Book of the New Sun

hitmouse

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BOTNS is wonderful. I picked up a 2nd hand paperback of Shadow of the Torturer in a bookshop in Southampton when I was about 13 or 14, attracted by the Bruce Pennington cover, and I was gripped from the first chapter.. This was about the same time I bought Titus Groan, and I have overlapping feelings about both books. There is something unfathomable and majestic about these books, and I have reread them many times over the years.


I remember going into Andromeda books in Birmingham to try ask if they had one of the later books in the quartet, to find it had not been published yet (which dates me a bit.)
 

Jeremy M. Gottwig

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I really love this book, but alas, I too have never finished it. I did complete the first book on my last run but never went much further. I've tried five times.

I regard this book as the Ulysses of science fiction. Some day I will actually complete all four volumes... likely in my retirement.
 

Mythopoet

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I really love this book, but alas, I too have never finished it. I did complete the first book on my last run but never went much further. I've tried five times.
I think the amazing thing about Gene Wolfe is how easy it is to admire and respect him and his work even if you haven't personally managed to read his work or enjoyed it.

I have read The Book of the New Sun and Urth of the New Sun but I struggled through it all and I couldn't quite enjoy the books, though I found them fascinating. I was spurred on to do so by my husband who is a HUGE, somewhat obsessive, Wolfe fan. He read The Book of the New Sun (and then many, many other Wolfe works) and talked about it so much that I had to give it a try as well. I failed my first attempt after about 100 pages.

It was a couple years later, after having actually named my newborn son Severian (all my kids are named after favorite characters of my husband and I), that I figured I really needed to buckle down and read the books. I managed to push through the whole 4 books plus Urth of the New Sun (which is really essentially for understanding the point of the whole thing, I think). They are definitely not written in a style I find accessible or relatable or even very enjoyable (though my husband finds them to be all 3 of those things apparently) but I cannot help having immense respect for Wolfe as the creator of the work. As an author I admire him very much even if his work really isn't my cup of tea.
 

vanwolf

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Interesting to read this thread. It's been so long since I read these books that I don't feel I can comment now on their readability. I loved the New Sun books when I read them and followed up with the Long Sun books, the first two Soldier books. Having grown up reading the Greek myths I think I made a connection with his many references to them or his establishing his own mythology in them. I did read the Knight and Wizard and was disappointed in those iirc.

I don't think I read Urth and I'm not sure I did the last in the Long Sun series either, or the last in the Soldier series!
 

picklematrix

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Im going to start reading New Sun soon. Not sure what to expect. Only read Peace by Wolfe before, but its an interesting read.
 

Stephen Palmer

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Im going to start reading New Sun soon. Not sure what to expect. Only read Peace by Wolfe before, but its an interesting read.
Read it first for the story and atmosphere.
If you're lucky, you'll pick up about a third of what's there.
Leave for a while, then re-read!
It is one of SF's most brilliant achievements.
 

picklematrix

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Just finished Shadow of the Torturer. Enjoyed it a lot, probably due to not expecting a conventional adventure story or hero's journey. I get the feeling that Severian is misleading us on some major plot points.
 

Bick

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I finished Shadow of the Torturer. It was strange, complex, discombobulating, and required going back and re-reading bits to work out what was going on. Some plot elements were mentioned quickly in passing, and later you realise they were entirely critical - hence my going back and double-checking the exact turn of events at certain junctures. I have the other books and will definitely read on. It was, in many ways, quite reminiscent of the Gormenghast books as the city seems similar in many ways to Groan’s castle, the plot is similarly both complex and only somewhat explained and the pace of each is unhurried. Overall, I’d say this was excellent and highly recommended. But don’t read too much if you’ve had a couple of shandies, as the next time you pick it up you’ll be confused as all heck - it requires a minimum degree of concentration and sobriety to follow!
 

Bick

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I finished the second book in the Book of the New Sun, The Claw of the Conciliator, a few days ago. My thoughts are very similar to the first book. I'm glad I read it and it was an interesting experience. If you like your books to present a story you can readily understand, and in contrast don't enjoy books that take great pleasure in confusing the heck out of you, these books would not be for you. It is very well written, however, full of allegory and mystery an great language and slowly reveals realities of the world of Urth in a fascinating way. I'm increasingly convinced that the whole will exceed the parts. I like all the invented nouns that are never explained, funnily enough.

This book is even more 'challenging' than the first, however. To some extent this is because it has two diversions from the plot which are easy to get bogged down in: one in which Severian reads a short story to his friend Jonas (yes the whole short story is included as a chapter and is essentially a retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur), and later a play is performed and Severian (using his eidetic memory) again recounts every line of the play from start to violent end - some 15 or so pages of odd prose and strange dialogue. This play makes very little sense, the players are clearly making up a lot of it as they go along, and it has almost no bearing on the book. A couple of glasses of wine got me through it. That said, I suspect that, once I've read the whole series, if I go back and re-read the play (not a notion that fills me with joy and longing), it might make much more sense, as I expect it presages much in the books that are yet to come.

Recommending this book would be difficult, as I imagine it wouldn't be to many folks taste, but its certainly a different and interesting SF creation, and I do intend to plow on. I will catch my breath and regain some sanity first by reading a few 'easier' books in the interim. Then on the The Sword of the Lictor, in the new year.
 
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Bick

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I have now started The Sword of the Lictor, and I'll comment more once I've read further through it or finished it, but so far (about three chapters in) it's very readable and engaging. Like the gap between the prior two books, the action has once again jumped forward considerably since we were last with Severian, and this volume begins after he has finally reached Trask to take up his position as official executioner. There's certainly something about these books that makes them strangely compulsive, despite some difficulties. One can tell they would benefit from a re-read, which is doubtless a sign of depth.
 

Bick

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I’m alternately hugely enjoying this book, and then finding it immensely difficult to follow. I’m discovering that if I don’t worry that the plot is occasionally entirely incomprehensible then in time it does, to some extent, eventually explain itself. The scenes of Severian and the alzabo in the mountain cottage are very good.
 

Stephen Palmer

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I read it twice before I properly realised what was going on.
It's that sort of book!
To be fair, the books I've had to put a lot of effort into are the ones that have stayed with me, and which I think are at the top of their tree.
 

Bick

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I finished The Sword of the Lictor. I think it may have been the most enjoyable so far; at least, I enjoyed it more than Claw. This had fewer bizarre diversions, and although the plot is rather meandering and still somewhat opaque, it made more sense to me, without the need for numerous partial re-reads as I went. I don’t pretend to have a firm grasp of everything that’s going on, but it is (a) becoming clearer with each book and (b) one gets used to the style after a while. The main thing I don’t get at present is who the heck Baldanders really was, and how did he get to hold the place within the world he did? A strange character... Of course, I don’t need to worry about who or what he is anymore now I’ve finished this volume.
 
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