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squashie
Dec 31, 2000
Forum Veteran

I noticed there was a lack of a Gene Wolfe thread so I thought I might have a crack at it.


Gene Wolfe is an American writer whose works have been highly reguarded and several times award winning. He mainly writes Science Fiction and Fantasy, but as Gene himself has said 'All novels are fantasies. Some are more honest about it.'

I'm a huge fan of all of his work, but his most famous books would have to be the "Book of the New Sun" quadrilogy. The story follows a young "Torturer" with perfect memory as he journeys through "Urth", but like all things in a Gene Wolfe book, things are never so simple.

Gene Wolfe's work is usually considered more complex than your average work of fiction. Gene's work rarely follows conventions, and he enjoys utilising archaic and obscure (but never invented) words in his work. He enjoys leaving clues and hints to things in his work preferring that people will re-read a book and find new things to delight them.

I would say that "The Wizard Knight", "Pirate Freedom", "Latro in the Mist" and of course "The Book of the New Sun" are probably my favorites of his, but I highly enjoy and recommend all of his work (he's very prolific).


Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Wolfe

Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman:

quote:

I was as impressed and delighted by the Book of the New Sun as I was intimidated by it. Wolfe's use of language, the grand sweep of his story, the way he used science fiction to illuminate ideas and people and to stretch my mind in ways it had never been stretched before, the way he played with memory and gave us a perfectly reliable unreliable narrator – all these things thrilled me. (Years later, Michael Dirda of the Washington Post would call it "The greatest fantasy novel written by an American," and he would be right.)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/201...-neil-gaiman-sf

New Release: Home Fires (January 2011)

quote:

Gene Wolfe takes us to a future North America at once familiar and utterly strange. A young man and woman, Skip and Chelle, fall in love in college and marry, but she is enlisted in the military, there is a war on, and she must serve her tour of duty before they can settle down. But the military is fighting a war with aliens in distant solar systems, and her months in the service will be years in relative time on Earth. Chelle returns to recuperate from severe injuries, after months of service, still a young woman but not necessarily the same person—while Skip is in his forties and a wealthy businessman, but eager for her return.

Still in love (somewhat to his surprise and delight), they go on a Caribbean cruise to resume their marriage. Their vacation rapidly becomes a complex series of challenges, not the least of which are spies, aliens, and battles with pirates who capture the ship for ransom. There is no writer in SF like Gene Wolfe and no SF novel like Home Fires.


http://www.amazon.com/Home-Fires-Ge...90402498&sr=1-1



Upcoming Book: The Land Across (TBA)

quote:

There’s a young man. His father is dead – or he believes his father is dead. He’s grown up all over the world, because his father was in the State Department. He has written a travel book about Austria. English is his cradle language, but he picked up others – some German, French, and Japanese – when he lived in those countries.

He decides to write another book about a different European country, “on the other side of the mountain,” from Austria. This country is a surreal Balkan nation, formerly under the Communist government, anciently invaded by the Turks, completely fictional.

The young man is arrested as soon as he enters this country. His passport is taken, his luggage is taken. The police there bring him to the house of a man they do not like – this is the kind of thing the police do – and explain to him that he is to live in the man’s house. He must sleep there every night; should he escape, his host will be shot. And they give him as a little hint:

“If you don’t like the food, you can threaten to escape.”

And it goes on from there.

from here:
http://www.blackgate.com/2010/11/23...ith-gene-wolfe/

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Popular Human
Jul 17, 2005

and if it's a lie, terrorists made me say it

Just wanted to say Gene Wolfe is my favorite writer, and one of a small handful of science-fiction writers whose work I feel could legitimately be called 'literature'. I've read TBotNS eight times cover-to-cover, and every loving time I figure out something that I didn't know or didn't make sense before.


I didn't know he had a new book coming out, that's great news - I wasn't sure we could expect any new Wolfe, he's really getting up there in the years (and has had some health problems recently). It sounds interesting, the blurb makes it sound a little like Invitation to a Beheading.

If anybody is considering trying out Wolfe, i'm gonna pimp out The Fifth Head of Cerberus as his best after the Solar Cycle. It's a standalone novel that's made up of three interconnected novellas, taking place on a two-planet star system where French settlers have colonized and forced the natives, these strange shapeshifting indigenous people, into extinction. Or maybe not. It's a great novel and doesn't have any of the archaic language or people with weird speech patterns (that are spelled out in text form) that turn a lot of people off.

Encryptic
May 3, 2007



Yeah, BotNS is one of the few genre works that can be classed as "literature". Jesus, I've lost count of the times I've read it and it still blows my mind - the level of craft put into the story and the layers upon layers.

