Work in Progress


The fervent burst of writing that began the day of my Eskdale Expedition may have slowed slightly, but it’s still very much in evidence. Within the week, it had carried me to the end of the First Draft of my newest novel, a direct sequel to The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel or, to give it its formal title under which you can buy it through Lulu.com (hint, hint), Love Goes to Building on Sand.

Usually, once I finish a book, I take off a couple of weeks or more to cool off, but having been bitten so firmly by the bug, I went straight back to the beginning and started on the Second Draft.

The First Draft was simply compiled in a single document, entitled, in my usual manner, ‘Working Document’. For the Second Draft, I’m extracting Chapters in sequence, creating them as individual documents, enabling me to move quickly between parts of the story.

It’s been brisk work so far, already taking me up to chapter 14, about halfway through, though that count includes two instances where I split overlong chapters in two, having to build up the detail in one of the new chapters to avoid it being short.

It’s been the usual mixture of cutting and polishing and adding detail where needed, rearranging the order of events to create a smoother flow or avoid the awkward set-up of important sequences. But as I reach the midpoint, or thereabouts, I’m noticing a certain drop in the energy levels. I’m attributing this to the fact that I’m past the early writing period, which took place some months back, and coming into work that is considerably fresher in my mind, and also that, given my habit of working out the structure as I go along, I’ve come through the work that needs channelling towards what the book eventually turns out to concern, and into the section where I can an idea of where I was going, and where it would end.

From hereon in, the redrafting will be more cosmetic than substantial. Rephrasings, tightenings, that sort of thing. There are sections that I know will need a more radical approach, where I may well end up just rewriting from scratch. And my colleague who did the cover for LGTBOS has just returned to work after a lengthy absence and is eager to design another cover for me.

So: if I can get everything pulled together for Xmas, I will, or early in the New Year again. Though I’ve other incidents between my cast of characters in my head, and some of them drafting, I’ve no plans to turn this into a trilogy. Not yet, anyhow.

I do have four other novels in various stages of conception/part-completion, and I’m determined to get all of these completed. I’ve pretty much decided which one of the four will be my next project, and it’s not the one that has gone the furthest. I’m in the mood for something a bit more flamboyant for a couple of books.

Once I’ve got this one licked into shape.

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Pursuing Christopher Priest: An American Story


Several years ago, I wrote about Christopher Priest’s 2013 novel, ‘The Adjacent’ that it was the summation of all his themes and preoccupations, the most complete examination of his great subject, Unreality, and that it felt like a fitting final book of his career. ‘An American Story’ is the second novel he has published since: I have no regrets about being wrong.

The first shock about this story was its title. Not since 1977’s ‘A Dream of Wessex’, for ten successive books, has Priest published a book whose title did not begin with the definitive article – ‘The Affirmation’, ‘The Prestige’, ‘The Gradual’, etc. – yet this book fits only the indefinite article.

The second is that Unreality, in the classic sense I’ve used it about Priest’s writings, has no role to play in this book, save in one small refutable scene. We are not without some sense of that, in a more subtle form, intrinsic to the third shock, but the story is confined to a single reality, without alternate versions amongst which to choose.

And that third shock is that this is not a novel as I understand it, as we have come to expect. ‘An American Story’ is reportage, extended reportage, with Priest’s conclusions about a real-life matter of some significance placed, to one degree or another, in the mouth of his reporter-narrator.

Ben Matson is a successful science journalist, living with his partner Jeane and their two sons on the Isle of Bute, which, in the near future of the story, has reverted to its Gaelic name. England has left the EU, Scotland has left the UK and rejoined the EU and there are full blown Customs controls to pass through at all Scottish airports whenever Matson’s commissions take him back to his birthplace, London.

