Noted UK SF author Alastair Reynolds talks about Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun for Gollancz.
Part of Gollancz’ 50th anniversary celebrations from last year, but worth posting.
The editors of Ultan’s Library should like to send Gene Wolfe many congratulations and warm best wishes on his 80th birthday, today 7 May 2011.
We wish him continuing health and vigour and avidly look forward to reading all the books, stories and essays which he has still to write.
Jonathan Laidlow & Nigel Price
This is an amended version of an article I wrote almost twenty years ago for the British BSFA magazine Vector. The original version was entitled Looking Behind the Sun: Religious Implications of Gene Wolfe’s “The Book of the New Sun” and was published in the August 1991 edition.
The Book of the New Sun is one of science fiction’s greatest achievements, and it is generally recognised that the book conceals rather more than is initially apparent. Wolfe, a Catholic, uses his faith to underpin a monumental work. This article looks at some of the religious implications, and hopes to draw comment from other readers.
In the fall of 1987 I found myself with a new job in a rural town, where one Sunday I visited the local shopping mall, and there in a dump of used paperback books I found a copy of The Shadow of the Torturer. It was auspicious, I thought, to find an old friend in a new place, especially since it was a Japanese edition. But then again, I was living in Japan at the time.
To be clear, I couldn’t read Japanese very much at all, but I could spot the “Sci Fi” symbol on the book’s spine (a planet Saturn), and I could read the phonetic writing they use for foreign words and names, such that “Jiin Urufu” is Gene Wolfe.
By Scott Wowra
Michael Andre-Driussi is a courageous sort. After all, only a handful of brave scholars gleefully plummet into the literary mazes of science fiction’s Daedalus, American author Gene Wolfe. In this endeavor, Mr. Andre-Driussi has few peers. Michael’s painstaking research produced LEXICON URTHUS, the Rosetta Stone of Mr. Wolfe’s award-winning tetralogy THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN and coda THE URTH OF THE NEW SUN.
For the uninitiated reader, THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN is full of bizarre and seemingly counterfeit words like omophagist (an eater of raw flesh) and cherkaji (Persian light cavalry). In the early 1980s, frustrated readers accused Mr. Wolfe of deliberately fabricating unusual words to confuse them. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the strange words that appear in THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN are real. And they remind us just how odd language can sound without science fiction authors inventing new words that lack inherent meaning.
In response to his critics, Mr. Wolfe produced the essay “Words Weird and Wonderful” in THE CASTLE OF THE OTTER (1982) to demonstrate that, in fact, all the words he used in THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER were genuine. The brief essay was an incomplete dictionary covering the first book in his tetralogy. Mr. Wolfe wisely left the rest of the work up to the reader.
And that leads us to Michael Andre-Driussi, the lexicographer of THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN and a science fiction writer in his own right. What sort of person tirelessly tracks down the definition of obscure words, creating hundreds of 3×5 index cards in the process? Undoubtedly, the same sort of person crafty enough to pen them in THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN. In a series of email interviews, I set out to learn more about Michael Andre-Driussi, a leading Lupine scholar.
A few years ago Ultan contributor Jeremy Crampton offered us the chance to host PDF (Acrobat) copies of his old fanzine, THE BOOK OF GOLD.
Jeremy published 2 issues of the fanzine, focussing on Wolfe’s two books about Latro, SOLDIER OF THE MIST and SOLDIER OF ARETE. There’s some really interesting commentary on Latro, which nicely supplements the articles Jeremy has written for Ultan’s Library.
This essay was written for John Clute’s proposed book of essays on Gene Wolfe’s fiction. Back in the early 90s, before the Internet as we know it existed, I was posting messages on the Gene Wolfe topic at GEnie (it was a message board system). Before long, Gregory Feeley kindly suggested that I write an essay for John Clute’s proposed anthology of Wolfe criticism. It seemed at the time that the book would be published by 1994. It may well be that my essay killed the whole project with its leaden prose. I once read it aloud at a bookstore and literally put people to sleep–good people, I might add. [Jeremy Crampton’s essay, Some Greek Themes in Gene Wolfe’s Latro novels, was also written for Clute’s collection of essays]
The first time I read The Urth of the New Sun, one scene tantalized me more than any other. I could see just enough to know that there was a great deal I could not see yet. The symbols were there, I just could not understand them.