Incidentally, I just read up on something on Wikipedia and stumbled on an article about the Cumaean seer. The Lake of Birds in BotNS as described by Hildegrin is identical to the real lake in Italy near the Cumaean's grotto - a volcanic crater filled with water called Lake Avernus. I was wondering where Wolfe had come up with the name "avern" for the flowers growing by the Lake of Birds because I read that he doesn't use neologisms - another reason I dig his stuff is the constant use of archaic words like "destrier" and "jacal" since the story is technically written in a future language that can't be fully interpreted and the timeframe BotNS takes place in is a dying age reverting to primalism.

Popular Human
Jul 17, 2005

and if it's a lie, terrorists made me say it

Encryptic posted:

Yeah, BotNS is one of the few genre works that can be classed as "literature". Jesus, I've lost count of the times I've read it and it still blows my mind - the level of craft put into the story and the layers upon layers.

Incidentally, I just read up on something on Wikipedia and stumbled on an article about the Cumaean seer. The Lake of Birds in BotNS as described by Hildegrin is identical to the real lake in Italy near the Cumaean's grotto - a volcanic crater filled with water called Lake Avernus. I was wondering where Wolfe had come up with the name "avern" for the flowers growing by the Lake of Birds because I read that he doesn't use neologisms - another reason I dig his stuff is the constant use of archaic words like "destrier" and "jacal" since the story is technically written in a future language that can't be fully interpreted and the timeframe BotNS takes place in is a dying age reverting to primalism.

Yeah, I lent New Sun to a friend once and she complained about all the 'made-up words'...I was pretty much incarnate when I told her there were no made-up words in the whole book even though I totally thought so the first time I read it

Wheeee
Mar 11, 2001


Book of the New Sun is the only work of Wolfe's I've read and stands as the only piece of genre fiction I've ever read that truly transcends the genre. Where should I go from there?

assfro
Oct 15, 2005



Book of the long sun is pretty solid. It has a fairly similar arc, it follows a preacher in a polytheistic closed society on his road to power and, really, enlightenment as to the nature of the world he inhabits.

Its like Book of the Long Sun in that it "shows" far more than it tells. Really, I don't think there is really ever much in the way of expeditionary dialogue - its left to the reader to glean a number of things going through. As with Book of the Long Sun, a semi-working knowledge of ancient cultures, especially their religious and civil hierarchies, will go a long way in keeping people's titles and positions straight.

I'm also fairly certain that both New Sun and Long Sun cohabit the same universe, as there is a reference in New Sun to a character in Long sun.

02-6611-0142-1
Sep 30, 2004



Someone please tell me what the hell happened at the end of the second Latro book. It sounds like there was a slave uprising or something, but I can't find anything historical to match it and I couldn't work it out from the book. I doubt I could handle reading it a second time.

Xenix
Feb 21, 2003


assfro posted:

Book of the long sun is pretty solid.
...
I'm also fairly certain that both New Sun and Long Sun cohabit the same universe, as there is a reference in New Sun to a character in Long sun.

I'll agree that Long Sun is solid. However, the pacing in each book is odd. The first book is incredibly slow, following one person and his every thought and action over the course of a few days (or maybe just 1? It's been so long since I've read it). Each book moves faster and faster until the last one where things are happening so quickly that sometimes you don't catch what is going on at critical moments.

Long Sun is definitely in the New Sun universe. The tie is iffy if you only read Long Sun but if you read the Short Sun series that comes after it (I recommend it), the ties are made slightly more clear.

Has anyone read Home Fires? What did you think? Someone gave it to me for my birthday and I blazed through it but ended up feeling disappointed. There was so much coincidence in the story that it was obnoxious. Wolfe always writes a lot of dialog in his novels, but in Home Fires I feel like he did way too much story telling via characters after the fact rather than showing the events as they happened.

Vertigus
Jan 8, 2011



Xenix posted:

Has anyone read Home Fires? What did you think? Someone gave it to me for my birthday and I blazed through it but ended up feeling disappointed. There was so much coincidence in the story that it was obnoxious. Wolfe always writes a lot of dialog in his novels, but in Home Fires I feel like he did way too much story telling via characters after the fact rather than showing the events as they happened.

I just finished up Home Fires a few weeks ago and thought it was really mediocre. I mentioned in another thread that it was like reading a David Lynch movie - the conversations between the characters are surreal and meandering, and the book is full of monologues where the main character takes several pages to describe exactly how he came to a certain conclusion. The story never really goes anywhere interesting and the sci-fi setting seems completely superfluous. I found nothing in it that encourages deeper reading and analysis, like in The Wizard Knight or New Sun.


Wheeee posted:

Book of the New Sun is the only work of Wolfe's I've read and stands as the only piece of genre fiction I've ever read that truly transcends the genre. Where should I go from there?

Honestly I'd say that New Sun is as much "genre fiction" as Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It really ought to be considered a classic.

Amethyst
Mar 28, 2004

shut up blue stymie


BOTNS is a pretty good series but it is as much genre fiction as as any other fantasy work.

And while I really enjoy the language, the plot is far-fetched and near unintelligible at parts, and it's two books too long.

