gene wolfe's book of the NEWSUN!!!!! reading club

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i'm glad i'm learning more about jonas.
it seemed like between the end of book 1 and the beginning of book 2 he became severian's best buddy without much explanation. i guess there is a lot that goes unexplained in these books tho.

one dis leads to another (ian), Friday, 25 May 2012 15:32 (seven years ago) link

there is a gap of a few weeks or even a couple months between shadow and claw i think

the late great, Friday, 25 May 2012 15:39 (seven years ago) link

i do think severian does explain why he likes jonas so much

the late great, Friday, 25 May 2012 15:41 (seven years ago) link

guys i am reading gene wolfe's wiki and:

After returning to the United States he earned a degree from the University of Houston and became an industrial engineer. He edited the journal Plant Engineering for many years before retiring to write full-time, but his most famous professional engineering achievement is a contribution to the machine used to make Pringles potato chips.[5]


bene_gesserit, Monday, 28 May 2012 04:28 (seven years ago) link

you people are lame

i'm not posting again until at least one other person finished chapter one and gets back to me about it

the late great, Monday, 28 May 2012 06:02 (seven years ago) link

lol linds, that is like the most commonly known trivia fact about gene wolfe! that and he's some weird branch of catholic.

i am almost done with book two, and fully back on board with this series btw. finished the play at the end of book two last night, ordered books three/four.
it is VERY strangely paced, that's for sure.

one dis leads to another (ian), Monday, 28 May 2012 17:56 (seven years ago) link

btw i have been getting tons of kinda marginal, vintage SF paperbacks from the dollar rack at a local bookstore--leinster, leigh brackett, some doc smith and the occasional good title. a couple days ago i got a whole box of edgar rice burroughs books--complete tarzan, complete mars & venus stories, nearly complete pelllucidar & a bio & a big stack of one-offs. if anyone wants my doubles and/or stuff i am going to get rid of let me know. interesting trades considered.

one dis leads to another (ian), Monday, 28 May 2012 17:59 (seven years ago) link

i was gonna start a new thread on ILB to give away my crap but i decided this makes as much sense as anywhere.

one dis leads to another (ian), Monday, 28 May 2012 17:59 (seven years ago) link

haha well i didn't know anything about gene wolfe until now and that blew my mind.
if you find any octavia butler let me know. i've been looking for her stuff in used book stores with no luck. or anyone else i might like. also wondering if the book of the long sun or other gene wolfe is worth reading.

bene_gesserit, Monday, 28 May 2012 18:06 (seven years ago) link

i started the book of the long sun a long time ago -- it was both less dense and less interesting iirc

mookieproof, Monday, 28 May 2012 18:09 (seven years ago) link

i have an octavia butler book or two somewhere unless i sold 'em already.
i tried w her but it didn't work. her description of these aliens as masses of hair/tendrils kept grossing me out.

one dis leads to another (ian), Monday, 28 May 2012 19:12 (seven years ago) link

ah you missed the whole point of the series then

― the late great, Thursday, May 24, 2012 11:03 PM (4 days ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

ah fuck

puff puff post (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Monday, 28 May 2012 19:13 (seven years ago) link

V, I've read as far as the greenhouse/garden scenes in the first book. I like it so far! I'm intrigued! My favorite bits are the nested stories, and the very elliptical way that older Sev omits certain pertinent-ish facts. F'rinstnace, I realized after far too long that creepy Dorcas is 'Cas,' the dead wife the older boatman's mourning for a few chapters prior.

nerds being macho (remy bean), Monday, 28 May 2012 20:39 (seven years ago) link

ok here's one of my favorite parts

"it struck me that his face was not only that of a fox but a stuffed fox. i have heard those who dig for their livelihood say there is no land anywhere in which they can trench without turning up the shards of the past. no matter where the spade turns the soil, it uncovers broken pavements and corroding metal; and scholars write that the kind of sand that artists call polychrome (because flecks of every color are mixed with its whiteness) is actually not sand at all, but the glass of the past, now pounded to powder by aeons of tumbling in the clamorous sea. if there are layers of reality beneath the reality we see, even as there are layers of history beneath the ground we walk upon, then in one of those more profound realities, his face was a fox's mask on a wall, and i marveled to see it turn and bend now toward the woman, achieving by those motions, which made expression and thought appear to play across it with the shadows of the nose and brows, an amazing and realistic appearance of vivacity"

the late great, Monday, 28 May 2012 21:23 (seven years ago) link

do we know if book of the newsun directly inspired the boredoms in any way?

