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The Book of the New Sun  
Wolfe shadow & claw.jpg
Author Gene Wolfe
Country United States
Language English
Series The Book of the New Sun
Genre(s) Science fiction
Publisher Orb Books
Publication date 1980-1983
ISBN 0-312-89017-6 and 0-312-89018-4
OCLC Number 30700568
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 20
LC Classification PS3573.O52 S53 1994

The Book of the New Sun is a novel in four parts written (1980–83) by science fiction and fantasy author Gene Wolfe. It chronicles the journey and ascent to power of Severian, a disgraced journeyman torturer who rises to the position of Autarch, the one ruler of the free world. Severian, who claims that he has perfect memory, tells the story in first person; the books are presented by Wolfe as a translation of Severian's writings into contemporary English. The series takes place in the distant future, where the Sun has dimmed considerably and the Earth (referred to in the series as "Urth") is slowly cooling.


Place within the genre

The New Sun series belongs to the Dying Earth subgenre (a title inspired by Jack Vance's popular Dying Earth series), a kind of science fiction/fantasy set in a distant future when the Sun is dying, set against a background of mysterious and obscure powers and events.


The Book of the New Sun has been widely analyzed for its deeper meanings; some of these analyses have been published, such as Michael Andre-Druissi's Lexicon Urthus (ISBN 0-9642795-9-2) and Robert Borski's Solar Labyrinth. Wolfe makes extensive use of allegory within the series, as Severian is identified as a Christ/Apollo figure: he is destined to revitalize the Sun and save the Earth while at the same time destroying it. Adding further to the books' many riddles is Wolfe's usage of archaic, obscure (but never invented) words to describe the world of the far future. Wolfe explains that this is one of the difficulties in translating Severian's writing ("in a tongue that has not yet achieved existence") into English. An example can be found in Severian's fuligin cloak ("the color that is darker than black"), probably derived from fuliginous, an obscure and archaic word meaning sooty.[1] Other examples are optimates, named for a political party in Republican Rome, aquastor, a spiritual being that appears in the works of Paracelsus, and fiacre, a small carriage (which is, in fact, a French word with that meaning).


The four volumes in the series are:

Name Published Notes
The Shadow of the Torturer Simon & Schuster, 1980 Nebula Award nominee, 1980;[2]
World Fantasy Award winner, 1981;[3]
British Science Fiction Award winner, 1981;[3]
John W. Campbell Memorial Award nominee, 1981;[3]
Locus Award nominee, 1981[3]
The Claw of the Conciliator Timescape Books, 1981 Nebula Award winner, 1981;[3]
Locus Award winner, 1982;[4]
Hugo Award nominee, 1982;[4]
World Fantasy Award nominee, 1982[4]
The Sword of the Lictor Timescape Books, 1981 British Science Fiction Award nominee, 1982;[4]
Nebula Award nominee, 1982;[4]
British Fantasy Award winner, 1983;[5]
Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel winner, 1983;[5]
Hugo Award nominee, 1983;[5]
World Fantasy Award nominee, 1983[5]
The Citadel of the Autarch Timescape Books, 1983 Nebula Award nominee, 1983;[5]
British Science Fiction Award nominee, 1983;[5]
Nebula Award nominee, 1983;[5]
John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner, 1984[6]
Name Published Notes
The Urth of the New Sun Tor, 1987 A coda that takes place years after the events of The Book of the New Sun
Hugo Award nominee, 1988[7]
Nebula Award nominee, 1988[7]
Locus Award nominee, 1988[7]

Wolfe has since written two series that exist loosely within Severian's universe, The Book of the Long Sun (a four-book series set on a generation ship; two of the books were nominated for Nebula Awards) and The Book of the Short Sun (a three-book series following the inhabitants of the generation ship after their long journey has finally finished).


