I thought it would be cool to compare Christmas wish lists for books, but not wish-lists for actual books that exist. What are the top 5 books you wish were going to be out for Christmas but aren’t because they don’t exist and haven’t been written yet?
Follow-up to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
A new story featuring Severian the Torturer, courtesy of Gene Wolfe
A new Robert Harris thriller – I’ve read all of them and even sampled one of his non-fiction works!
Lord of the Rings sequel (Sauron fights back) by J. R. R. Tolkien
A decent sequel to Star Wars turned into a decent film as well – i.e. episodes 7 to 9!
Sometimes when you come back to a book for a second time it’s not quite as good as you originally thought. Not in the case of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. For me the second time round has been a fantastic experience so far. I’m 115 pages into my reading of the first book in the volume: the Shadow of the Torturer. I think this time I am taking more time to appreciate the fantastic quality of Wolfe’s writing. Whereas the first time round it was perhaps more of a struggle to keep a grasp on what was happening in the strange new world I was reading about, this second time I am slightly familiar and instead deepening my appreciation of it.
After reading The Book of the New Sun the first time I went on to read Peace and The Fifth Head of Cerberus. I found this more accessible and just as good if not better than the New Sun. I was slightly concerned about returning to the world of Severian again, but I am glad I’m there. The symbolism and the language is more evocative and there are passages that I can’t believe I didn’t gasp in wonder at the first time round – for instance Severian’s visit to the gloomy library, like something straight out of Borges, was quite bizarre.
Right away we are introduced to what I assume will be the main character of the book, Gideon Chase:
“They sat at ease in the Oval Office. Had the president looked at his guest, he would have seen a handsome, ageless man, dark-haired, with a smooth oval face and a flawless olive complexion. Had he looked into this man’s eyes, he would have seen the night looking out through a mask; it was because he had looked there once-and had not liked what he had seen-that he did not look again.”
The description is at once compelling and intriguing and the rest of the chapter continues in a similar vein. Gideon is being hired by the President for a special assignment, but on the way there is a discussion about the nature of Evil and we get some insight into a place called Woldercon, an alien place of some sort, and hints at Gideon’s remarkable skills.
I’d certainly be interested in reading more of this!
My only gripe, however, is the formatting of the dialogue. Quite often there are two characters speaking in the same paragraph. This makes getting the sense of the dialogue very difficult in places. Hopefully this is just how it is formatted online and won’t be replicated in the book.
It was with interest that I read the review by Paul Raven of the 2007 Book of the New Sun edition, called Severian Of The Guild – essentially a repackaged version by Gollancz.
Paul, despite acknowledging Wolfe’s genius, also describes the problems he has with the allegory and particularly the Christianity in the book. I, like Paul, am an athiest, but I didn’t really find the allegory a problem – I guess I expect authors to not necessarily share my belief systems and to have their own agendas. Also, because the narrative is so dense and complex, it is actually possible to ignore the allegory – it all depends how much you want to interpret I think. It didn’t spoil the pleasure of reading the book for me.
I was also puzzled that Paul grew impatient with the narrative style of the Book of the New Sun:
“Simply by merit of our unreliable narrator Severian, Wolfe is already subverting the modernist notion of novel-as-literal-truth, and there are a number of moments where Severian draws back from the narrative to pass comment on the nature of narrative itself, straying into metafictional territory.”
Narrative games are an essential part of Wolfe’s work, and to be quite frank it can take a sophisticated reader to appreciate them. However, to say that somehow there is a modernist mainstream that Wolfe is subverting is wrong. Post-modernist questioning of the narrator has been with us for a long time – see my previous blog posting on The Wasp Factory and The Tin Drum for instance. With any text that has a narrator in the first person, the reader should beware. Unfortunately a lot of fantasy and sci-fi can be quite unsophisticated and perhaps its readers are missing out as a result. Which means that unfortunately that great writers like Gene Wolfe don’t get the credit they deserve, even from their own constituency – i.e. SF/F readers.
This evening I came across information about Gene Wolfe’s new title due in September – see http://mysite.verizon.net/~vze2tmhh/wolfeblog.html. But then whilst researching Sheridan Le Fanu I also found that he had written a short story with the same name. It will be intriguing to see if there is any link. In the current publicity for the book Lovecraft’s influences are referenced, but not Le Fanu as far as I can see.
The blurb for Wolfe’s book reads:
‘Set a hundred years in the future, An Evil Guest is a story of an actress who becomes the lover of both a mysterious sorcerer and private detective, and an even more mysterious and powerful rich man, who has been to the human colony on an alien planet and learned strange things there. Her loyalties are divided–perhaps she loves them both. The detective helps her to release her inner beauty and become a star overnight. And the rich man is the benefactor of a play she stars in. But something is very wrong. Money can be an evil guest, but there are other evils. As Lovecraft said, “That is not dead which can eternal lie.”‘
Sneaky Mr Wolfe. Am planning to read the short story soon and see if I can detect any possible nods and winks from the blurb on Wolfe’s forthcoming book. More findings soon hopefully!