the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Gene Wolfe’ Category

So, I finally finished The Citadel of the Autarch, the 4th book in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun.    The days after I finished felt like going through tangential stages of grief.  First, I was mad “that’s how it ends!? I’ve got to read the entire damn thing all over again from start to finish now!”.  Then I was confused, by a whole tone of WTFery at the end, then I was curious and got some helpful spoilers online.  Then I experienced acceptance that Gene Wolfe is, as always, a brilliant mastermind of storytelling. Even better – these aren’t the stages of grief, but the stages of awakening.


As I’ve done in previous entries in this little series of blog posts,  we’ll start with new words


Bacele     Graisle        Orphicheide        Orpiment


I didn’t take much notes while reading this fourth book, but I’m laughing at something I wrote down on my scribble sheet –  “I know it is gross and taboo, but I’m surprised Severian doesn’t get more people’s memories the way he got Thecla’s (although he hadn’t planned to get hers). It seems a simple way to learn about a person’s world. Wait a minute. . .  is this narrator just someone who got Severian’s memories?”


Once I’d finished the book, my comment became hilarious. And only half right.


Some other notes I wrote down –


  • Love hearing Thecla’s voice, in first person. When Severian gets tired, it seems easier for her to come to the surface.
  • The Ascian in the field hospital, is he satirical?  I love the stories that were told in the field hospital. Once it’s the Ascian’s turn, Severian learns how language, story, and communication actually work.
  • The Anchorite’s house!!!  The top layers are in the future, that is SO cool!
  • One of the very last scenes, where they go back to the Inn near the Sanguinary Fields, and talk with the guy there.  Oh, that made me cry!


Like i said, it’s been two weeks, and I should have written this blog post when the end of the book was fresh in my mind, as everything is a little fuzzy now. Although now I better understand why everyone says you need to read this series multiple times to get all the pieces. It’s a little like walking through where Rudesind is cleaning the paintings – only a few paintings are perfectly clean at the same time, so if you want to see them all, you better walk through the galleries every few weeks, because each time, you’ll see something different.  Everytime you read this series, I imagine you’ll catch more and different things, everytime you read it you get more of a foundation for the next time.


Warning: major spoilers ahead.  If you haven’t read this series, stop reading now. Not only will this spoil the series for you, but our of context it makes zero sense.

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Out of context, this printing of The Sword of the Lictor looks somewhat awful.  The cover art is embarrassingly terrible, and the font size of the print is just small enough that it was hard for me to read.  If I saw this paperback at a bookstore, and had no idea who Gene Wolfe was, I’d be like “dude. What the fuck.”  Here, let me give you a closer up picture:



The terrible cover art and the too small print sums up my complaints.  And now that I have that out of the way, I can get to what these Book of the New Sun posts have become – new words, questions and guesses, notes I wrote down while reading, stacks of hella awesomeness, and this far into the series there are unavoidable spoilers #SorryNotSorry.


Just joining, and have no idea what I’m talking about?  You can read my previous entries about the first two books of the Book of the New Sun blog entries here:

A Hundred Pages Into Shadow and Claw  – Just starting the first book, The Shadow of the Torturer

Thoughts and Questions on Shadow of the Torturer – Finishing The Shadow of the Torturer

A Little Further into The Book of the New Sun – Finishing the Claw of the Conciliator


And if you’d prefer a slower pace and much better thought out analysis, head over to the Alzabo Soup podcast, where they are doing a few chapters a week.


And if you’ve already read this series a bunch of times? No spoilers in the comments please.


For some reason, I didn’t start taking notes until I was halfway through the book. These books are so dense, with little gems hidden on every page, that without any notes of the first half, I feel like I’ve lost a part of my memory.


Not too many new words, or at least not many that I wrote down:


Estafette         noyade            atlantes        oneiric


I found it funny that Severian keeps inflating his title. Maybe this is distance from his guild, maybe he’s just trying to scare people into respecting him, maybe it’s blind ego. When we first met him, he’d usually introduce himself as “I am but a journeyman”.  He never rises to master, but in this book, sometimes he introduces himself as Master Severian. In one scene, he even introduces himself as Grand Master Severian. Maybe he’s trying to be confident, but he just comes off as egotistical.

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I’m moving through The Book of the New Sun at a pretty good pace.

I’d planned to do two posts for The Claw of the Conciliator, so I could see how my thoughts changed from halfway through the book to when I finished it.  I zipped through most of the book over last weekend, and by the time I was ready to write a post, I was only 20 pages from the end. So I finished it, and a few hours later, picked up the third book in the series.


Claw of the Conciliator is leaps and bounds more interesting than Shadow of the Torturer. For the length of the first book, we’re getting to know Severian, finding our footing in the world, de-coding weird words, and we’re just along for the ride. In Claw,  Severian finally gets a chance to see the larger world, his eyes are opened a little bit as to why the world is the way it is, and we start to see the consequences of some of his earlier decisions.  Also? Jonas and the Antechamber!!


