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New Sun by Gene Wolfe

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Submitted by Shane 
(Dec 06, 2005)

Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun is a true masterpiece. Severian, a youthful, naive narrator with perfect recall of events tells us of his journey after his exile the home of his childhood. He is an orphan who had been raised by the Order of the Seekers of Truth and Penitence, commonly called torturers. He is sent away for commiting the ultimate sin for one of his guild, the sin of mercy.
The symbolism in the books is dense and rich. Severian wanders through a vivid world far, far in the future. The language Mr. Wolfe uses is obscure for a reason: he said he wanted to craft a world that, while it resembles ours, is foreign, and almost unrecognizable due to the length of the passage of time. This is in the last days of the sun as it is dying. He wraps all of it within flowery prose better written, albeit not as accessible, than any of his peers or of the newest generation of writers. There is yet to be a replacement for someone who writes as well as he did on this series. The New Sun was his breakthrough piece of literature. If you are a patient reader and want to read something other than either standard sword and sorcery or space opera, this is the most wonderful blend of science and fantasy ever put to paper.

Submitted by czar 
(May 18, 2003)

The Book of the New Sun is a failed masterpiece.
The staggering amount of brilliant ideas in this four book series (which is actually one rambling story cut into four pieces), is clear evidence of a superior mind at work. The history of the world/technology, the zoanthropes, the green fellow with algae in his blood, the body-filled lake, the masks of the aliens, and the two-headed being (in book three) are some of my favorite sequences/characters. Unfortunately Severian, the protagonist, never makes too much sense, nor do his actions much of the time.

This book is not cohesive and relies on many coincidences to advance the plot line ("Oh, it's you again!"). Severian also just "happens upon" so many very important people in his travels that the scope of the world seems smaller as a result. Where Wolfe attempts to graft cumulative emotional moments to his endless intellectual digessions (which are very often mind-blowing ontological/existential queries) Wolfe fails. The experience is more intellectually stimulating than anything I've ever read- other than maybe The Fountainhead- but it is emotionally frigid, even when Wolfe strives for human connection. The writing is strong and descriptive, but occassionally overwritten to the point of being totally abstruse.
I must've felt (or said aloud) "that's amazing" fifty times while I read the second and third books.
I am in total awe of Gene Wolfe's imagination, but critical on this series which seem less cohesive than twenty Robert E. Howard short stories married together in one volume.

Book one starts off very well and then looses it; books two and three are excellent throughout; book four totally drops the ball.

A brilliant, brilliant fizzle that is inspirational to me as a writer by both its success and failure.

Submitted by Clay Smith 
(Aug 02, 2001)

This is a great book I stumbled upon in the Science Fiction Book Club. Apparently Wolfe does not have the following that some other authors have, but he deserves it more than some that do. This tale is written well, the world created is believable and its rules are followed consistently. Wolfe manages to throw enough at you to maintain interest and keep you reading for longer than you planned. I was slightly sleep deprived because I couldn't put the book down. I have this book sitting in the great reads section of my bookcase, and am Telling all the readers I know to read it at next chance.

Submitted by Will
(Sep 10, 2000)

This series is the finest crafted literary work I've ever read.

Wolfe unveils the mysteries of Urth, our planet in a far distant future where the Sun is so old it glows red, in layers so thin that every detail you overlook as you read is revealed as a key to uncovering yet another mystery.  Incredibly interwoven and complex, it is impossible to ignore the impression as you read that Mr. Wolfe is a master-class storyteller and he is taking you on a facscinating journey.

The series is comprised of 4+1 books; the conclusion of the series resides in an almost supplementary 5th book, "The Urth of the New Sun".  On the most exoteric level, the series is about our planet's dying sun and the destiny of a young torturer's apprentice, who is exiled from his guild for showing mercy towards one of the guild's "clients".  It is told in retrospect fashion in first person - the hero is recounting his story to us from some point in the future.  This is possible because, we learn, he is "cursed" with a perfect memory.  He forgets nothing.  What makes this unique is that the narrator often pauses to reflect on his actions and their effect on his fate as the story progresses. 

The narrative is absolutely rich with detail and double entendres that compel the reader to start the series over immediately after its completion. I get the feeling that there will be so much more that I'll understand when I read it again. Not that my enjoyment suffered because only the highest levels of interpretation were apparent to me on my first read - on the surface level, it's an exotic read that keeps you reading because of the plot surprises and the sheer differece of the tale from the usual SF/F series.

If you like to be challenged as a reader, and enjoy prose at its finest, then these books are for you.  I will qualify that by saying the hero is unemotional, and oftentimes comes off as cold and clinical.  If you're looking for romance in the typical swashbuckling fantasy sense, well, there are countless other books out there that deliver that.  This isn't one of them.

10 out of 10.

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