Interpretations abound in a variety of other books such as Michael Andre Druissi's Lexicon Urthus, Peter Wright's Attending Daedalus, John Clute's Strokes, and Robert Borski's Solar Labyrinth. Among other theories:

  • Severian's home city of Nessus is actually a future Buenos Aires.
  • The characters Agia and Agilus are Severian's cousins.
  • Father Inire and Ossipago are not only the same character, but the offspring of Severian and one of the Hierodules.
  • Wolfe's earlier book, The Fifth Head of Cerberus is in fact set in the same universe, and is a prequel to the Book of the New Sun, the Book of the Long Sun, and the successor Short Sun books.
  • Severian's companion and lover Dorcas is his paternal grandmother (Ouen the waiter is her son).
  • The Autarch is Thecla's father.
  • Merryn is Severian's sister. Alternatively, as proposed by Robert Borski, Jolenta may be Severian's sister.

See also


  1. ^ (1979). The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (A-O). Oxford University Press, New York, New York.
  2. ^ "1980 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05.  
  3. ^ a b c d e "1981 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05.  
  4. ^ a b c d e "1982 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05.  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "1983 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05.  
  6. ^ "1984 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05.  
  7. ^ a b c "1988 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-05.  

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Book of the New Sun (1980-2) by Gene Wolfe is a novel in four books, set in the distant future detailing the life of an apprentice torturer.


The Shadow of the Torturer (1980)

  • We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life—they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.
    • Severian, in Chapter 1: Resurrection and Death
  • His yellow eyes held a certain clean madness.
    • Severian, in Chapter 3: Triskele, paragraph 9
  • [T]he authority that punishes no one while there exists a chance for reformation will punish everyone when there is no possibility anyone will become the better for it.
    • Chatelaine Thecla, in Chapter 8: The Conversationalist, paragraph 8
  • By the use of the language of sorrow I had for the time being obliterated my sorrow—so powerful is the charm of words, which for us reduces to manageable entities all the passions that would otherwise madden and destroy us.
    • Severian, in Chapter 24: The Flower of Dissolution, section 3, paragraph 1
  • To those who have preceded me in the study of the posthistoric world, and particularly to those collectors—too numerous to name here—who have permitted me to examine artifacts surviving so many centuries of futurity, and most especially to those who have allowed me to visit and photograph the era's few extant buildings, I am truly grateful.
    • Appendix: A Note on the Translation

The Claw of the Conciliator (1981)

  • We were one, naked and happy and clean, and we knew that she was no more and that I still lived, and we struggled against neither of those things, but with woven hair read from a single book and talked and sang of other matters.
    • Severian (and Chatelaine Thecla), in Chapter 11: Thecla, final paragraph
  • One who truly benefits another is for that moment at a level with the Pancreator, and in gratitude for that elevation will serve the other all his days...
    • Serverian,

The Sword of the Lictor (1982)

