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review 2019-02-27 14:29
Shadow & Claw (The Book of the New Sun #1-2)
Shadow and Claw - Gene Wolfe

The classic story of a young man journey from the only home he’s known and finding himself interacting with the strange wider world.  Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe is the omnibus collection of the first two volumes of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator, following the life of the guild of torturer journeyman Severian.


The Shadow of the Torturer follows the last year of Severian’s life in The Citadel of Nessus and his few days after leaving into exile after breaking the greatest rule of the guild of torturers.  Severian finds himself challenged to a duel and explores greater Nessus in preparation while coming into contacting with numerous interesting characters.  The Claw of the Conciliator picks up a bit after the previous book with Severian performing his duties in a small mining town before going on a series of journeys going to the seat of government the House Absolute and leaving, all the while trying to figure out everything he’s involved in while trying not to dishonor his guild once again.


The first volume of the book, Shadow, was very intriguing and while somethings were clear—as might have been the plan—there was enough there to make me look forward to continuing on Severian’s journey.  However the second volume, Claw, was all over the place with quality, interest, and frustration as one the main problems from the first volume, namely the first-person narration by Severian was all over the place.  Add in an entire chapter that described a line-by-line recreation of a nonsensical play just to setup an attack by one of the characters on the audience in the next, much short chapter just added to my dislike of this particular volume.


I had high hopes for Shadow & Claw given that it was the first half of what is considered a classic tetralogy by Gene Wolfe.  While I did like the first volume of the omnibus, the second one has made me wonder why this is considered a fantasy-science fiction classic by many.


The Shadow of the Torturer (3.5/5)

The Claw of the Conciliator (2/5)

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review 2018-11-26 09:36
“Do you know of the key to the universe?”
The Shadow of the Torturer - Gene Wolfe

Very dark chocolate. Blatantly part one of a quadrilogy (my copy is the SF Masterworks imprint which bundles ‘Shadow’ with ‘The Claw Of The Conciliator’) what we have here is low on action, high on characterisation, a through-the-roof central idea and much subtlety, particularly of prose. Probably a candidate for a re-read at some stage. I’m not yet running into the street shouting about its status as a genre-defining masterpiece – I need to progress on and chew it over a bit more – but, hey, Alastair Reynolds provides the intro so consider me on-board.

Dictionary Corner: Eschatology, n. The part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. Awareness of Wolfe’s Catholicism puts a lot of ‘Shadow’ in context and gives it real heft. Daytime in this world is blood red thanks to the meagre light of the dying sun bleeding into everything, lending a terrible “end of days” feel to proceedings while – hello, ‘Star Wars’ fans – the ruins of a previous space-faring civilisation are all around. This is the delicious central premise (after Jack Vance) of the ‘Book Of The New Sun’ sequence: the events are all taking place after every other science fiction novel. Man has been and done the whole interstellar exploration thing and very believably he’s stuffed it up. Like Rome and the British empire it has all collapsed and contracted back down to this singularity, this dying Earth and the ruins are everywhere. So in amongst all the cod-medievalism we have fliers, genetically engineered creatures, apes with dog heads, rats that can talk, “animal species resulting from biogenetic manipulation”, “extrasolar breeding stock”, bamboo huts that appear to hold 3D snapshots of the past, a woman who can see the past, present and future…. Wolfe isn’t implying any of this, it is wholly explicit and the secret sauce of the novel is wondering what on (or off) Earth happened. If ever humanity needed the ability to decamp elsewhere it’s when the Sun is dying. Now is not the time to have bollocksed up your intergalactic empire and lost the ability to travel faster than light. Humanity is in deep trouble.

With all that merriness as background, we have Severian the trainee torturer; a job title that is an immediate barrier to entry, cleanly separating him both from our initial sympathies and from the rest of humanity. However, it’s complicated. Young Severian is a kindly soul, inclined to compassion (Dorcas specifically mentions his kindness), helping the rebel Vodalus, then tending to the put-upon pooch Triskele (a swift short-cut back into the sympathies of the reader) and then to his beloved prisoner Thecla (Wolfe is great on names). Then again Severian isn’t above half-strangling another apprentice or coldly fulfilling his role as executioner. We never actually see Severian a-torturin’ in ‘Shadow’ but he can be cold as well as kind. As narrator of his passage from star apprentice to reviled outcast he throws forward a lot (notably to his position as Autarch, going to be interesting to see how that comes about), cites events he previously omitted and has characters referencing moments he skipped over (Dorcas states he was very sick after executing Agilus). He also abruptly severs the narrative at the end of ‘Shadow’ and warns us “It is no easy road” ahead. We leave him passing through a gigantic wall of black metal in the company of mysterious actor Dr Talos (Christoph Waltz), the giant Baldanders (Bernard Bresslaw), the voluptous actress Jolenta, Severian’s own new love Dorcas and Hethor, the requisite holy fool babbling cosmic gobbledegook. In Severian’s items list is his executioner’s sword Terminus Est and ‘the Claw of the Conciliator’, a cosmic gem that provides the title for novel two and much mystery.