What kick-starts such story as there is – for the trajectory of the book is back and forth across time, taking in different periods of the twenty years passing since the book’s core event – is the juxtaposition of two news items. One, a couple of days old, is the death of Russian-born, US naturalised, mathematician Kyril Terganov. Matson has interviewed him twice, is privy to the details of Terganov’s short disappearance, wrote an unsuccessful film screenplay about him. The other is the almost subliminal glimpse of a breaking story from BBC Scotland about the discovery of the wreckage of a crashed plane, off the east coast of America.

The two items bring back up the subject over which Matson has obsessed for a large part of the last twenty years: 9/11. Ben Matson lost the woman he loved, Lil Viklund, the woman with whom he would have spent the rest of his life. Or so he believes: Lil was supposed to have been on Flight AA77, the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, but her name appeared on no passenger manifest, and Lil was one of the thousands of victims of that day for whom no traceable fragment of DNA was ever found.

So the only proof that Ben has ever had of Lil’s death is that she never ever reappeared, and that he is assured she died by her husband Martin Viklund, who has some shadowy role in Government and Security. But what is true: Lil’s depiction of their marriage as over, as prolonged only by complex financial issues, or Martin’s depiction of it as ongoing, between two individuals whose life-work spheres are wildly different?

‘An American Story’ is, at its simplest, a careful examination of the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory, as investigated by Ben Matson. Once I realised that Priest, via his central character, was taking the Conspiracy seriously, was repeating many of the arguments that I have, from time to time, read, I found myself getting very resistant to the book, to the point where I had to force myself to be open-minded, and listen to what was being said, to give more credence to familiar elements of the classic theory because of who these were coming from.

Indeed, the book is so strongly built upon the belief that there was a conspiracy that Priest himself emerges in a short epilogue to profess himself as having been disturbed by the information he researched: although he distinguishes himself (undefinedly) from Matson’s conclusions, it’s clear without the afterword that he shares a large part of them.

Priest’s endorsement of the framework of the conspiracy forces me to take these claims more seriously than, over the years, I have come to do. And Priest, via Terganov, builds a social theory for the subsequent imposition, on a mass audience, of a construct reality that is not merely dishonest but which replaces the truth that people have witnessed via their own senses.

It makes for a disturbing book overall, especially as Priest’s fictional conclusion is proof of Lil’s death, smuggled implausibly out of a heavily guarded institution in which physical evidence of the ‘boat’ sunk of America’s coast is available for limited inspection, proof that the crash site is the real end of Flight AA77, that it did not crash into the Pentagon but was sunk, its complement of passengers killed, as part of an ongoing scheme for the gathering of power.

In whose hands? The book ends in 2024 with the Election of another Republican President. His Vice-President is named Martin Viklund.

Though the book is of course carefully constructed, and substantially argued, what interested me most was my instinctive rejection of the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory that motivates it. How many people, like me, automatically assign that theory to crazies, internet obsessives, reject the idea that something like this, that could only have come about through such copious and extensive planning, could be true and still be a secret twenty years on?

Am I aiding plotters in pulling the wool over my own eyes? Or is it all craziness? It’s too soon to determine what effect this book will have on me. But it is still a very good example of Christopher Priest’s ability.

A Lycanthrope in Wolf’s Clothing: Gene Wolfe’s ‘The Book of the Short Sun’


