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Favorite fantasy authors: Gene Wolfe
This guy is my favorite fantasy author, and all on the strength
of one series, the Book of the New Sun. The first
four volumes are a tightly coupled series:
Shadow of the Torture,
Claw of the Conciliator,
Sword of the Lictor, and
Citadel of the Autarch.
The individual volumes are out of print, but they
are currently in print as Shadow and Claw (ISBN 0-312-89017-6)
and Sword and Citadel (ISBN 0-312-89018-4) by Tom Doherty.
A sequel, The Urth of the New Sun, wraps up some
loose ends and extends the theme, but the series is quite satisfying
Why do I like this series so much?
- The characters are real, they grow, and they have believable
motivations. If I were playing Sauron in a production of
Tolkien, my question would be, what's my motivation? I'm just
the embodiment of evil, huh? That's not like anybody I know.
The motivations I see in people generally are usually things
like survival, curiosity, and power. Wolfe's Agia character
is pretty nasty, but she grew up in a rough neighborhood. If
she weren't nasty, she wouldn't have survived there.
Severian, the protagonist, is just trying
to survive, and if possible to find out whose shadowy hands
are pushing him around the chessboard.
- The language is unique: rich, inventive, and deep. There are
a lot of what look like made-up words, but many of them are
classical and scientific terms. At one point Severian meets a
Smilodon; that's just the Latin name of the saber-toothed
tiger. But you don't need to understand the derivation or even
the meaning of these words, it's clear from context.
- It works on several levels. On the surface, it's a page-turner;
will Severian be done in by the alien creatures that are stalking
him? But there is much more. It is a fountain of great quotes
quotes file for several examples).
The essay on forms of governance is fascinating. There are a lot
of shorter stories embedded in the work, suitable for telling at
bedtime but resonant with hints of deeper meaning.
I've enjoyed a couple of other Wolfe works, too.
Soldier in the Mist is a curious tale about an ancient
Greek soldier who wakes up every morning with no memory of his history.
If you like well-crafted, unusual short stories, try his
Endangered Species collection.
Next: Favorite fantasy authors: R. A. MacAvoy
See also: Shipman's reading list: fantasy and ``soft SF''
Previous: Favorite fantasy authors: Guy Gavriel Kay
John W. Shipman,
Last updated: 2004/01/02 23:38:35