But before we get to Jonas, new words!  Not as many as I expected:












I already cried a bit on twitter about Jonas.  Oh how I love Jonas!  I was fascinated by how he avoids certain conversations, and gives Severian answers that sound vague to naive Severian, but make a ton of sense if you know where Jonas came from.  I think Severian did eventually figure out, maybe? He was at least open to whatever Jonas wanted to tell him. I kept thinking about how language requires a frame of reference, and Jonas and Severian have different frames of reference. At this point in his life, Severian is still very sheltered, and Jonas, well, isn’t.  I hope we run into Jonas again. He was good for Severian.   Jonas and Dorcas seem to serve a similar purpose – to show Severian that the world is bigger than just himself.  Those two have histories, lives, and dreams that are completely outside their relationship with Severian.


The Antechamber!  When I figured out what the room was, and why these people were there, holy shit!  It’s not a prison, not exactly. And I can why people don’t want to leave. They are waiting for something to happen, and it hasn’t happened yet, so they don’t want to leave and risk missing it.   It’s like the rest of the House Absolute was built around this space.


And that dinner with Vodalus, and what they ate!  That is a royally fucked up (yet utterly brilliant) way to share someone’s memories, i can see why it is considered taboo.  But it seems to work?  Severian now knows all this stuff he didn’t know before.  I wonder what happens to the people who attend many dinners of this type, or specific dinners. Like, the whole thing is gross, but a super fascinating idea. Imagine if the alien critter that allows this to happen showed up on an episode of Doctor Who.

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This blog post started here.

I didn’t realize I was reading through it so fast, I finished The Shadow of the Torturer (the first half of Shadow and Claw) last night. The first half seemed a bit trying to get through – strange language, a world that doesn’t quite make sense, episodic stories,  and then we get to the 2nd half of the story that goes much quicker.

But first, more new words:







Fewer unknown words in this second half.

And now for thoughts, questions, and spoilers!

Shadow of the Torturer ends very abruptly.  It’s going, it’s going, there’s a sort-of duel,  Severian gets to do his job, it goes a little more, slows down a bit, and then BAM it ends.  Yes, I get the whole concept of ending on a similar note as the start, but it was still weird.


Severian sure is easy to manipulate. Get a pretty girl to say hello to him, and he’ll do just about anything. And if she shows some leg?  He’s practically her slave.  He is an absolute idiot to trust anything Agia says to him, and he seems to trust everything she says!


The house on stilts that is in the botanical gardens – is this a view through time or into another dimension?  Robert and Marie seem of a more contemporary time.  They look out the window hoping to see mail plane, and Severian hasn’t any idea what a mail plane is. Everything about the botanical garden rooms is hella cool!  The rooms are bigger on the inside than you’d expect, it’s easy to get lost in them.  The doors to the rooms, are they doors across space and maybe time?

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borrowed-manA Borrowed Man, by Gene Wolfe

published in 2015

where I got it: purchased new







  1. Protagonist and supporting characters who you’re pretty sure are lying to you and to each other?
  2. Dialog that can be inferred in multiple ways?
  3. Not much of a pay-off at the end?
  4. Feel like you need to read the whole book again to figure out what’s going on?


If you answered Yes to all those questions,  you might be reading a Gene Wolfe. In classic Wolfe  fashion A Borrowed Man answers all those questions with a resounding Yes, and I’m tempted to read the whole thing again, just to see what additional hints I can pull out.


In the far future, not only can you take discs out of the library, but you can take an entire person out the library. Famous authors, artists, and poets have been “re-cloned” – they talk like a person, act and walk like a person, need to eat and sleep like a person, are a person, but are owned by a library. Reclones are property.  When someone takes out author A.E. Smithe, he has no choice about what they do with him.  But if enough years go by with no checkouts? He might get sold at a library discards sale, or he might get tossed into the incinerator without a second though.


To Smithe, his life is normal. He lives on a shelf in the library, he gets up every day and washes his hair and has breakfast. He paces, he reads, he fights with his ex-wife. If no patrons come to consult you, life is easy but boring.  Smithe remembers everything (or nearly everything) his original remembers, but he also remembers everything he’s experienced since becoming a reclone. Many libraries have E.A. Smithes, all with the same core memories. Reclones are forbidden from writing or creating art, it would cheapen what their originals did.  Yet, A Borrowed Man is told in first person, so  . . .  is Smithe writing this story?


Regardless of who is writing this story,  Smithe gets taken out of the library by one Colette Coldbrook, who says she needs his help solving a mystery. Both her father and brother were recently killed, and the only thing found in her father’s safe was a copy of the book Murder on Mars written by E.A. Smithe, yet our Smithe has no memory of every writing it. Are his memories incomplete? Was the book actually written by someone else (a law-breaking reclone, maybe?)?