one dis leads to another (ian), Wednesday, 30 May 2012 18:44 (seven years ago) link

Does Frederik Pohl read this thread? He just blogged the Pringles factoid.

mick signals, Wednesday, 30 May 2012 20:03 (seven years ago) link

frederick pohl if you are reading this thread i <3 u for gateway

the late great, Wednesday, 30 May 2012 20:24 (seven years ago) link

by the way ian, it is absolutely true, in fact the covers of various boredoms albums are actually references to certain characters and places in the books

vision creation newsun depicts book 3, little [ ] touching the [ ] on the [ ] of typhon.

the inside illustrations depict the feast of vodalus when viewed in this manner ... note severian and vodalus seated at left and the food heaped on the right, the lines moving upward depict both the trees in the forest and the elevation of consciousness into visions including the new sun at the top, illustrated in black and white

there are several references in this boxset as well. from the top: 1) the tower of [ ] viewed looking upside down from the very top of the ship of the hierodules. the second image depicts the antechamber of the house absolute. the third cover shows the citadel of nessus or perhaps just one tower.

there are other references as well particularly in the super roots series of releases. onanie bomb depicts a masked severian, while super roots 3 depicts an executed criminal carved into five deaths (representing also severian's five deaths in the series = five caskets in the tomb). super roots five shows a hierogrammate as glimpsed in the house absolute, while super roots 7 shows an avern or perhaps the salamander elemental and super roots 8 depicts apheta's planet from book five. finally there is super are with the story represented schematically (severian and the new sun inside of himself)

the late great, Thursday, 31 May 2012 04:38 (seven years ago) link

iirc there's also an iron-cross shaped one in light greenish-blue that is carved into many radial segments, i believe that is a map of nessus or the house absolute, i forget which release that is though.

i think that's it though, obviously not everything they did was a reference to gene wolfe, especially the side projects

the late great, Thursday, 31 May 2012 04:43 (seven years ago) link

Finished the first book. Liked it a lot. Curious about how he'll bring a 'satisfying' conclusion abt. w/ only 3/4 to go, and very little plot movement thus far. (Or am I a savage for wanting more plot?)

nerds being macho (remy bean), Thursday, 31 May 2012 11:01 (seven years ago) link

how are you liking book two, remy?

one dis leads to another (ian), Tuesday, 5 June 2012 14:36 (seven years ago) link

i want severian's dog to come back :(

one dis leads to another (ian), Tuesday, 5 June 2012 14:37 (seven years ago) link

he does ;-)

the late great, Tuesday, 5 June 2012 15:03 (seven years ago) link

i bought the first three books over the weekend, and started the shadow of the torturer yesterday. this is my second attempt, as i tried many years ago to read the omnibus collection of the first two volumes, but for whatever reason, i find that i now remember only the part about triskele (lol), severian's three-legged dog. at first, wolfe's prose seemed distressingly dense and even somewhat comically pretentious, but the elevated, archaic language becomes familiar quite rapidly, and the initial torrent of obscure terms slows to a trickle after the first few chapters. i'm only a hundred pages deep, but have the hang of it, and don't find it at all oppressive.

i'm moving slowly not because the writing is difficult to decipher, but because i got sidetracked taking notes and compiling a glossary of unfamiliar terms. fifty pages in, i had twelve pages of transcribed passages and a list of nearly 100 terms with definitions. this turned 90 minutes reading time into about six hours of computer work. that was clearly a ridiculous way to go about things, so now i'm limiting myself to the use of a highlighter.

anyway, i'm struck by how comprehensively gothic the novel is. so elevated, enervated, aestheticized and death-obsessed. everything seems turned in on itself, the outward dream of classic science fiction grounded in ruin, wealth straying to poverty, ambition to servitude, sex to cruel fetish, ordered systems to suffocating ritual. severian even seems to make the gothic agenda explicit in suggesting that "our necropolis" was intentionally designed to resemble a mountain forest.

