Derik Badman's Journal

Content Tagged "Gene Wolfe"

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2020-03-22 08:50

Spend a lot of the day just reading, first a bunch of things online that have accumulated in my Feedly saved items folder and then finishing up the second of Gene Wolfe's Latro book, Soldier of Arete. That one gets a little crazy at the end, with a few large gaps of narrative, that puts the last section of the book into a weird estrangement. Since Latro forgets everything from day-to-day, when he doesn't write down the events and days pass then he becomes even more disconnected from who people are and what events have happened, causing his resumed narration to be even more obscure. Characters that have been present throughout the book are mentioned but nameless (and sometimes it takes a bit to figure out who is who), motivations and interpretations of motivations become confused, and a certain amount of cause and effect is lost (we see effects without causes). I definitely feel like even on this second read, I didn't totally follow all that was going on, or the significance of it. Feel like I could use a good summarization to help clarify a few things. Still, despite that, a really enjoyable read. There is a third novel, that Wolfe wrote much later than the first two, which creates newfound interpretation problems as it moves the action to Egypt thus mostly unmooring the narrative from all the places, characters, and deities that one has learned to identify in the first two. I won't be jumping right into that for a reread just yet.

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2020-03-08 13:04

Last night I finished up my reread of Gene Wolfe's Soldier of the Mist, the first part of his series about Latro, a soldier in the Ancient Greek world who has been cursed to not remember anything. The whole book is his (with one exception) writings that he keeps of the events that happen to him as a memory aid. I really enjoyed my first read through of the series, and have been meaning to reread.

The rich historical setting makes use of the mythology of the ancient world in a rather realistic way. The dieties exist and are powerful, mysterious, awe-inspiring. They have many names and aspects which aids in the mystery and is increased by the way Latro sees them with fresh eyes each time. The whole narrative is one of mystery and elision. We only read what Latro writes after the fact, so we can only know what he says, not necessarily what is true, especially since each time he writes he mostly only knows what is happening and what others tell him of the past. He cannot easily make connections between events or characters. That can often lead to the reader having to work to remember who someone is based on non-obvious information.

Also, between each chapter there can be an unknowable gap of time. Sometimes it is obviously the next day, or even later the same day. Sometimes he remembers far enough back (from morning to night or one night to the next morning) that he can contextualize the gap, but sometimes time passes in silence and emptiness and we must learn a new situation, not always knowing why the situation of the characters have changed (until at times we get some other character reminding Latro).

The whole book is filled with this sort of elision and gaps. Even the way Latro refers to places is based on his translations from Greek to his language (I'm not remembering exactly, but he is not from the immediate area of the Greek pennisula or islands). So Athens is called "Thought" and the Spartans are called "Rope Makers", based on... some etymology I am not aware of. The first time I read the books that was often very confusing and geographically disorienting (in knowing where the chapters were taking place), but this time around (perhaps helped by all the Assassin's Creed Odyssey I played) I felt more confident in the geography and place names which helped in decipering the story.

I think I'm going to take a break before moving on to the second book.

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2019-10-27 09:01

Somehow hit a lull in what I'm reading right now. I paused on Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Short Sun and haven't gotten back to it. Maybe I was reading it too close the Long Sun or maybe this one just isn't grabbing me as much. I think it's partially that I don't care for the narrator/protagonist as much as the other series. Browsed a few samples I had in my Kindle (I tend to accumulate too many samples) and ended up ordering a few things from the library to try out. We'll see if they are worth talking about.

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2019-09-16 08:03

Started Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Short Sun over the weekend in a nice collected book club edition I found online. This one, contrary to Long Sun, is definitely a sequel to its predecessor. The narrator was a minor character in Long Sun (and narratively, the author of the in world book that is The Book of the Long Sun) and there are numerous other characters and references to characters and events from the previous series. My understanding is that this one then ties back around somehow to New Sun, and I'm quite curious to see how that happens. So far, this one, also starts off with a man going off on a voyage, with much less preamble to the voyage. It's also written as a partially retrospective autobiographical text by the protagonists. He is both writing about his past, which is so far the greater part of the narration, but also referencing his present (as yet mostly obscure) situation. That he is also referencing events from Long Sun or the time of that narration and events in between that series and the start of this one, provides quite the conflagration of timelines. This is definitely not a book where one should start reading Wolfe's work.

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2019-08-28 16:49

I finished The Book of the Long Sun last night, maybe it was the amount of pages I read the past couple nights as I tried to finish it, but the ending felt very rushed to me. The first volumes had a pretty leisurely pace and then the last volume seemed to squeeze a lot into it. I think because of that I ended up liking it less by the end than at the beginning or middle. Felt like a lot was left unresolved. I can't but wonder (and need to look up) if The Book of the Short Sun that Wolfe wrote later is some kind of sequel (Edit: it is). I'm also still baffled as to the relation between Long Sun and The Book of the New Sun. The names indicate there is a relation, but I'm not sure I see it in the text itself.