  • The brown book I carry says there is nothing stranger than to explore a city wholly different from all those one knows, since to do so is to explore a second and unsuspected self. I have found a thing stranger: to explore such a city only after one has lived in it for some time without learning anything of it.
    • Severian, in Chapter 2: Upon the Cataract, paragraph 2
  • That was the brightest day I've ever seen. The sun had new life in him, the way a man will when he was sick yesterday and will be sick tomorrow, but today he walks around and laughs so that if a stranger was to come he'd think there was nothing wrong, no sickness at all, that the medicines and the bed were for somebody else.
    • Casdoe's father,
  • [T]he very existence of such powers argues a counterforce. We call powers of the first kind dark, though they may use a species of deadly light... and we call those of the second kind bright, though I think that they may at times employ darkness, as a good man nevertheless draws the curtains of his bed to sleep. Yet there is truth to the talk of darkness and light, because it shows plainly that one implies the other. The tale I read to little Severian said that the universe was but a long word of the Increate's. We, then, are syllables of that word. But the speaking of any word is futile unless there are other words, words that are not spoken. If a beast has but one cry, the cry tells nothing; and even the wind has a multitude of voices, so that those who sit indoors may hear it and know if the weather is tumultuous or mild. The powers we call dark seem to me to be the words the Increate did not speak... and these words must be maintained in a quasi-existence, if the other word, the word spoken is to be distinguished. What is not said can be important - but what is said is more important... And if the seekers after dark things find them, may not the seekers after bright find them as well? And are they not more apt to hand their wisdom on?
    • Severian,
  • Just as the room of the Inquisitor in Dr. Talos's play, with its high judicial bench, lurked somewhere at the lowest level of the House Absolute, so we have each of us in the dustiest cellars of our minds a counter at which we strive to repay the debts of the past with the debased currency of the present.
    • explains his choice to neglect his duty.
    • Severian, in Chapter 12: Following the Flood, paragraph 26
  • If I had seen one miracle fail, I had witnessed another; and even a seemingly purposeless miracle is an inexhaustible source of hope, because it proves to us that since we do not understand everything, our defeats—so much more numerous than our few and empty victories—may be equally specious.
    • Severian, in Chapter 24: The Corpse, penultimate paragraph
  • Time itself is a thing, so it seems to me, that stands solidly like a fence of iron palings with its endless row of years; and we flow past like Gyoll, on our way to a sea from which we shall return only as rain.
    • Severian,
  • Just as I had not known my weakness, until I saw the boats and the rounded curves of the thatched roofs of the village I had not known how solitary I had been since the boy died. It was more than mere loneliness, I think... I believe that when I was alone I felt I had in some fashion lost my individuality; to the thrush and the rabbit I had not been Severian, but Man. The many people who like to be utterly alone, and particularly to be utterly alone in a wilderness, do so, I believe, because they enjoy playing that part. But I wanted to be a particular person again, and so I sought the mirror of other persons, which would show me that I was not as they were.
    • Severian,
  • Llibio [wore] a fish carved from a tooth about his neck; and when I asked him what it was he had said it was Oannes, and covered it with his hand so that I my eyes could not profane it, for he knew that I did not believe in Oannes, who must surely be the fish-god of these people. I did not, yet I felt I knew everything about Oannes that mattered. I knew that he must live in the darkest deeps of the lake, but that he was seen leaping among the waves in storms. I knew he was the shepherd of the deep, who filled nets of the islanders, and that murderers could not go on the water without fear, lest Oannes appear alongside, with his eyes as big as moons and overturn the boat. I did not believe in Oannes or fear him. But I knew, I thought, whence he came - I knew that there is an all-pervasive power in the universe of which every other is the shadow. I knew that in the last analysis, my conception of that power was as laughable (and as serious) as Oannes.
    • Severian,
  • Dr. Talos whispered, "Look about you—don't you recognize this? It is just as he says!"
    "What do you mean?" I whispered in return.
    "The castle? The monster? The man of learning? I only just thought of it. Surely you know that just as the momentous events of the past cast their shadows down the ages, so now, when the sun is drawing toward the dark, our own shadows race into the past to trouble mankind's dreams."
    • Severian,

The Citadel of the Autarch (1983)

  • Sometimes driven aground by the photon storms, by the swirling of the galaxies, clockwise and counterclockwise, ticking with light down the dark sea-corridors lined with out silver sails, our demon-haunted mirror sails...
    • Hethor, in Chapter 4: Fever
  • [R]esolution and a plan are better than a sword, because a man whets his own edges on them.
    • Severian, in Chapter 17: Ragnarok—The Final Winter, paragraph 4
  • There is no category of human activity in which the dead do not outnumber the living many times over. Most beautiful children are dead. Most soldiers, most cowards. The fairest women and the most learned men—all are dead. [...] Who can say how intently they listen as we speak, or for what word?
    • Severian, in Chapter 26: Above the Jungle, last paragraph

See also

Wikipedia has an article about:
  • ISBN 0312890176
  • ISBN 0312890184


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