Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts

Gene Wolfe - Book of the New Sun - Sword & Citadel

Reading the second part of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun has for me been a dreamlike experience.  I gave up on the first part once because it got too weird, but now that I’m attuned to Wolfe’s style, that is no longer a problem.  Now it works like hypnosis.  A few paragraphs in, and my brain shifts to a different gear: Slow, focused. Dreamlike.

The story takes place at the end of Earth’s life, when the sun is cooling, a setting introduced in Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories.  Everything that could happen has happened, and people are surrounded by monuments from greater times.  The end is coming, or possibly the birth of a better world.

Events follow a jagged path that seems random but at the same time full of meaning.  There are echoes of mythology: Christian, classical, and modern.  And there are events that seem meaningful at first, then turn out not to be.  The protagonist, an exiled torturer, is given a magnificently named sword at the beginning, which he carries through all his adventures.  And then he loses it, and the story continues.  It was just a sword.

A gem that brings dead people back to life is possibly just a gem, or possibly magical.  A boy that shares the torturers name seems to represent something, but we never learn what.  Questions remain unanswered, and what I’m left with afterwards is mostly the feeling that I’ve been through something wonderful, something that resonated deeply with me.  Just like a dream.

2 Responses to Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts

  1. Mark Brinton says:

    Your experience reading these books very much reflects my own. I have re-read the ending of “Shadow and Claw” so many times. The first time I read it was like awakening from a dream and desperately wanting to fall back asleep to recapture its essence.

    btw; I owe you thanks for introducing me to G.R.R Martin. I had pretty much given up on modern fantasy as just pale imitations of Tolkien. I was wrong; and I am enjoying the considerable backlog of very good – in martin’s case, excellent – modern fantasy.

  2. Good to hear! There’s good modern fantasy, it’s just a bit overshadowed by the imitators. Martin sits alone on the (iron) throne, but I also like Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss and China Mieville.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s