Monday, October 02, 2006

Elite Opinion Encourages Reading. Surprise.

For the handful of you who know how to read, and for the six out of that handful who’ve actually read something other than a Dan Brown novel since graduating high school, I’ve got a recommendation for you.

Yes, it is basically a sci-fi/fantasy type story and yes, if you read this someone will steal your lunch money between 2nd and 3rd period and yes, it’s possible you’ll never get laid again. But honestly you weren’t exactly scoring stellar numbers in the tail-department anyway.

And so I give you Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. In actuality it’s what smarmy lit journalists call a tetralogy, which is a dickhead way of saying it’s ‘four books.’ For those of you who thought the prefix for things that come in fours was ‘quad,’ you’re right.

The Book of the New Sun is comprised of four novels in which we are given the firsthand account of the adventures of Severian. Severian is a professional torturer which is a significant contrast to the traditional hero of this genre, who is normally a professional pussy, but happens to live in some far flung farm and is actually the lost prince of prophesy or some banal bull shit.

Thankfully Severian’s character is just one of a thousand departures Gene Wolfe makes from the usual fantasy/sci-fi clichés. For example, because Severian is giving a firsthand account, his point of view can be occasionally and subtly unreliable; he exaggerates, fools himself when overwhelmed by emotions and even lies. Now while this may not sound like a great narrator to you- it should sound like something more familiar: a human being. Severian’s journey is remarkable human which is significant because it stands heavily at odds with the darkly and mysteriously super and sub human cast that he interacts with. The planet he calls home (our earth) is known as Urth and exists so far in the future that the moon has been covered by forests hundreds (maybe thousands) of years in his past and the molten core of Urth is cooling and even the sun itself is dying and has turned a sickly shade of decaying red.

But Wolfe’s story is not only vastly interesting due to his character’s unique nature and backdrop- but because the author’s prose is flowing baroquesque poetry that reads like razor sharp lacework finished across a tapestry hopelessly layered with endless riddles and paradoxes. To say more would not only require me to ruin some of the surprises that wait for potential readers- but also force me to besmirch these books because I could hardly do justice to Wolfe’s ability with any crude synopsis or example.

Let me say simply that The Book of the New Sun is so complex and intricate it may be the most re-readable piece of literature that I have ever encountered.

Furthermore I will not try to summate the story-line of these books. Just believe me when I say that this series contains everything most modern readers require: action, suspense, horror, love, tragedy, sociology, philosophy etc, etc.

Finally I will quote another renowned writer to conclude my fervent recommendation of these books:

"Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today. Let me repeat that: Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today! I mean it. Shakespeare was a better stylist, Melville was more important to American letters, and Charles Dickens had a defter hand at creating characters. But among living writers, there is nobody who can even approach Gene Wolfe for brilliance of prose, clarity of thought, and depth in meaning."
-Michael Swanwick


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