I also wonder if I somehow just missed a few things, or if he really left a lot of questions unanswered. Some plotlines seemed to get dropped...

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2019-08-22 08:11

Still plowing through The Book of the Long Sun, into the 3rd volume now. Still have no idea how it connects to the New Sun books. Still lots of skipping ahead in time and then slowly filling in what happened. I think it mainly works in the context of this book because of how Silk the protagonist has spent a large portion of the narrative injured in different ways and occasionally unconscious. The gaps in the narrative time help mirror the gaps in his consciousness and also the overwhelming events happening to him.

Each of the volumes has been starting with a list of characters, and reading it in volume 4 I noticed how much the descriptions give away elements of the plot that haven't been revealed in the book. Not only does it list characters that haven't shown up in the narrative yet, but also a few major character reveals that I don't believe were at all clear up to that point. For instance there are a couple reveals about character parentage that seen very important to the plot that get spoiled. I don't quite get the impetus of such a thing and why Wolfe would do that.

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2019-08-16 08:19

After the movie I finished up the first half of The Book of the Long Sun where it again takes some surprising turns to move the plot along and expand the conception of the background world. On the whole so far it feels a lot more cohesive and linear than New Sun, less a picaresque, more epic narrative. As a protagonist, Silk's forward progress is more clearly divined than Severian's, who spends a lot of time going from place to place without much of a clear endpoint (I think it's not until the fourth book that he actually gets some clarity on that).

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2019-08-15 08:10

Almost at the halfway point of The Book of the Long Sun and got to one of those places where the focalizing protagonist has something happen to them mostly "off-screen" (what is the literary term for that?) that we, the reader, only hear about later via the character's report to other characters. This is similar to major elements of other of Wolfe's works: Severian in New Sun often leaves out events (slightly different because he is the narrator of his own story); Latro in his various books often leaves out information (either on purpose or because of his forgetting). The difference in this case is that Silk in Long Sun is not, as far as I can tell, the narrator of his own story (it's doesn't appear to be a book that is written as a reproduction of a diegetic narrative). In this particular scene there is a confused section of brief sentences, not totally clear, with some short dialogue, then a break, and time has passed and Silk is somewhere else, after which he recounts some information of what happened to the person with him. But, we don't have reason to believe he is necessarily being totally truthful since he thinks the person he is talking to is a spy.

This type of gap feels a little more like a trick in this book, since it is not a narration by the character. I don't believe up to this point, the narration has left any lacunae like that in the events that Silk has experienced. It feels like an inconsistency to suddenly decide to withhold a scene, but it also then gives that missing scene an exaggerated place in the story, because of that withholding. I'm curious to see how much that pays off.

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2019-08-12 08:09

I started back into The Book of the Long Sun, after taking a short break when I finished book 1. I was going to give it longer to breath and read something else (like some more Tiptree stories), but I just kept thinking about it. The first book ends with a few important revelations, that start the process, continuing in book 2, of expanding the world, both as a setting and for the protagonist. Through the first book, Silk, an augur, talks and thinks about the gods, and it being a science fiction novel (and knowing how New Sun went), I knew there was going to be some technical explanation for them at some point. The end of book 1 and then an early chapter in book 2 start that process, and seem to confirm my suspicious earlier that they gods are some kind of AIs (in sans-serif font that looks too much like multiple guys named Al).

The plot also seems to be moving to get Silk out of the neighborhood that is his home and the primary setting of book 1, which is a common trope in fantasy literature, going out into the world on an journey/adventure. I'm curious to see if Wolfe is leading to some kind of outward expanding journey or if the focus will stay rooted in the original setting.

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2019-08-06 12:50

Moving pretty quickly through the first volume of The Book of the Long Sun. Really enjoying it, and also surprised at how, in comparison with The Book of the New Sun there has been very little plot as of yet. New Sun is almost picaresque in the way Severian ends up wandering all over the place, while in Long Sun so far Silk, the focalizer, barely goes anywhere. Curious to see if that will change, or if this series is more enclosed than the previous.

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2019-08-05 08:10

Started Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Long Sun this weekend. Like The Book of the New Sun it starts with a lot of unexplained setting content and unfamiliar words. A world that is a mix of low and high technology in what I am beginning to think is some kind of O'Neill cylinder, as the characters seem to see another landscape in the sky above them that is lit when they are at night and some kind of "shade" that makes me think there is a central column with a rotating sun-like light source (that would also lend credence to the term "long sun"). Curious to see where it is going, and of course the writing is amazing.

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