The Book of the Short Sun has probably the most convoluted and complex of structures of any I have read in my life, so much so that once I had purchased the last of its three books, I had to work out a comprehensive timeline of the trilogy’s events in order to fully understand – for a given value of understand – what happens. I have never had to do that with any other book.
Essentially the story is told inside out, with Horn beginning at what he thinks is the end, his failure in his mission to bring back Silk and his practical imprisonment in Gaon, where he has been established as Rajan. But as Horn’s account progresses, he first drifts off into what is happening to him as Rajan, and then, when war begins with the upriver community of Han, and he seems the opportunity to engineer an escape, his contemporary account becomes more detailed and extensive.
Once Horn has reached his departure from Blue, his past account dwindles, and becomes more eliptic, and more like a summary the further he gets until he stops at the point of his ‘death’ on Green, and he carries on with only his contemporary account.
And then the rest of his past account is filled in in a third party account, compiled by Horn’s two sons and daughters-in-law, and supplemented by later accounts by different narrators, making the story complete once Horn stops writing.
If you think of the structure as an ongoing story divided into six parts, the three books are written as alternating accounts of parts 1 and 4, 2 and 5 and 3 and 6 respectively.
To make matters worse, whilst The Book of the Long Sun was at least clear, mostly chronological and comparatively precise, written by Horn and edited by Nettle, the extent of her influence is obvious in how Horn rambles, digresses and is easily self-diverted from his point. On multiple occasions in his past account, Horn will refer to things he has not yet reached, whilst in his present account he will refer back to things the past account still hasn’t reached, and far too often this turns out to be the only account given of such incidents.
And too many other sections of the story are left out completely, as there are a number of gaps in Horn’s account, when he is either unable to write at all or at least for enough time to record everything he wants to relate.
In short, this is a typical Gene Wolfe series, except with all the usual twists and turns amplified beyond the level we would usually expect.
Though I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed the Short Sun, second only to Severian’s epic, I must admit to having found additional difficulties with it on this occasion, coming to it in the wake of the fatigue induced by Long Sun, not to mention the repeated insistence, even in reduced numbers, on accents. Remora and Incus repeat their already tiresome oral tics, whilst Pig’s speech is heavily accented Scottish (and in one line is literally incomprehensible: seriously, in more than fifteen years I have never been able to work out what he says.)
As for the inhabitants of Dorp, a long time whom amongst we spend, until their inside out syntax – think Yoda but with longer sentences – becomes seriously irritating. The technical ability is nothing short of astounding, but the effect on at least one reader is ultimately wearing.
When commentating upon The Fifth Head of Cerberus, I suggested that its three linked novellas represented the three volumes of the ‘Solar Cycle’. ‘Cerberus’ itself is a dense, complex first person narrative, like New Sun. ‘A Story, by John B. Marish’ a third person story told by one of its participants echoes Long Sun and ‘V.R.T.’, which its achronological, multi-viewpoint structure is Short Sun.
Wolfe spent a lot of time with Silk and Horn, the two series written without interruption, making seven consecutive novels in the same or closely related environment.
At the end, the fractured nature of the second and third parts of the ‘Solar Cycle’: in the Long Sun the profusions of voices, in the Short Sun the diffusion of actions, do not match up to the concentration of story and tone in the New Sun, and I am suspicious of the fact that ultimately we have no explanation for how Horn/Silk is able to transport himself and others to initially Green and latterly Urth itself, to bring us to the young Severian in the earliest pages of The Shadow of the Torturer (requiring the future Autarch to state that he will not include Horn/Silk in any book he will write, because he is too unbelievable).
This at least establishes an overall timescale for the ‘Cycle’: Typhon and the age of the Imperial Autarchs is some three hundred years before the Commonwealth of which we are familiar, and the establishment of humanity on the planets Blue and Green are mere decades before Urth’s drowning in its transformation into Ushas when the New Sun is kindled.
No Gene Wolfe story is ever complete, with all the answers specified and easily discernible. The Book of the Short Sun is merely the most extreme example of this, with dozens of crucial elements left not so much unanswered as unanswerable save by your own invention. More of the story exists not between its lines but instead outside its pages than in any other of his works, and I am growing old and stiff-minded in trying to fathom the imagination of a writer far cleverer than I have ever been.
In the end, I look on at the last part of the ‘Solar Cycle’ and accept what I am able to know and what I am not. And turn to Severian, alongside whom I have walked more often than any other, as the figure I can know best, not the almost unendurably good Silk.