Again, I liked the books, the only reason I tend to criticise them is because Wolfe threads fill up with people stamping the series as Literature with a capital L

Amethyst fucked around with this message at Sep 8, 2011 around 01:41

Vertigus
Jan 8, 2011



Amethyst posted:

And while I really enjoy the language, the plot is far-fetched and near unintelligible at parts, and it's two books too long.

Yeah I didn't really like Lord of the Rings either

Amethyst
Mar 28, 2004

shut up blue stymie


Vertigus posted:

Yeah I didn't really like Lord of the Rings either

Read my post and point out where I said I didn't like it.
EDIT:
Here is a quote from a far more articulate blogger than I, it sums up what I feel is the main problem with the text as a piece of Literature

quote:

But where the book most seriously fails in its ambitions is on a more fundamental level, which is that in the stability of the text itself. We know that Severian is a liar quite early on. We also know that what he is writing is destined for public consumption by people in his world, and that Wolfe claims to be acting as a translator of Severian’s manuscript which has traveled long and far, without knowing anything about that audience. These two facts cause the book to be underdetermined with regard to Severian’s motives and to the purpose of the text itself. Because we do not know what intent may be behind Severian’s lies, we can’t derive from the whole what the meaning of any particular piece is, because we do not have the whole context. If Severian were known to be telling the truth, we could inductively grasp the meaning of his history in the world. But because both are uncertain, the book loses sense structurally. This is not a matter of obscurity; rather, it is an intentional choice that indicates a serious failure on the part of Wolfe to push his book past the realm of entertainment. Without our being able to grasp the deeper sense of Severian’s words other than as a maybe-true story, he reduces the book to decontextualized apocrypha, a gnostic gospel without an accompanying authoritative text.

This, to me is what makes BOTNS a (very good) sci-fi curio rather than a deeply meaningful work.

Another, far less serious criticism I have for these books is that some parts are just plain goofy, like the chapter where Severian fights off a bunch of cave monkeys

Amethyst fucked around with this message at Sep 8, 2011 around 02:13

Vertigus
Jan 8, 2011



Amethyst posted:

Read my post and point out where I said I didn't like it.

It was a joke!

Amethyst
Mar 28, 2004

shut up blue stymie


Vertigus posted:

It was a joke!

Oops, misread you then.

BananaNutkins
Aug 26, 2004

I'll split you open and I don't even like coconuts.


Here's my review of the Book of the New Sun. Contains spoilers and opinions that will be wildly unpopular.

******

Review: Shadow and Claw

There is a good story screaming to be let out of the foggy murk of Gene Wolf's Book of the New Sun. It is a conventional story that should be familiar to fans of the fantasy genre--a boy apprentice with mysterious roots, coming of age and
taking his rightful place in the world. Sometimes this story creeps up to the
surface, like a drowning child desperate for breath, only to have author grab it by the ankle and drag it back under.

Severian tortures his victims because it is his job; Gene Wolfe tortures his readers because he wants to.

The Book of the New Sun is a book that hates itself. Every chance to
obfuscate the simple nature of the story is taken. The first person memoir that threads in-and-out of the story is problematic, especially in the earlier parts with Severian as a boy growing up in the Torturer's Guild; it does little other than slow whatever action there is to a crawl and remind us for the millionth time that Severian has a perfect memory. Little regard is given to pacing. In fact, the book goes out of its way to sidetrack the main storyline on several occasions. The worst offenses occur when Severian reads his cyborg buddy a long myth about rescuing princesses, and the Doctor's long, meaningless play near the end of the book (even Severian claims it is meaningless) which has all cast acting out different parts.

And if the pacing isn't enough to make readers turn away, the plot is designed to offend.

Here's a basic summary of the most important relationship in the book:

Boy meets girl.
Boy tortures girl.
Boy assists in girl's murder.
Boy...eats girl.


Rarely have I ever felt physically ill while reading something. Perhaps it was because I was eating a bowl of Stag chili when Severian and friends decided to dig in to Thecla's corpse, but still, I was disgusted and angered. Its a work of fiction that I was reading of my own volition, so I knew I shouldn't be angry, but I was. Maybe that's where Gene Wolfe's genius lies. He creates unforgettable, shocking scenes. There are layers and layers of meaning to the proceedings and secrets to be found. If you don't have the time or care to put forth the effort, let me ruin them for you: Everyone Severian sleeps with is closely related to him in some way.

Still, as much as the Book of the New Sun makes you despise it, there are scenes that are unforgettable. But they are unforgettable in the way that being raped in a gas station bathroom is unforgettable.

02-6611-0142-1
Sep 30, 2004



Some people just seem to react to TBotNS with vitriolic hate. I found your review amusing, but it reminds me of my friends.

Some thought it was the coolest thing they'd ever read, and some thought it was the worst heap of poo poo every written, and there was no pattern to who thought which. One friend in particular is really into ultra-confusing non-linear fantasy like Erikson, and he thought it was awful. One can't stand fantasy and thought it was amazing. I know two people with masters degrees in english literature, and one says it's his favourite book every written, the other one thinks it's terrible, and they both like fantasy.

