Derik Badman's Journal

2020-06-28 09:47

I finished up the second part of The Book of the New Sun the other night. I continue, on my second read through, to be supremely impressed with the work as a whole. One thing Wolfe is so good at it, is not over explaining everything. Unlike Tolkien and a host of those that followed, Wolfe doesn't give us a full history of the world; he doesn't described the background for everything; and he shows us things via the narrating character. For instance, in one scene, Severian (the narrator) talks about seeing "flyers" moving back and forth high above in the night sky. These "flyers" have been mentioned before up to this point, but never described, never explained. They are some kind of ship or plane, some kind of advanced technology, but they are distant and mysterious from the people on the ground. Ditto, the way Severian discovers that his one travelling companion is some kind of cyborg or android. It's not all layed out, those words are not used, rather there is text about a metal hand, about other parts of him, and a picture is formed over time that let's you make conclusions.

I've been occasionally consulting the Lexicon Urthus for definitions of obscure words. Wolfe seems to not make up any words for his world, he just uses obscure real words that fit his needs. It has a similar effect to an author who makes up a lot of terminology, but it allows Wolfe to leave a lot of the words unexplained. For instance Severian references "cacogens", and in context you can gather they are some kind of humanoid... monsters or aliens... and you can actually look up the word and see what it really means to add to your understanding. The Lexicon makes this a little easier since it is just words from the novel, and also has a nice plot summary, chapter-by-chapter (usually just one sentence a chapter), which in its simple recitation of plot points can occasionally help with some of the subtler aspects of the plot.

As I'm rewatching Star Trek: Discovery realizing how much it looks like one of the movies because of its effects and, I assume, larger than the old shows budget, but narratively it feels more purposeful and restrained in the things that annoy me in the movies. In using the effects and action and such it doesn't ever stray away from being about the characters, their interactions, and their growth.