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In Green's Jungles:
Volume Two of The Book of the Short Sun

Gene Wolfe
Tor Books, 384 pages


Jim Burns
In Green's Jungles
Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe is one of the most respected writers in the field, and one of the few authors in the genre whose stories have been accepted in mainstream publications such as The New Yorker. Nominated 19 times for a Nebula Award, he has received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. He is known for strikingly audacious novels such as The Fifth Head of Cerberus, but most readers will probably have learned to appreciate his writing in The Book of the New Sun series, and the associated Long Sun series. Wolfe lives in Barrington, Illinois, USA.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Free Live Free
SF Site Review: The Urth of the New Sun
Gene Wolfe Tribute Site
Gene Wolfe Tribute Site
Gene Wolfe Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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In a way, it's hard to review a Gene Wolfe novel. His status is almost like that of Van Morrison in popular music. Van Morrison has a cadre of devoted listeners (I am one) who will buy each of his albums, but he does not really seem to be expanding his audience. In a similar fashion, Wolfe has his cadre of established readers who know that every book he writes is worth reading (even the less successful books), but he remains a minority taste to some extent. That said, I am sure there are readers out there who don't know him but would love his work.

Even so, though In Green's Jungles is a mesmerizing book, beautifully written in the comparatively simple prose style he adopted for his Book of the Long Sun (ostensibly told by the same character), and though it is full of action, colour, and many mysteries, it is by no means an appropriate starting point for Wolfe. Thus a review is either preaching to the converted, who will be planning to read this book anyway, or at best hinting to the uninitiated at wonders to come if they join our ranks.

A bit of bibliographic stage setting: this latest novel is the middle book in a trilogy called The Book of the Short Sun. That title hints that the trilogy is linked to two of Wolfe's previous series: The Book of the Long Sun and the The Book of the New Sun. The earliest of these series, The Book of the New Sun, consists of four books plus a sort of pendant, The Urth of the New Sun, while The Book of the Long Sun is a pure tetralogy. Hence, this is the 11th of a projected 12 books. It's fair to say that the separate series can be read in any order, but each series in itself is really a long novel: thus I would certainly suggest reading the first of The Book of the Short Sun, 1999's On Blue's Waters, before reading this latest book, and as a reviewer I admit I find it hard to make a final judgment about a book whose story remains obviously unfinished, whose many mysteries remain unrevealed. (It is interesting to note, besides the myriad links with the New Sun and Long Sun stories, the correspondences with Wolfe's wonderful early novel The Fifth Head of Cerberus. That novel also featured twin planets, and shape-changing aliens, and an indigenous race with points of resemblance to the Vanished People of these books.)

The Book of the Short Sun is (we are told) narrated by Horn, who was born on the generation ship called the Long Sun Whorl, and who was a teenaged boy during the events of The Book of the Long Sun. At the time of this new series, he has lived on the planet Blue for something over 20 years. He has a wife and three sons, and he is a papermaker. Blue is one of two twin planets, the other called Green, to which the generation ship brought many colonists from Earth. On Blue's Waters told the story of his quest for the city of Pajarocu, which had a still-functional lander (a "shuttle" capable of interplanetary flight), in which he hoped to return to the Long Sun Whorl and find his beloved teacher, Patera Silk, the hero of The Book of the Long Sun, whom he hopes will restore order to the decaying society of his colony city, New Viron. At the end of that book, Horn and his estranged son Sinew were on the lander, ready to take off.

As the title of the new book hints, the lander did not make it to the Long Sun Whorl, but rather was diverted to Green. Green is the home of the blood-drinking, shape-changing, inhumi, creatures who seem to take on the characteristics of their prey. (Some inhumi have infested Blue, including a young male whom Horn "adopts" in the first book, but they are more numerous on Green, and they seem to keep human slaves.) Both books are narrated after Horn returned to Blue from Green, however. And the Horn who returned seems oddly different. He has all Horn's memories, but some others as well, and he has changed physically. This was clear in On Blue's Waters, but is made much clearer in In Green's Jungles, and there are many hints as to what or who Horn might now be, though no answers are given. The story in both books is told on parallel tracks: one revealing ongoing "present time" events on Blue after Horn's return, and another consisting of a book that Horn is writing as we are reading it, more or less. Especially in the latest book, the narrative is thus intricately structured, and Wolfe uses this structure to considerable effect.

Horn has left the town of Gaon, where he was acting as Rajan, the ruler, during the first book, and he has come to a town called Blanko. His appearance, and his companion, the talking bird Oreb (who was Patera Silk's bird in the The Book of the Long Sun), cause people to regard him as a strego, or magician. He is taken in by the leading farmer of this city, who is trying to prepare for an invasion by a neighbouring city. Horn befriends this family, and eventually helps prepare their defence. At the same time he is continuing to write his account, which includes some stories of his terrible time on Green, where he is imprisoned by the inhumi, but with the apparent help of the previous natives of Blue, the Vanished People, he manages to escape only to lose both his real son, Sinew, and his adopted son, the inhumu Krait, and eventually, it seems, his life. But he is not dead. This story is intertwined with tales told by his host, Inclito, his host's mother, who recalls life in the Long Sun Whorl, and by Inclito's teenaged daughter Mora and her friend Fava.

All these strands weave together in a complex way, answering some questions but suggesting many more about the relationship between humans, inhumi, and the mysterious Vanished People, who may still be present in some form. Horn has developed a mysterious power of "dream travel," which takes the characters to Green on occasion, and even to the "Red Sun Whorl," which a reader of the first series will recognize as Urth at the time of The Book of the New Sun.

As I said, the story is mesmerizing. The mysteries are fascinating and seem significant. But it's hard to make a final judgment, because this is only the middle volume of the story. Nonetheless, I can say that I am eagerly awaiting the final volume. This trilogy has a chance to be magnificent. Wolfe's regular readers will not be disappointed by the story so far, and as for those who have yet to discover Wolfe, do yourself a favour and give his work a try.

Copyright © 2000 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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