It just seems to have a really polarizing effect on people. Personally I really enjoy the pacing and the way the story flies in weird directions all the time, and those meaningless stories in the middle are probably my favourite part of it as a whole, especially the retarded rework of the minotaur myth. But then, I also don't enjoy some of Wolfe's other stuff because it feels like pointlessly-over-dense masturbation and I can't break through the wall to actually enjoy it. Wolfe is some kind of chaos-god sent to test us.

Juaguocio
Jun 5, 2005

Look on my works,
ye mighty,
and despair!


BananaNutkins posted:

Here's my review of the Book of the New Sun. Contains spoilers and opinions that will be wildly unpopular.

Have you read Sword and Citadel, the second half of the story? If you haven't, I see no value in your insufferably smug "review," because you haven't even gotten to the parts that explain why the books are written the way they are. I would be more inclined to see the value of your arguments if you weren't so busy patting yourself on the back for your stunning feats of hyperbolic vitriol.

I loved BotNS, and I'm eager to read more of Wolfe's work. I've got all four parts of the Book of the Long Sun coming in the mail.

Amethyst
Mar 28, 2004

shut up blue stymie


Juaguocio posted:

Have you read Sword and Citadel, the second half of the story? If you haven't, I see no value in your insufferably smug "review," because you haven't even gotten to the parts that explain why the books are written the way they are. I would be more inclined to see the value of your arguments if you weren't so busy patting yourself on the back for your stunning feats of hyperbolic vitriol.

I loved BotNS, and I'm eager to read more of Wolfe's work. I've got all four parts of the Book of the Long Sun coming in the mail.

A book should stand on it's own merits, regardless of weather it's part of a series. I also wouldn't call his opinion hyperbolic or particularly vitriolic.

I have read the four books in the series, and judging from his opinion so far, the explanation for the writing style won't satisfy him.

02-6611-0142-1
Sep 30, 2004



The Book of the New Sun is the book, Shadow and Claw is the first two acts of it, so no, he hasn't read it. His opinion was smug but far from vitriolic, are you aware that you are posting on something awful dot com?

I disagree with the book standing on its own merits argument. It really varies from series to series. Sticking within fantasy, the Malazan books are clearly episodic because each new story contains a host of new characters and has a series of resolutions, even though the larger story remained unresolved. The Song of Ice and Fire books, the first three books were obviously a single story arc, with the mysteries from the begging of the first book being neatly solved at the end of the third book, and so far it feels like books 4-7 will be the second arc.

The Book of the New Sun is very clearly one book if you go by the vibe of it, in this same way. And it's difficult to say this without spoiling it, so I'll just give up. I assume BananaNutkins is not going to finish the series, so it's not chronologically linear. It's a time travelling headfuck with a narrator who's continuously lying to you, and you can't understand the point of anything that's happened at the start of the story yet.

02-6611-0142-1 fucked around with this message at Sep 12, 2011 around 04:21

Amethyst
Mar 28, 2004

shut up blue stymie


02-6611-0142-1 posted:

The Book of the New Sun is the book, Shadow and Claw is the first two acts of it, so no, he hasn't read it. His opinion was smug but far from vitriolic, are you aware that you are posting on something awful dot com?

I disagree with the book standing on its own merits argument. It really varies from series to series. Sticking within fantasy, the Malazan books are clearly episodic because each new story contains a host of new characters and has a series of resolutions, even though the larger story remained unresolved. The Song of Ice and Fire books, the first three books were obviously a single story arc, with the mysteries from the begging of the first book being neatly solved at the end of the third book, and so far it feels like books 4-7 will be the second arc.

The Book of the New Sun is very clearly one book if you go by the vibe of it, in this same way. And it's difficult to say this without spoiling it, so I'll just give up. I assume BananaNutkins is not going to finish the series, so it's not chronologically linear. It's a time travelling headfuck with a narrator who's continuously lying to you, and you can't understand the point of anything that's happened at the start of the story yet.
You can still make judgements on what you have read, even if you haven't read the full book. And frankly, the "story" of book of the new sun is very weak, it's the writing that makes it good.

EDIT: To be clear, the explanation for the obtuse narrative isn't revelatory. In fact, rather than illuminating any of the preceding narrative, it further obfuscates it.

Amethyst fucked around with this message at Sep 12, 2011 around 04:44

John McCain
Jan 28, 2009


Peace, though it's been out of print for ages and is therefore a little more difficult to find than some of Wolfe's work, is an imaginative Faustian tale (though, as all of Wolfe's work is, it is only slyly so). It's also, like BotNS, fragmented and disorienting as hell.

I also really enjoyed The Sorcerer's House. You don't see epistolary novels very often anymore. You'll want to keep very close track of characters, their actions, and their personalities - a lot of the story is about twins, who are, in the book as in real life, easy to confuse for each other.