‘The Expanse’ this is not. It takes a certain amount of work at the outset but it’s worth it for the way it takes up residence in your thoughts; I put the novel aside for a while then returned after finding I was mulling it over. If you don’t start getting goose bumps when the mysterious Father Inire starts talking of the lost secrets of faster than light travel then it’s probably not your bag. I feel ‘The Shadow Of The Torturer’ is one of those works of prose art that is wholly in and of itself. You have to approach it aware it’s not going to make many friendly concessions to you. It just is, and entirely successfully so. It’s an operatic cosmic vision set against the misery of human existence. “If you're killed this evening, I'll feel badly for a fortnight.”

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url 2018-09-27 22:15
The 10 Best Completed SF and Fantasy Series According to. ...
The Runelords - David Farland
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling,Mary GrandPré
Mistborn: The Final Empire - Brandon Sanderson
The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
Heroes Die - Matthew Stover
The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story - Stephen R. Donaldson
The Shadow of the Torturer - Gene Wolfe
Chronicles of the Black Company - Glen Cook
The Eye of the World - Robert Jordan
Source: www.tor.com/2018/09/25/the-10-best-completed-sf-and-fantasy-series-according-to-me
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text 2018-01-09 10:53
Six Favorites of 2017
Soldier of the Mist - Gene Wolfe
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Liu, Ken (March 8, 2016) Hardcover - Ken Liu
700 Sundays - Billy Crystal
The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead
The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies - John Langan
Whip Hand - Dick Francis

These are the six best books I read (for the first time) last year.


Soldier of the Mist - Gene Wolfe  Soldier of the Mist - Gene Wolfe  


Combine the Greek pantheon with an amnesiac soldier trying to discover himself and you get one of my new favorite fantasy novels. Wolfe has a reputation for both beautiful prose and unreliable narrators; these are on full display here. This was the first novel I've read by Wolfe; it will not be the last.


The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Liu, Ken (March 8, 2016) Hardcover - Ken Liu  The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Liu, Ken (March 8, 2016) Hardcover - Ken Liu  


A brilliant collection of short stories, some magic realism, most SF. Tears through quite a few subgenres, including alternate history and cyberpunk. Themes of alienation, parenthood, and racism repeat throughout.


700 Sundays - Billy Crystal  700 Sundays - Billy Crystal  


A beautiful, and hilarious, remembrance about the author's parents, especially his father. There are a few painful moments, but also a lot of laughs.


The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead  The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead  


The first Pulitzer-winning novel I've read, this is a fantastic piece of magical realism / speculative fiction, with an emphasis on racial prejudice. This book imagines the Underground Railroad as a literal train route, and we follow an escaped slave on the various legs of her trip. Through various means, Whitehead examines many historical crimes against Black Americans, including several that took place well after slavery. How the author does this should be discovered through the reading; this book is magic.


The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies - John Langan  The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies - John Langan  


One of the best horror collections I've read in years. Many of these stories are post-modern in their approach to horror, using the genre's themes and tropes (as well as formal experimentation) to examine it. Good stuff.


Whip Hand - Dick Francis  Whip Hand - Dick Francis  


A great suspense/mystery novel that centers around horse-racing. It also deals with grief, confidence, and despair. Loved it.


I would highly recommend these books to anyone; they're all amazing.

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review 2017-09-04 13:08
Review: The Urth of the New Sun (The Book of the New Sun Book 5 of 5)
The Urth of the New Sun - Gene Wolfe

This was the last book in the series The Book of the New Sun.  For the most part, I really liked it, and I might even have rated it higher than the four stars I’ve consistently given the other books in this series.  However, I thought it went off the rails a bit toward the end.


It gave me the answers I was looking for in terms of what happened after the end of the fourth book, and I enjoyed the story it told.  Then, without giving anything away, it shed new light on many of the events from those first four books, and gave more meaning to them, and I also really enjoyed that.  Some things were spelled out, but others were quite a bit more subtle, and I enjoyed catching the various references.


My problem was that I thought the author went too far with it by the end.  Just as I was admiring the cleverness, he took things a few steps further.  I felt like, in an attempt to keep things twisty and complicated, he robbed it of some of the meaningfulness.  Kind of like a cook who can’t stop tweaking his recipe until it doesn’t taste quite right anymore, or a painter who keeps adding “just a bit more” to his design until it’s no longer quite as pleasing to the eye.


A smaller complaint I had with the series in general is that, since the story centers around Severian, there are some characters who play a large role in the series but for whom we don’t get much closure because their paths diverge.  There was one character in particular that I really wanted more follow-up on, especially considering how often he was remembered and referenced in Severian’s narrative.


Over all, though, I enjoyed this series quite a lot.  I liked that it wasn’t simple or straight forward, and I liked its unique (in my experience) blend of some of the best elements from both science fiction and fantasy.  For now, there are many other authors and books I’m interested in trying, but I’d like to cycle back around to give Wolfe another try sometime down the road.


Next Book

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein.  This will be my first time reading Heinlein and I’m not too sure what to expect.  I have a variety of nebulous impressions based on comments I’ve seen here and there, but now it’s time to find out for myself.

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