i'm also strongly reminded of michael moorcock's elric novels, which feature a similarly pitiless protagonist, a torturer's guild, a dying kingdom tyrannically ruled by bloodthirsty and long-limbed aristocrats, decadence curling into perversion, and a generally gothic tone.

looking forward to see where this all goes...

contenderizer, Monday, 11 June 2012 22:12 (seven years ago) link

i think parts of it are meant to be comically pretentious, or at least comically high-flown. there is a lot of humor in these books that is not immediately obvious.

it is comprehensively gothic, and yes, similar to elric, but unlike elric characters develop

the late great, Monday, 11 June 2012 22:18 (seven years ago) link

halfway through the second one. w/out spoilering, what I assume to be a PKDish turn (whale?) has got me interested.

indian rope trick (remy bean), Monday, 11 June 2012 22:20 (seven years ago) link

there is a lot of humor in these books that is not immediately obvious.

yeah, it's getting funnier as it goes. i especially enjoyed severian's assessment of master gurloes' failings, "he mispronounced quite common words: urticate, salpinx, bordereau."

and there's something suggestively almost-meta about passages like this: "we have books whose pages are matted of plants from which spring curious alkaloids, so that the reader, in turning their pages, is taken unaware by bizarre fantasies and chimeric dreams."

contenderizer, Monday, 11 June 2012 22:32 (seven years ago) link

some of the commentary on gender is weird (men are to women as clients are to torturers, women are too cruel to make good torturers, etc.), but i'm assuming/hoping that's more a product of severian and his society than of wolfe himself.

contenderizer, Monday, 11 June 2012 22:40 (seven years ago) link

there is a fair amount of meta stuff about writing which i think to some extent springs from broader issues of autobiography and memory, but yeah, if you thought that was something, there are books-within-books to come

i would like to say that it's a product of severian as far as gender goes, but even then things are not particularly great on that front. virgins, whores, mamas, crones and not much in between.

the late great, Monday, 11 June 2012 23:38 (seven years ago) link


Finished the second one. I'm reading slowly, and I took a break. I'm loving the twisty-turny narrative, and the meandering exposition w/r/t Sev.'s journeys, but I'm finding a lot of the writing pretty vague and poetic.

As one example, I grew confused about the physical structure of the cell, during the chapters about Sevarian's imprisonment under the autarch's palace. I had been lead to believe in a deep cavelike structure that trailed into Lovecrafty darkness and unlit grottoes. As the chapter progressed, though, he begain detailing neat corridors and metal walls – it seemed more like a military prison, or a submerged battleship. This isn't the first time this has happened – I wonder about the extent to which GW's changing tack is deliberate, and the extent to which it is (/might be) sloppy.

I'm confused about some other things as well:

– The second palace (i.e. are their two palaces coexisiting in the same physical location, linked by tricksy doors,
trompe-l'œil passages, and false walls? Or are there two palaces that /seem/ to exist in the same location, but are remote, a la the greenhouse/gardens with portal to other sides of the planet?).

– The witches. I am very, very confused by their resurrection of the stone city at the end of Claw of the Conciliator. My understanding is: Hildegrin, Jolenta, Dorcas, Sevarian, and some witches help the lead 'sleekly reptilian' witch-lady to commune with somebody on a distant star, who lets them roll back (?) time to resurrect an ancient city. The ancient city's ruler, Apu somebodyorother, spies the witches and attacks Hildegrin. Sevarian comes to Hildegrin's aid and gets conked on the head. When he awakes, he's with Jolenta (revealed as the waitress from book 1), and Dorcas, surrounded by 'wind-lashed grass and tumbled stones.' I assume this means the city was /not/ resurrected?