Argali
Jun 24, 2004

I will be there to receive the new mind

I'm reading a collection of his short stories, Endangered Species. Really amazing stuff overall, I'll post a review when I'm done.

Has anyone read any of his Wizard Knight books?

It's interesting to note that Wolfe is now 80 years old, and his first novel wasn't published until he was 39 (in 1970). The guy has been writing steady for 40 years.

Argali fucked around with this message at Sep 12, 2011 around 17:16

BananaNutkins
Aug 26, 2004

I'll split you open and I don't even like coconuts.


Shadow and Claw and Sword and Citadel are sold as separate books these days, so I feel justified in reviewing the first as a stand alone book. I wasn't shooting for smug, just trying to honestly convey they feelings the book left with me. I first read Shadow and Claw when I was ten years old, and it stayed with me until I read it again eighteen years later. I honestly feel a little traumatized, going from Wizard of Oz books to Gene Wolfe with no real warning. That's not the authors fault. He wrote something very memorable. But my biggest gripe is that the plot isn't given room to breathe, and it feels like he used obfuscation to hide the fact that the story isn't very well put together, or because he was ashamed that when all the smoke and chaos was cleared away the story was pretty standard for the genre.

I don't think it's a bad book--it's just an unlikeable book. In fact, I'm impressed with how little the author cared for making the book accessible, and getting something so weird that gut punches you at every opportunity published. It's kind of amazing, really.

Popular Human
Jul 17, 2005

and if it's a lie, terrorists made me say it

I'm just gonna say that if anyone who considers themselves a Wolfe fan hasn't read Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, they're doing themselves a major disservice. Someone in an earlier iteration of this thread said that Wolfe must own an extremely worn, dog-eared copy of PF, and it's so very very true.

John McCain
Jan 28, 2009


Argali posted:

I'm reading a collection of his short stories, Endangered Species. Really amazing stuff overall, I'll post a review when I'm done.

Has anyone read any of his Wizard Knight books?

It's interesting to note that Wolfe is now 80 years old, and his first novel wasn't published until he was 39 (in 1970). The guy has been writing steady for 40 years.

I've read them. It's interesting to see Wolfe write a child.

savinhill
Mar 28, 2010


Argali posted:



Has anyone read any of his Wizard Knight books?

It's interesting to note that Wolfe is now 80 years old, and his first novel wasn't published until he was 39 (in 1970). The guy has been writing steady for 40 years.

I read one of them and while I can't remember much about it, I do remember that I enjoyed it.

As for Book of the New Sun, it was just way too dense for me and the plot meandered too much for my tastes, although when I read it I knew nothing about Gene Wolfe and what type of writer he was and was expecting to read a more straight forward type of fantasy novel.

H.P. Shivcraft
Mar 17, 2008

STAY UNRULY, YOU HEARTLESS MONSTERS!


Argali posted:

Has anyone read any of his Wizard Knight books?

I finally got around to these over the summer after meaning to read them for a while, and while in the end I was entertained, I also suppose I was somewhat disappointed. The world presented has some very intrigued facets (the layering of worlds, its connections to "our" world as so on), but they certainly aren't the focus of the story. A good way of describing it might be A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court + The Lord of the Rings + a slightly autistic narrator.

The story itself is classic Wolfe, in that there are hints of a lot of fantastic things, but none of those leads are ever explored or fleshed out fully -- a technique (tendency?) of his I'm rather ambivalent about. Suffice it to say, the "plot" as we get it is rather bland, and unusually enough I figured out most of the big riddles without too much strain.

GeneralZod
May 28, 2003

Kneel before Zod!

Bump for eBook news - 3/4 of the Book of the New Sun quadrilogy were (finally!) released as eBooks yesterday.

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why?! Why?! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market ?!!!


02-6611-0142-1 posted:

Some people just seem to react to TBotNS with vitriolic hate. I found your review amusing, but it reminds me of my friends.

Some thought it was the coolest thing they'd ever read, and some thought it was the worst heap of poo poo every written, and there was no pattern to who thought which. One friend in particular is really into ultra-confusing non-linear fantasy like Erikson, and he thought it was awful. One can't stand fantasy and thought it was amazing. I know two people with masters degrees in english literature, and one says it's his favourite book every written, the other one thinks it's terrible, and they both like fantasy.

It just seems to have a really polarizing effect on people. Personally I really enjoy the pacing and the way the story flies in weird directions all the time, and those meaningless stories in the middle are probably my favourite part of it as a whole, especially the retarded rework of the minotaur myth. But then, I also don't enjoy some of Wolfe's other stuff because it feels like pointlessly-over-dense masturbation and I can't break through the wall to actually enjoy it. Wolfe is some kind of chaos-god sent to test us.

I think I've read about 2/3rds of Wolfe's stuff, and I respect him as a writer, but he's not a favorite of mine.

