The Book of the New Sun

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The Book of the New Sun is a novel (initially published in four volumes) written by fantasy and science fiction author Gene Wolfe. It chronicles the journey of Severian, a journeyman torturer who is exiled from the Seekers for Truth and Penitence (the guild of torturers) for committing the one unforgivable act: showing mercy to his victim by allowing her to die and thereby avoid further anguish. Through a series of adventures, he eventually rises to the highest position in the land. Severian, who claims he has a perfect memory, tells the story in first person; the books are presented by Wolfe as a translation of Severian's writings into contemporary English. The series takes place in the distant future, where the Sun has dimmed considerably and the Earth (referred to in the series as "Urth") is slowly cooling.

The four volumes in the series are:

A coda, The Urth of the New Sun (nominated for the 1988 Hugo Award and Nebula Award), which takes place several years after the events of The Book of the New Sun, was added later. Wolfe has since written two series that exist loosely within Severian's universe, The Book of the Long Sun (a four-book series set on a generation ship; two of the books were nominated for Nebula Awards) and The Book of the Short Sun (a three-book series following the inhabitants of the generation ship after their long journey has finally finished).

The Book of the New Sun has been widely analyzed for its deeper meanings; some of these analyses have been published, such as Michael Andre-Druissi's Lexicon Urthus (ISBN 0-9642795-9-2). Wolfe makes extensive use of allegory within the series, as Severian is identified as a Christ/Apollo figure: he is destined to revitalize the Sun and save the Earth while at the same time destroying it. Adding further to the books' many riddles is Wolfe's usage of archaic, obscure (but never invented) words to describe the world of the far future. Wolfe explains that this is one of the difficulties in translating Severian's writing ("in a tongue that has not yet achieved existence") into English.

The New Sun series belongs to the Dying Earth subgenre (a title inspired by Jack Vance's popular Dying Earth series), a kind of science fiction/fantasy set in a distant future when the Sun is dying, set against a background of mysterious and obscure powers and events.

Characters

  • Severian - main character, an apprentice to the Guild of Torturers on Urth
  • Roche - young man in the Guild of Torturers
  • Drotte - young man in the Guild of Torturers
  • Eata - young boy in the Guild of Torturers
  • Vodalus - the high-born leader of the rebellion against the Autarch
  • Master Gurloes - Leader of the Guild of Torturers
  • Master Palaemon - a leader in the Guild of Torturers
  • Master Malrubius
  • Thecla
  • Agia
  • Dorcas
  • Agilus
  • Dr. Talos
  • Baldanders
  • Jolenta
  • Hethor


Interpretations

Interpretations abound in a variety of other books such as Michael Andre Druissi's Lexicon Urthus, Peter Wright's Attending Daedalus, and Robert Borski's Solar Labyrinth. Among other theories:

  • Severian's home city of Nessus is actually a future Buenos Aires.
  • The characters Agia and Agilus are Severian's cousins.
  • Father Inire and Ossipago are not only the same character, but the offspring of Severian and one of the Hierodules.
  • Wolfe's earlier book, The Fifth Head of Cerberus is in fact set in the same universe, and is a prequel to the Book of the New Sun, the Book of the Long Sun, and the successor Short Sun books.
  • The Book of the New Sun purports to be a translation from the self-inscribed memoirs of an unreliable, and possibly insane, ruler; this is almost certainly a deliberate echo of Robert Graves's Claudius novels.

See also

References