- The significance of Dr. Talos's play. I assume it is later revealed to be prophetic?

indian rope trick (remy bean), Wednesday, 20 June 2012 15:07 (seven years ago) link

it's not vague, the detail is just buried. the place where severian is imprisoned is actually a luxurious converted ballroom or large drawing room of some sort in a versailles style. it might sound ostentatious but the series is really written as much for re-reading as it is for reading and a lot of details jump out at you the second or third time.

the "second house" is a series of hidden rooms and passageways in the house absolute. i think practically every room in the house is connected to the "second house" in some way, so that every room can be spied on or secretly accessed. there are magic mirrors in the second house but no colocated rooms ... that we know of, anyway.

the witches (and the cumean, who is a cacogen) have power over time the same way father inire has power over space. they don't so much travel in time as bring the two times into simultaneous existence. it is a confusing episode and severian spends chunks of three and four and five trying to figure it out. there are clues but the big reveal is at the end of the fourth book. if you want a hint, there is a connection between apu-punchau and the face in the tomb. btw, the cumean actually is a snake-like creature, not a humanoid.

dr talos' play is one of the most complicated parts of the book. it foreshadows the explication of past events, i.e. the history of old urth. it also explains the prophecies and teachings of the conciliator (which otherwise are not really explained) ... in one part of the book it mentions that talos' play is based on a book called "eschatology & genesis" which is the authoritative text on the conciliator.

it also foreshadows events in book 5 (the coming of the new sun) and reflects on the personalities of the main characters, particularly talos, dorcas and jolenta. i don't really think it directly signposts any particular events in books three and four but like i said it is a really deep section of the book and i haven't sussed out all of the threads yet.

the late great, Wednesday, 20 June 2012 17:44 (seven years ago) link

when i say it "foreshadows past events" i mean that it is a metaphorical / allegorical explanation of the history of old urth (for example, what happened before the autarchal system was established. what happened to the sun?) which is then explained in a much more concrete way in the third book (and slightly in the fourth)

the late great, Wednesday, 20 June 2012 18:02 (seven years ago) link

started book three yesterday, will post thoughts as they come to me

one dis leads to another (ian), Monday, 25 June 2012 13:59 (seven years ago) link

just about to finish book one. afraid to read this thread b/c everyone's ahead of me, but i'm really, really enjoying it. i thought it was a little hard to get into until the interaction between thecla and severian started, but ever since then i've been into it.

karl...arlk...rlka...lkar..., Monday, 25 June 2012 15:41 (seven years ago) link

I've started three, too. It's my favorite so far. Might have spoilered myself on some stuff. Thx for clearing ^ up, late great

indian rope trick (remy bean), Monday, 25 June 2012 20:17 (seven years ago) link

i always forget that severian is running around barechested.. then they mention it. and i lol.

one dis leads to another (ian), Friday, 29 June 2012 01:57 (seven years ago) link

just finished book three last night. started book four.

things got pretty weird!
but i still have a problem with some of the filler chapters/adventures. the pace can be very plodding when some of the events recounted by severian seem relatively... inconsequential? idk. i'm sure it will all come together.

one dis leads to another (ian), Tuesday, 10 July 2012 15:10 (seven years ago) link

any events in particular?

the late great, Tuesday, 10 July 2012 18:58 (seven years ago) link

these books would be a lot better with more dragons

Lamp, Tuesday, 10 July 2012 22:06 (seven years ago) link

that's like saying dune would be better with ornithopter dogfights

anyway the undines are the dragons, and this is low fantasy, so no, you can't battle dragons no matter how big your tool is

the late great, Tuesday, 10 July 2012 23:29 (seven years ago) link

gene wolfey knows to reserve his big sword for the ladeez

Lamp, Wednesday, 11 July 2012 00:03 (seven years ago) link

the pace can be very plodding when some of the events recounted by severian seem relatively... inconsequential?

it's been a while but iirc some of the seemingly inconsequential events turn out to not be?

mookieproof, Wednesday, 11 July 2012 00:32 (seven years ago) link

every event relates to the plot though not every event advances the plot, if that makes sense

the late great, Wednesday, 11 July 2012 00:43 (seven years ago) link

I've finished book three as well. I was digging the Big Bad of the Mountain Autarch, and his Window-Eyes of Doom and Jodorowskyan Psycho-Fuckwithery, but he was dispensed quickly and nothing really came of it? Same as * spoiler * little Sevarian? I liked the direction in which the plot was moving but then *zap* and kapow and the Giant fell and ... uhh... here I am, in a sick ward in the first third of the fourth book.