Most writers people think of as "great fantasy writers" or "great SF writers" aren't really all that much when it comes to actual prose style, they're just great at plotting and pacing, sometimes with a some skill at writing characters and settings. Butcher's a great example of this -- he's a Book Barn favorite because he's got a few really good, likeable characters and he can tell a rip-snorting story that makes you shout "YEAH!" at climax, but he's never going to be known for his prose style.

Wolfe's the opposite -- he's basically a professional writer's professional writer, technically expert and highly skilled, but he's not all that hot when it comes to things like narrative pacing or telling a story that makes sense. In a sense, that's part of the charm -- he's telling stories for people who enjoy stories that take a lot of work to read -- but there's a reason he's not popular with a lot of people who you'd expect to like him. For all his technical skill, he's just not in the first rank as a storyteller, and that's what counts for a lot of readers, especially fantasy/sf readers.

Malazan's chaotic as all hell, but Erikson's just better at pacing and plotting than Wolfe is -- there's a sense of a story happening with Malazan that frankly Wolfe just doesn't have for long stretches of his work.

For an example of what I'm talking about, see this clip from Mat Parker and Trey Stone:

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011...tml%3Cbr%20/%3E

quote:

"Each individual scene has to work as a funny sketch," advises Parker. "If the words 'and then' belong between those beats, you're hosed. You want therefore or but."

Basically, huge swathes of the Book of the New Sun are just "and then this happens" "and then this happens" "and then this happens" "and then Severian wanders across a mountain" "and then he meets an ancient dictator" "and then he climbs down a mountain" etc. It's paced poorly. For some readers that's not really a flaw, but for others it is, which is why it's hard to predict who'll like it and who won't.

Xenix
Feb 21, 2003


I just finished Pirate Freedom today after picking it up a few weeks ago for a pittance at Borders during their going out of business sale. I really enjoyed it. It was like...reading a book of Sid Meyer's Pirates! with a narrator who is constantly lying about his morals. On the surface it was a pretty fun adventure novel, but the whole lying about his morals was sort of shocking, especially near the end. He talks about wanting to do the right thing, and he does, sometimes. However, he constantly makes choices to be a bad person, especially at the end when you know the connection between him and Brother Ignacio. After that, any sort of redemption on his part is out of the question.

I do have a couple of questions, if anyone knows the answers to them. What is his last name? He makes a big deal of it at one point, but I can't come up with what it might be.

What was the deal with all the "throwaway women," as it were? It just seemed to me that other than Novia/Sra. Guzman, the women were just there for Chris to deny having sex with. Am I missing something or was that about it?

Xenix fucked around with this message at Oct 1, 2011 around 03:20

Encryptic
May 3, 2007



Hieronymous Alloy posted:



This is one of the better criticisms of Wolfe ITT. I'll give you that - BotNS certainly isn't a particularly tightly-plotted book in comparison to the other examples you mentioned. I've read a ton of authors who are fantastic at pacing (GRRM for all his faults paced stuff out pretty damned well in the first 3 books) and Wolfe certainly falls short in that area.

I guess I just can't see that being a huge strike against him since BotNS isn't really about the plot. Erikson, et al are writing for a completely different audience whereas Wolfe is pretty much the thinking man's sci-fi/fantasy writer. I'm not bagging on Erikson - he's good at what he does but he's not working in the same mode as Wolfe. Nothing wrong with that.

Also - BotNS does have the issue of being told from Severian's perspective after he becomes Autarch, so there's no real narrative tension to be got from pacing it out like Erikson would. It's more of a "Here's point A and here's point B - here's how we got from here to there". Severian clearly isn't telling the story to entertain anyone but rather to chronicle that "It was in this fashion that I began the long journey by which I have backed into the throne".

I've read the books many, many times and there's clearly not an intention on Wolfe's part for everything to just fall into place for the reader by the end like Erikson would have it. So much of the story is dependent on the reader being observant or well-read enough to twig to the clues Wolfe throws at you (like the hints about what continent the story takes place on or the Borges-like library in the Citadel, for instance), so in that sense I can see it being frustrating for a lot of people. I wouldn't say it has a tight plot, but I wouldn't say that the book is filled with stretches that are completely devoid of meaning either - it just takes a lot more work for the reader to untangle it. There are fair criticisms to be leveled at BotNS to be sure, but I'll defend it as a fantastic piece of work, regardless.

Admittedly, I'm not much of a Wolfe fan aside from BotNS. None of his other stuff (Latro, Wizard Knight, etc.) that I've read really grabs me, though the Latro trilogy is another interesting use of the unreliable narrator. BotNS isn't the only book where he does have a tendency to fall a bit short in the plotting department.


Edit: I just got to thinking about it. For the sake of discussion, what are some other books that are considered "literary" classics that have good pacing? I'm trying to think of stuff like Moby Dick and Blood Meridian and falling short there, too - they're both fantastic books but they're not really written in a fast-paced style and of course Blood Meridian has the same "wandering around forever" feel that BotNS does. McCarthy tends to not really be much of a plotter either for that matter. Suttree is a fantastic book prose and character-wise as well as being surprisingly funny for McCarthy but I grant it doesn't really have much of a plot beyond "Suttree drinks. Suttree shakes his head at Harrogate's latest crazy scheme. Suttree meets random Knoxville characters." No Country For Old Men is about as close as he ever really gets to writing a fast-paced thriller.

