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The Urth of the New Sun
Gene Wolfe
Tor Books, 370 pages

The Urth of the New Sun
Gene Wolfe
Best known for his Shadow of the Torturer series, Nightside of the Long Sun series plus the novels, Soldier in the Mist and Soldier of Aerte, Gene Wolfe was given a World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement a few years ago.

ISFDB Bibliography
Gene Wolfe Tribute Site
Gene Wolfe Tribute Site
Gene Wolfe Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Stephen M. Davis

The first half of The Urth of the New Sun simply reinforces my belief that Gene Wolfe is one of the finest writers currently working -- in any genre. Mr. Wolfe has an extraordinarily deep imagination, and he conjures forth, in the first hundred pages of the book, images that stayed with me and that I reread with delight.

Early in the book, Severian the Autarch has a conversation with Sidero, a mechanized character who seems to have been originally designed as a kind of sentient body armor. Sidero patiently explains the quirks of working on a ship that travels between stars and galaxies by manipulating time:

"We sail in and out of Time, then back again. There is only one ship, the captain says. All the ships we hail between the galaxies or the suns are this ship."
The image, I think, is a haunting one.

The Urth of the New Sun is the sequel to The Book of the New Sun series, in which Severian the Torturer rose to the pinnacle of power on Urth, and became Severian the Autarch. In this new volume, Severian narrates the action as though he is writing his memoirs.

This first-person narrative technique seems to be a specialty of Mr. Wolfe's, but I think many of my later problems with the book stem from not having a guiding force, like an omniscient author, to fill in the information that Severian doesn't.

The ship Severian is traveling on is a starship with seven sides, each of which has a multitude of masts and sails protruding from it. The body of the ship is colossal; we learn that the entire crew is never called together by the captain because it would take an inordinate length of time for everyone to make it to one place. Instead, various races tend to congregate in the same general areas and don't venture far from them. Time also apparently runs differently in different parts of the ship: some sailors don't age on their voyages, some grow older, some younger.

Severian is journeying to the planet Yesod, where he is to be tested, and if he is successful, he will be responsible for bringing a new sun to Urth's solar system. Urth's sun is being eaten away by a black hole that resides at its center, and Severian has the choice of either killing untold numbers of people through the initial cataclysm caused by the new sun, or of knowing that his world will slowly die away in a relentless ice age.

Most of the book concerns itself with events after Severian has learned that he will bring the new sun. I would say that this second half of The Urth of the New Sun is where things begin to break down a bit.

Mr. Wolfe continues to write well, and there are good images even in this second half of the work, but Severian stops operating along a normal time-line and starts moving around to different spots on the line. This gets really confusing for the reader, and the confusion isn't lessened by Mr. Wolfe's insistence on bringing characters back from the first four volumes of this series. If you are like me, and you haven't read The Book of the New Sun series in a while, you're going to find this aspect of the novel extremely distracting.

I still would suggest that the book is worth reading, even with its flaws. There simply isn't science fiction being written that is consistently better than what Mr. Wolfe offers here.

Copyright © 1998 by Stephen M. Davis

Steve is faculty member in the English department at Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood, S.C. He holds a master's in English Literature from Clemson University. He was voted by his high school class as Most Likely to Become a Young Curmudgeon.

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