uncondensed milky way (remy bean), Wednesday, 11 July 2012 01:20 (seven years ago) link

I guess I had trouble w/ li'l Sev's death and the ensuing one page of 'ooh, that's sad' before 'back to my quest I go.' I've got to admit, I dislike this book as much as I like it, but I have no desire to stop reading it. It is good? And bad?

uncondensed milky way (remy bean), Wednesday, 11 July 2012 01:21 (seven years ago) link

what did you expect to happen when he fought baldanders?

the late great, Wednesday, 11 July 2012 01:25 (seven years ago) link

It just seems that Baldanders was a weird callback? He wasn't anticipated (to me) as a villain; he didn't figure in my comprehension of the narrative structure of the book. He was a colorful Guildenstern to Talos's Rosencrantz, a B-lister who got called up unexpectedly. I didn't have any investment in him – nor in the continuation of his character. I don't know how much i buy the progression from 'big Queequeg guy who sleeps in S.'s bed and has weird dreams --> guy that acts crazy onstage --> guy who actually goes crazy and attacks an audience at the autarch's palace --> enormous superstrength monster who keeps a foggy castle full of genetic experiments that turn on him, with the aid of extraterrestrial creeps --> guy that appears to die but probably doesn't.

I'll admit how much I'm glad to have read this far, and that the story is a decidedly new type for me. I'm still flummoxed, tho.

uncondensed milky way (remy bean), Wednesday, 11 July 2012 01:34 (seven years ago) link

kinda gotta agree w Remy in that the baldanders thing at the end of book three was a surprise & seemed to come out of the blue. also the revelation that dr. talos was a homonculus.

the drawn out fight with the alzabo that kills little severian's family seemed a bit unnecessary to me. likewise the incident with the salamander.

i'm sure something is going to happen with dorcas but going through most of Sword of the Lictor without any advancement of her plot (except the explicit statement that she used to be dead) was a bit of a drag. i understand there is only one character given the privilege of narrating the story and so we see things only through his eyes, and of course that is just the consequence of the way Wolfe chose to write the book, but its challenge because if you get bored there is no knowledge that something else is gonna happen? idk. it actually reads a bit like a D&D campaign to me where monsters randomly attack and magical experiences are had in a seemingly endless stream without much rhyme or reason?

one dis leads to another (ian), Wednesday, 11 July 2012 03:26 (seven years ago) link

i do like that in this book you saw much more of severian as a scheming, cold and self-serving guy instead of just a man beset by trials and tribulations with which he must contend.

one dis leads to another (ian), Wednesday, 11 July 2012 03:27 (seven years ago) link

tbh i thought the idea of the moving islands of roots was one of the best images i've had in my head in a while. A+

one dis leads to another (ian), Wednesday, 11 July 2012 03:30 (seven years ago) link

yeah the claw is an ouroboros

by the end you mean the *very* last scene? yeah i was always unsure about the significance of that too, except that perhaps it closes the loop (the first novel begins in a graveyard)

the late great, Monday, 20 May 2019 16:58 (six months ago) link

well that scene yeah, with the "gods" that were the 4 survivors on the raft, but also the whole stone town thing (last few chapters? with Apu-Punchau), I think some of it will become clearer when I re-read but iirc the stone town stuff was all in book one and my memory is already hazy on that.

Emperor Tonetta Ketchup (sleeve), Monday, 20 May 2019 17:08 (six months ago) link

The last time I did a re-read a couple of months ago I tried re-reading the stone town chapters in Urth of the New Sun and Book of the New Sun back to back just to get a better idea of what exactly is happening but I'm still not sure I completely get it.

As far as I can tell the real Severian died on the ship and the hierodules come to the stone town to help save a copy of Severian (an aquastor I think?) and another dead copy of Severian is left behind for the ritual with Hildegrin who will be destroyed by coming into contact with the real Severian from the end of Claw of the Conciliator. I'm going by memory here though, it was somewhat clearer when I read it. I'm still unclear on what purpose that ritual served.

silverfish, Tuesday, 21 May 2019 15:57 (six months ago) link

stumbled upon this, i wish i were rich

diamonddave85​​ (diamonddave85), Friday, 31 May 2019 13:14 (five months ago) link

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