Encryptic fucked around with this message at Oct 1, 2011 around 14:18

Neurosis
Jun 10, 2003

All right, all right, spare me your life's story.


Have you read The Fifth Head of Cerberus? I think that's his best stand-alone novel. I enjoy most of his stuff, though; I thought the Wizard-Knight was a ton of fun. His short stories are pretty good, too - Seven American Nights is great.

H.P. Shivcraft
Mar 17, 2008

STAY UNRULY, YOU HEARTLESS MONSTERS!


Encryptic posted:


Admittedly, I'm not much of a Wolfe fan aside from BotNS. None of his other stuff (Latro, Wizard Knight, etc.) that I've read really grabs me, though the Latro trilogy is another interesting use of the unreliable narrator. BotNS isn't the only book where he does have a tendency to fall a bit short in the plotting department.


I think the great reason for this is that Wolfe takes as his forebears, in the most literary sense, Proust and Joyce, both writers who were concerned to varying degrees with being overwhelmed by the past, details, memory, history, literature, and so on. They were also modernists (or at least in Proust's case a sort of proto-Modernist), and as such they're concerned with the ways in which lived experience (which the fiction is meant to represent) exceeds the boundaries of something like a novelistic plot.

Wolfe's narrators often can't focus their plots because they're not sure what to focus on -- literally too much is going on, and in the best cases they don't understand enough of it to latch onto what is really important, or in Severian's case, he doesn't have a good grasp on his readers' positions with relation to the text. And this, of course, discounts situations in which his narrators genuinely evade or manipulate the truth.

Whether or not Wolfe's really successful in these regards is of course touch-and-go.

For the record, I agree with Neurosis above about Cerberus, and would say it's probably a better intro to Wolfe than BotNS. The tendency to let the plot meander is helped by the fact that, as a novel, it is actually three facets of the same plot, so each part reveals something that illuminates the others.

Encryptic
May 3, 2007



Yeah, I read Fifth Head of Cerberus quite some time ago and recall really enjoying it. I believe there's some speculation out there as to whether it's connected to BotNS as well, though I can't recall specifics.

But yeah, having read a little bit of Joyce, I can see where you're getting at there. I'd say BotNS is excellent at creating that (intentionally on Wolfe's part) unfocused narrative where you kind of have to sift the meaning from the chaff because Severian frequently cuts off before something happens, then it gets returned to later in the story, for instance - like the part where he's sent to kill Cyriaca or Wolfe outright alludes to stuff like who actually saved his life at the beginning of the story (the old guy who asks "Not a woman?" when asking who Malrubius is). I enjoy that because it gives you a clue without making it a big dramatic reveal.

And of course a lot of the book is just Severian encountering one random situation after another (I grant there's something of a complaint there, but I feel like there's a point to it all - it's something of a journey of self-discovery for him because he has to lose the Claw and Terminus Est along the way and come to realize there's some grand scheme that's placed him on the path to the throne and possibly to bring the New Sun.

Severian is clearly written as an intelligent (if insane) guy who has probably a hundred other guys riding around in his mind and he is writing the story from that perspective, so it's interesting to wonder if perhaps his perception of past events is colored by seeing it with the knowledge of a hundred past Autarchs - which he didn't have at the time the events took place. His struggle with the assimilation of Thecla's memories certainly gives that credence. Another thing I find interesting is how clinical he seems even when he's describing how joyful or happy or sad he was about something - as if he's unable to think in human terms. I wonder if that was how he always was due to being a torturer from childhood or if he's somehow...not human anymore due to the Autarch's memories in his head and being prepared to try to bring the New Sun.

Encryptic fucked around with this message at Oct 1, 2011 around 16:01

Neurosis
Jun 10, 2003

All right, all right, spare me your life's story.


Encryptic posted:

Yeah, I read Fifth Head of Cerberus quite some time ago and recall really enjoying it. I believe there's some speculation out there as to whether it's connected to BotNS as well, though I can't recall specifics.

A variant of the Shadow Children show up in Citadel. The blind giants being controlled by the dwarves. If you recall, the Shadow Children blinded their 'mounts' too in the middle part of the book. There's also some theories concerning the greening of Lune being connected, although I found that evidence quite a bit weaker. It might be or it might not be connected, not that it'd make much difference since they're about a hundred millenia apart.

Juaguocio
Jun 5, 2005

Look on my works,
ye mighty,
and despair!


I just finished Nightside The Long Sun, and thus far the Long Sun series seems much easier to follow than New Sun. I enjoyed the puzzling aspects of Severian's story, but Long Sun seems (at this point, anyway) to be much more straightforwardly plot-driven, so it may be a better introduction to Wolfe for those who don't like the way New Sun proceeds.

