The Book of the New Sun

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The Book of the New Sun
Booknewsun.jpg
Front cover of the first one-volume edition (1998)
Author Gene Wolfe
Country United States
Language English
Series Solar Cycle[1]
Book of the New Sun sub-series[a]
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Simon & Schuster;
Orb / Tor Books (first two-volume)
Publication date
1980-1983 (four vols); 1994 (two)
Media type Print (hardcover first; trade paperback first two-volume ed.)
Pages 950
OCLC 30700568
813/.54 20
LC Class PS3573.O52 S53 1994
Followed by Book of the Long Sun sub-series

The Book of the New Sun (1980–83) is a series of four science fantasy novels or one four-volume novel by the American author Gene Wolfe. Alternatively, it is a series comprising the original tetralogy, a 1983 collection of essays, and a 1987 sequel.[a] Either way, it inaugurated the so-called "Solar Cycle" (below) that Wolfe continued after 1987 by setting other multi-volume works in the same universe.[1]

Gene Wolfe had originally intended the story to be a 40,000 words novella called "The Feast of Saint Catherine", meant to be published in one of the Obit anthologies, but during the writing it continued to grow in size.[2][3] Despite being published with a year between each book, all four books were written and completed during his free time without anyone's knowledge when he was still an editor of Plant Engineering, allowing him to write at his own pace and take his time.[4]

The tetralogy chronicles the journey of Severian, a disgraced journeyman torturer who is exiled and forced to travel to Thrax and beyond. It is a first-person narrative, ostensibly translated by Wolfe into contemporary English, set in the distant future when the Sun has dimmed and Earth is cooler (a "Dying Earth" story).

In 1998, Locus magazine ranked the tetralogy number three among 36 all-time best fantasy novels before 1990, based on a poll of subscribers.[5][b]

Place within the genre[edit]

The Book of the New Sun belongs to the Dying Earth subgenre of speculative fiction, named after the Dying Earth series by Jack Vance (1950 to 1984). Substantially that is fantasy or science fiction set in a distant future when Earth's sun is dying (cooling notably). The setting commonly includes mysterious and obscure powers and events.

Plot introduction[edit]

Refer to a summary of the first book or volume, The Shadow of the Torturer (1980)

New Sun series[edit]

Each of the four original volumes won at least one major fantasy or science fiction award as the year's "Best Novel" (see table). The tetralogy was not considered as a whole for any of the annual literary awards compiled by the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB).[6]

The tetralogy was published in the U.K. by Sidgwick & Jackson (1981 to 1983). For the first volume, that was twelve months after its U.S. release, for the second volume seven months, for the latter two volumes only two months later. The Urth of the New Sun "coda" novel appeared three months earlier in the U.K. (Gollancz, August 1987) and the component volumes of subsequent series in the Solar Cycle, Long Sun and Short Sun, were published essentially at once in the U.S. and U.K.[1]

Best Novel of the year? — annual awards[6]
Title (volume or novel) Award wins losing finalist or high rank (#=rank)
The Shadow of the Torturer
(Simon & Schuster, 1980)
British Science Fiction
World Fantasy
Balrog (fantasy), Campbell Memorial (3), Locus Fantasy (2), Nebula
The Claw of the Conciliator
(Timescape Books, 1981)
Locus Fantasy
Nebula (SF)
Hugo (SF), Mythopoeic Fantasy, World Fantasy
The Sword of the Lictor
(Timescape Books, 1982)
British Fantasy
Locus Fantasy
Balrog, British SF, Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy
The Citadel of the Autarch
(Timescape Books, 1983)
Campbell Memorial (SF) Balrog, British SF, Locus Fantasy (2), Nebula
ISFDB recognizes a series of five novels and some short fiction, including a coda set years after the original tetralogy.[1]
The Urth of the New Sun
(Tor Books, 1987)
Hugo, Locus Science Fiction (3), Nebula

[7][8][9][10][11][12]

Since the original four-volume novel, Wolfe has also written three short fictions and two book series that are set in Severian's universe (almost all subsequent to Urth). The Internet Speculative Fiction Database catalogues it all as the "Solar Cycle" (below) comprising the short works and three sub-series.[1]

Language[edit]

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-Driussi's Lexicon Urthus (ISBN 0-9642795-9-2) and Robert Borski's Solar Labyrinth. 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 use of archaic, obscure (but never invented) words to describe the world of the far future. In an Appendix at the end of The Shadow of the Torturer, 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. An example can be found in Severian's fuligin cloak ("the color that is darker than black"), probably derived from fuliginous, an obscure and archaic word meaning sooty.[13] Other examples are optimates, named for a political faction in Republican Rome, aquastor, a spiritual being that appears in the works of Paracelsus, and fiacre, a small carriage (which is, in fact, a French word with that meaning).

Solar Cycle[edit]

Since the original four-volume novel, Wolfe has also written three short fictions and two book series that are set in Severian's universe (almost all subsequent to Urth). The Internet Speculative Fiction Database catalogues it all as the "Solar Cycle" comprising the short works and three sub-series.[1]

The two later subseries are The Book of the Long Sun (1993–1996, four volumes) and The Book of the Short Sun (1999–2001, three volumes). Long Sun is set on a generation ship and Short Sun features the inhabitants of that generation ship after their long journey. Two of the Long Sun books were nominated for Nebula Awards.[6]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b ISFDB includes the non-fiction collection The Castle of the Otter (1983) and the "coda" novel The Urth of the New Sun (1987) in the Book of the New Sun sub-series (along with some separately published excerpts).
  2. ^ Locus subscribers voted only two Middle-earth novels by J. R. R. Tolkien ahead of Wolfe's New Sun, followed by Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series. Third and fourth ranks were exchanged in the 1987 rendition of the poll, "All-Time Best Fantasy Novels", which considered as single entries Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer and Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, the first volumes of New Sun and Earthsea.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Solar Cycle series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2012-04-23. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  2. ^ On Encompassing the Entire Universe: An Interview with Gene Wolfe
  3. ^ George R.R. Martin on Magic Vs. Science - Weird Tales
  4. ^ Nerdist Podcast: George R.R. Martin « Nerdist (1:01:05)
  5. ^ The Locus Online website links multiple pages providing the results of several polls and a little other information. • "The Locus Index to SF Awards: 1998 Locus All-Time Poll". Locus Publications. Archived from the original on 2004-01-13. Retrieved 2012-04-24.  • See also "1998 Locus Poll Award". ISFDB. Retrieved 2012-04-24.
  6. ^ a b c "Gene Wolfe". The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index to Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2012-04-23.
  7. ^ "1980 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  8. ^ "1981 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  9. ^ "1982 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  10. ^ "1983 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  11. ^ "1984 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  12. ^ "1988 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  13. ^ (1979). The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (A-O). Oxford University Press, New York, New York.

External links[edit]