29bobmcconnaughey
Sept. 7, 2008, 1:03pm

well...i seem to be the last to finish. I will say i thought TSotT got somewhat more interesting as the story progressed; but coming to care about the protagonist is key to a picaresque novel and while Severian grows, somewhat, in moral stature, i didn't end up really caring what happened to him.

I'm bemused by a far future fantasy using a very archaic vocabulary; if a culture has regressed i'd be amazed if the citizenry retrieved a linguistically baroque tongue from the distant past. In re language, i'd expect something far more along the lines of what one finds in Clockwork Orange. I'm not going to argue over whether Wolfe is a "good" or "bad" stylist; but i CAN say that i find his style very off-putting and that's been true of all the books of his that I've attempted to read - this is the first I've finished and that's only because it was the group read choice. As a contrast - i very much enjoyed looking up the many words i didn't recognize in Michael Chabon's latest The Gentlemen of the Road as the word choice wasn't so obviously forced upon the reader.

I found myself being reminded for too much of the Da Vinci Code (though certainly better written that that particular piece of crap). Not in the conspiracy theory sense; but rather as the presentation of a puzzle to the reader, whilst dropping biblical clues hither and yon.

30iansales
Sept. 7, 2008, 2:43pm

The vocabulary isn't a regression. As Wolfe explains in an afterword in The Shadow of the Torturer, the book was "translated" into English and the archaic terms were used to give a flavour of those words in Severian's original language.

31andyl
Sept. 7, 2008, 3:16pm

I agree with Ian, the conceit is that Wolfe as translator is someone in Severian's future who is translating the book.

32iansales
Sept. 15, 2008, 4:58am

I've now finished all four books and... I remember liking them when I first read them 20 years ago, although they were never a favourite. And this reread has reminded me why - Severian is like Val Kilmer: he doesn't have the presence to carry the story. The unfamiliar words were also more intrusive than I remembered. The presence of the riddles was also a distraction - or rather those that you can't easily decode were a distraction. Figuring out that the painting depicts an Apollo astronaut on the Moon is good; or that Jolenta was the waitress from the café... But some of the others just seem unnecessary.

The Shadow of the Torturer was the strongest of the four books. It had a clear story. The leap in time between that book and The Claw of the Conciliator wasn't too bad, although it did seem a bit pointless. Especially when Severian later reveals some of what happened during that missing time - and none of it seemed important. Which explains why it was missed, but not why it was later referenced.

The Sword of the Lictor was, I felt, the weakest. The first half was just one big info dump. It was hard to engage with the story until Severian is chased by the salamander. And then that scene is followed by a long trek across the mountains with lots of introspection.

I'd expected The Citadel of the Autarch to pull together the various elements of the story more than it actually did. There's no real explanation of why Severian was chosen as Autarch, other than a few hints that he chose himself during trips to the past resulting from his journey to Yesod to bring the New Sun.

33rojse
Sept. 26, 2008, 7:45pm

Finally finished the books.

Certainly, there are good things about Wolfe's books - the way he writes SF as fantasy, the obscure words, the small puzzles that he incorporates, and the way he gives us little nuggets of information that changes our perpsective on an event long after it is over (such as Severian sleeping with Thecla).

Did not enjoy Severian's religious ponderings (the assumptions that the Concilitator existed, the relic had belonged to him, and so forth annoyed me) the slow pace of the book, the padding (most of the stories-within-a-story had no relevance to the plot), some of the coincidences that helped to move the plot along, and the breaks in timeline between volumes made it hard to readjust to the new characters introduced.

Probably my biggest complaint is how Severian comes to conclusions which he does not have enough evidence for. How did he figure out that Jonas was a machine, rather than a person with a metal limb, for example? Or that Dorcas was his grandmother?

All in all, probably not worth all of the effort that I had to put in to them, but this might partially be because I do not think that I have the background in religious study to appreciate the parallels that it might have to the Book of the New Sun.

34Jim53
Sept. 26, 2008, 9:17pm

rojse, I don't think either of those deductions was all that difficult. Severian realized that Jonas was an android after he carried him from the anteroom and realized that he was much too light to be human.

I don't think he ever tells us that he realizes that Dorcas is his grandmother, but from Ouen's note and the picture in the locket he figures out that Ouen is Dorcas's son, and we are told when he returns to the inn at the end that he looks just like Ouen. Is it possible he was simply assigning Dorcas's son to protect her, without recognizing that Ouen is his father? I don't think so, but I don't see a clear statement that he knows she is his grandmother. But we do, becaus ewe're paying attention.

I think it's easy to think that Severian is stupid, but I think that he is quite clever but also very passive. A lot of things happen to him, rather than his choosing his path explicitly. This fits with the SF backstory that Wolfe has hidden behind the fantasy adventure: Severian is being manipulated by beings (the hireodules) desperate to bring the new sun.

As I've said before, I think Severian is in the place of the unwary reader, being led along by the author, consuming a prepared story rather than participating in its creation as Wolfe believes a reader should. As we pick up on his clues and come to recognize what's really going on (which I didn't till my second reading), we see the "lesson" with which he wants (IMHO) to leave us: that in reading and in living, we need to work constantly at seeing what is really happening around us.

35billiejean
Okt. 3, 2008, 2:42pm

Wow, everyone has put so much thought into these books! I just finished the last book today. Actually, although I did not find Severian to be someone that I especially cared about, I constantly found myself drawn back to this series. (Yeah, I know that it took me a long time to read!) As I moved along, I actually liked the next book better than the previous one, and I liked the last one the best of all. I did find that the character Severian matured in his attitudes and grew during the course of the books. I did wish that all the things could have been tidied up at the end, but I did like the end that it had. I plan to read the next book sometime. I have not read any science fiction or fantasy (except for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) in a really long time. It was not my favorite genre, but my girls both really like it, and so I was wanting to read some again. I do think that I did not catch everything that was hinted at and plan to reread this entire series sometime. But, not for a while because it took me a really long time to read and I need a break for a while.

Since I have not read science fiction other than this book for a long while, I do not have any suggestions for the next group read and have no idea even how to vote. However, I am really glad that I read this book and plan to read the next one chosen.
--BJ

36LolaWalser
Okt. 5, 2008, 10:08am

A lot of things happen to him, rather than his choosing his path explicitly.

Yes, I think this passivity somehow belies the adventure aspect of the story. Severian's a very flat character and his story ends up the same.