Neurosis
Jun 10, 2003

All right, all right, spare me your life's story.


Yeah, Long Sun is easier to follow as the institutions and world set up are a bit closer to our own or at least to familiar conventions of story-telling so it isn't as hard to fathom what the hell is going on all the time. Short Sun moves a little bit away from this but is still an easier read than the New Sun. I actually prefer Short Sun to Long Sun - I really like Horn, despite his absorption by Silk.

Sargeant Biffalot
Nov 24, 2006


Hieronymous Alloy posted:

I think I've read about 2/3rds of Wolfe's stuff, and I respect him as a writer, but he's not a favorite of mine.

Most writers people think of as "great fantasy writers" or "great SF writers" aren't really all that much when it comes to actual prose style, they're just great at plotting and pacing, sometimes with a some skill at writing characters and settings. Butcher's a great example of this -- he's a Book Barn favorite because he's got a few really good, likeable characters and he can tell a rip-snorting story that makes you shout "YEAH!" at climax, but he's never going to be known for his prose style.

Wolfe's the opposite -- he's basically a professional writer's professional writer, technically expert and highly skilled, but he's not all that hot when it comes to things like narrative pacing or telling a story that makes sense. In a sense, that's part of the charm -- he's telling stories for people who enjoy stories that take a lot of work to read -- but there's a reason he's not popular with a lot of people who you'd expect to like him. For all his technical skill, he's just not in the first rank as a storyteller, and that's what counts for a lot of readers, especially fantasy/sf readers.

Malazan's chaotic as all hell, but Erikson's just better at pacing and plotting than Wolfe is -- there's a sense of a story happening with Malazan that frankly Wolfe just doesn't have for long stretches of his work.

For an example of what I'm talking about, see this clip from Mat Parker and Trey Stone:

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011...tml%3Cbr%20/%3E


Basically, huge swathes of the Book of the New Sun are just "and then this happens" "and then this happens" "and then this happens" "and then Severian wanders across a mountain" "and then he meets an ancient dictator" "and then he climbs down a mountain" etc. It's paced poorly. For some readers that's not really a flaw, but for others it is, which is why it's hard to predict who'll like it and who won't.

This is on the right track pointing to different expectations but the terminology is a bit misleading. Wolfe's stuff is in the pulp tradition so anything longer than a short story takes the form of a picaresque. Compared to the quest structure of the later doorstop fantasies it's a less coherent a plot structure, and Wolfe executes it less tightly than most pulp writers, but he's still no way near as ponderous as the average post-pulp fantasy writer. Martin's a good example, his stuff has a really well designed plot that requires many storylines to stall or go through holding pattern digressions while the slower one's catch up. Whereas even a dreamy picaresque like BoTNS never needs to spend longer on a setting or idea than it takes to develop it. It's a case of reading for what's happening on the page vs. reading for what's going to happen in the next chapter.

Abalieno
Apr 3, 2011


Amethyst posted:

This, to me is what makes BOTNS a (very good) sci-fi curio rather than a deeply meaningful work.

Oh, come on. Is this sarcasm or for real?

Where do you draw the line? And are you at least aware that the line does not exist and is entirely subjective?

And, consequently, do you realize that a story that knows itself as false becomes meaningful exactly for that reason?

Encryptic posted:

I guess I just can't see that being a huge strike against him since BotNS isn't really about the plot. Erikson, et al are writing for a completely different audience whereas Wolfe is pretty much the thinking man's sci-fi/fantasy writer. I'm not bagging on Erikson - he's good at what he does but he's not working in the same mode as Wolfe. Nothing wrong with that.

Care to elaborate what you intend with "not working in the same mode"?

Abalieno fucked around with this message at Nov 19, 2011 around 02:49

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Abalieno
Apr 3, 2011


I'll explain better my point. From Shivcraft reply it seems that "literature" is defined by some form of what I generalize as "messing with the medium".

From that perspective it's true that Wolfe is close to the Joyce and Proust, Erikson a step below, and then most other writers Sanderson, Abercrombie, Lynch, who are more focused on telling the story and engage the reader.

What he says in that paragraph would apply perfectly to Erikson as well, but the messing with the medium he does is more subtle and what one notices reading is the level of the story. This because it's Erikson's purpose, as those other writers, he doesn't want to sacrifice the story. While for most "literary" writers the messing with the medium is more "in your face", true for both Joyce and Proust used as examples.

But this specific way of organizing things doesn't work too well if we consider something like The Road by Cormac McCarthy, that was also brought up above as an example of "literature". This book has one of the most simple structures, written in a straightforward way, and ALL about the level of the story, void of technicality and sophistication. So? Why literature? Merely because he always wrote outside the genre and so the brand carries over in the rare case he writes some form of sci-fi?

Abalieno fucked around with this message at Nov 19, 2011 around 02:41

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