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An Evil Guest, by Gene Wolfe

published in 2008

where I got it: purchased new










Struggling actress Cassie Casey has just met the man of her dreams. Well, men, actually.  First she meets handsome Gideon Chase, who hires her to help him spy on the mysterious and wealthy Bill Reis. In return for her help, Gideon will make Cassie a star of stage and screen. When Cassie eventually meets Bill, she instantly dislikes him, more-so as he showers her with attention and expensive gifts.

An Evil Guest is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. As expected with a Wolfe, we are given some vague hints early on – the story takes place in the future, Gideon might be working for the Government, we’ve met another intelligent race on another planet and in some areas (but not all), their science is ahead of ours, but in general life seems to be going on as normal on planet Earth.

The story is told nearly one hundred percent through dialog, conversations between Cassie and either Gideon or Bill Reis, conversations between Cassie and the other members of the theatre company. Entire chapters are nothing by dialog. The scenery, the world building, it’s all very shadowy.  At times I felt like I was listening to a radio play, where the sound effects for a thunderstorm are made with a rain stick and a thin sheet of metal.

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Home Fires, by Gene Wolfe

Published: Jan 2011

Where I got it: Library

Why I read it:  See post title

Skip has waited very patiently for his wife Chelle to return home from her interstellar military service. Thanks to relativity, it’s only been a few years for Chelle.  But for Skip, it’s been over 20.  Being informed that returning servicewomen most want to see their family, Skip contracts with a reanimation company to have Chelle’s late mother’s personality imprinted into the brain of another woman. Her name is Vanessa, and she and Skip instantly get off to a rough start, because as soon as Skip stops paying the daily fee, Vanessa will “die” again, and to make things worse, Chelle was never told her mother had died. Will Skip and Chelle be able to pick up right where they left off? What exactly is the state of their relationship?  How will Chelle react Vanessa, who both is and isn’t her mother?

Shortly after Chelle’s return, she and Skip embark on a romantic Caribbean cruise.  And then the rule breaking begins.  Vanessa shows up as the cruise social director, but now she’s going by the name Virginia. The ship is attacked by pirates who hope to ransom the wealthy passengers, but thanks to Skip’s fast thinking and wealth, a team of mercenaries helps take the ship back.  One of Skip’s employees from the law firm is with the mercenary team.  There is talk of a suicide club. and cyborgs. and aliens that are referred to only as O’s.   There’s an attempted murder.  And a bomb.  And a woman with mis-matched hands who may harbor a hidden personality, also a man with no hands. Skip has until the ship pulls into port to figure out what’s going on and prove himself to Chelle.  It’s a little noir, a little Agatha Christie, a little PTSD, a little Vanilla Sky, and it all boils down to  a guy trying to get through a rough patch with his wife.

And of course,  in classic Wolfe fashion, no one is who or what they appear to be, and everyone has secrets. Some people are itching to get those secrets off their chests, others, not so much.

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One of the most talented and underrated authors of our time, Gene Wolfe is a master of subtle story telling. The Sorcerer’s House is told entirely through letters, and if you’ve ever written a letter to someone, you know how easy that selective memory or urge to exaggerate can kick in.

Baxter Dunn has just been released from prison. He needs to find a job, and a place to live, and fast. After squatting in an old abandoned house, he inquires about purchasing the property. When the real estate woman informs him that he is already the owner of the home as per the last will and testament of a mysterious Mr. Black, Baxter only appears a little surprised.

Baxter spends a few weeks working on the house, getting it cleaned up, moving old furniture out, and new furniture in. He even writes some letters to his twin brother George and George’s wife, Millie, hoping to patch up that relationship as he is patching up an old house. Things begin to get a little strange when Bax catches an adolescent boy running through his house. Thinking the child might be stealing or vandalizing, Bax tries to catch him, and the boy drops what he was carrying. Bax watches him jump out a second story window. However, the window is closed, the glass unbroken, and there are no footprints in the shallow snow outside. Read the rest of this entry »

This review was originally posted on ARWZ. The only changes that have been made are a few grammatical fixes.

Gene Wolfe’s award winning 4 book series The Book of the New Sun has recently been reprinted in two volumes, each containing 2 novels. Shadow & Claw includes the first two novels – Shadow of the Torturer and Claw of the Conciliator. Wolfe presents this sci-fantasy story as a translation of a document written in a “language that does not exist yet.” The dense prose is full of archaic words, which Wolfe explains a part of the challenge of a translation and transliteration. With a feeling of historical novels and hero quest fantasy, Wolfe is giving the reader a vision of distant future. Urth and her people are dessicated and dim, and the sun is cooling in her last days. Dripping in adventure, sex, sword fights, coming-of-age, and destiny, Shadow & Claw is swimming in religious parable, symbolism, and hero mythology.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.