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▶  More from Fiction Book Reviews Before the Rising Sun
‘Before the Rising Sun’
The Shadow of the Torturer: Part 1: Impressions of The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
1980, Tom Doherty Associates, NY, reading from the Orb edition, Shadow & Claw, pages 1-211
“A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening one;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.”
So begins the best science fiction story of the 20th Century, underappreciated, lowly rated by most and by women in particular, hated.
Wolfe writes the story of Severian, a man cursed with total memory recall, from the first person, as he sits upon an accidentally gained throne as the Autarch of a dying world.
The story line is oblique, with the teller realistically expecting the listener to know certain things which the reader may not know.
The language is darkly, sinisterly beautific, with the author accused by [women mostly] of using flowery language to cover a plot bereft of the plot twists and surprise endings beloved of that gender, however the language is stilted to present depth of setting, to uncover a realistically aged world.
The ancient future settings of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, Poul Anderson’s ancient earth, Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming and this author’s Ancient Oth all use layered artifice to affect an authentic setting, but none with the sophistication of Wolfe.
Most of all, Wolfe’s Book of the New Son, beginning with The Shadow of the Torturer—being Severian’s rise from orphan apprentice to a black-cloaked member of the Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence—shares the salient strength of his other works, being redolent with truth, such as these passages from pages 9 and 14:
“Just as all that appears imperishable tends towards its own destruction, those moments that at the time seem the most fleeting recreate themselves…”
“We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us… It is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them…”
It will be my pleasure to honor the request of two readers in sharing my impressions of this story of a man who had risen to ultimate power only to discover that his triumph is but a first faint footfall on an unimaginably greater stage.
Reverent Chandler: The Saga of Fend
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Add Comment
crankshaftFebruary 7, 2019 4:09 AM UTC


No big deal, hard to see, but easy to fix:

"...his triumph is but a first faint footfall on an unimaginatively greater stage."

Didn't you mean to say "unimaginably"

responds:February 7, 2019 12:55 PM UTC

Thanks—I'm blessed with many an editor.