The Book of the New Sun

I’ve been reading Gene Wolfe’s much-admired The Book of the New Sun and enjoying it a great deal.  I have been blessed with a terrible cold, which has afforded me extended reading time necessary for a book such as this.  I’ve heard of it for years, but never got around to it.  My science fiction reading lapsed when I was reading for my comps.  I was supposed to know everything about Literature, so they wouldn’t ask me anything about “escapist” science fiction.  I’d like to see my mentors go a few rounds with Wolfe for “escape.”

The book was a tough sell for me.  Even though I love medieval romance, I don’t love swords and resuscitated aristocratic societies in sf quite so much.  Like comedies about hit men, it’s a genre I generally avoid.  That it has been described as both “Spenserian” and “Catholic allegory” made it even more unattractive.  It’s clearly one novel chopped into four volumes that just stop more than end, usually an annoyance I wouldn’t quickly forgive.  But when Neil Gaiman, John Clute, Patrick O’Leary, and Michael Dirda all give the book hyperbolic praise, you gotta listen.  So far I’ve read the first two volumes, The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator.  What a weird and wonderful ride.  Don’t ask me what’s going on.  I’m not sure, but I don’t care.  I love that.

Reading what has proven to be an enduring classic of literary science fiction, I have to ask myself whether it would stand a snowball’s chance in hell if it hit an editor or agent’s desk today.  I can’t imagine.

2 thoughts on “The Book of the New Sun

  1. I’ve had a fresh copy on my shelves for at least a year now. I’m afraid to go near it, especially not without a fat, heavy dictionary, and maybe a set of encyclopedias.

  2. Context usually gives a sense of the more exotic word choices. You get a cumulative sense of the culture and vocabulary. I haven’t looked in a dictionary once. I’m now about 3/4 through the third volume, which is better than the first two.

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