A Lycanthrope in Wolf’s Clothing: Gene Wolfe’s ‘Return to The Whorl’


Horn again resumes his account, having acquired a fresh supply of paper and ink from bandits who have attacked the little party consisting of himself, Hide, Jahlee and Oreb, travelling towards New Viron. Jahlee has saved them. This time, his account is solely of his efforts to return home and to report his failure to find and bring back Calde Silk.
Interspersed with this in the finished book are third person accounts of what happened to Horn whilst he was back in the Whorl. At the end of the book, we learn that these have been composed by Horn’s twin sons, Hoof and Hide, and their wives, from the times Horn spoke of what happened to him there. These changes are so deeply mixed that the two accounts should be read separately.
The latter-day narration establishes that, though Horn denies it at every turn, it is clear that he is now in the body of Silk, and that the corpse is that of Hyacinth. Whether Silk is responsible for Hyacinth’s death, or if she was a suicide, or died naturally, remains unknown: Silk’s hands and arms have been badly cut. Horn is badly disoriented, thinking he is back on the lander to Green. He stumbles out into the darkest of nights, but he is not blind, nor has he died.
In the dark, he finds a tree, from which he takes a stick, and seeing a distant light, he heads for it, his own and Silk’s memories mingling. Horn dreams of a night on Lizard Island, the night he and Nettle discovered Sinew had been attacked by the inhuma.
Waking, he arrives at a farm, where a woman bathes and cleans his wounds. He learns that he is at Endroad, on the road to Viron. The blackness is a Darkday, part of attempts to force people to leave the Whorl. They ask if he had been attacked by a godling.
Horn admits that whilst he is from Viron, that was 20 years earlier. He explains his mission to find Silk, and new stocks of corn. While the wife prepares food, the husband takes Silk to the barn, where he gives him 12 ears of corn, and instructions on how to preserve the strain. Then he seeks to drive Horn away: Horn refuses to fight, because that would be ungrateful, but anticipates and easily defeats an attack, before leaving. Marching on in the dark, an Oreb appears, an Oreb, calling him Silk: is this Silk’s Oreb?
Horn meets a giant man, twice his height, and blind: his eye sockets are empty. The big man takes the name Pig. They travel on together. Horn explains that he too is seeking an eye, an artificial one (though the original has been left behind on Green, with Seawrack’s silver ring).
Oreb warns them of a godling ahead, guarding a bridge that their way crosses. Pig guides Horn into a wood, where they follow a stream into a pitch black tunnel. They emerge into bright light, the skylands visible above, beneath the massive domed head of the godling, with bestial pointed ears.
He and Pig find houses in their joint dark. Pig knocks on a random door, threatening to break in if it is not opened. It belongs to Hound and Tansy, who feed them soup. Hound and Tansy run a general store in Endroad after leaving Viron five years ago.
Pig explains he was a trooper, caught and blinded by having his eyes cut out. His references to ‘wee folk’, ‘light lands’ and ‘mountings’, and the wee folk telling him he could get new eyes in the west, at Mainframe, tell Horn that the ‘wee folk’ are Fliers, from the Mountains That Look At Mountains, at the East Pole. It is hundreds of leagues from there to the West Pole: Pig has been a year already on his journey.
Hound offers to take the two travellers to Viron the next day. Whilst Horn sleeps, the others discuss the fact he is clearly Silk: Pig confirms he called at the manse, and what he found. They all agree that Horn is unaware of who he is. Horn dreams of being in his boat, en route to Pajarocu. He dreams of several things, the last being Pig at the tiller, but Pig’s face is Silk’s.
Viron is two day’s journey and Hound will take Horn and Pig. At the store, they first learn that strangers are about, looking for Silk, three foreign looking men, with covered heads, guns and swords. Darkness falls again.
En route, they shelter in what turns out to be Blood’s old manteion. Pig goes ahead but is clearly disturbed by what he finds: he has seen a woman in the house. Hound relates a children’s story about a rich merchant with an ugly daughter, who he locked up until she was freed by an auger: after the merchant died, no-one came to free her and she starved. Her ghost can be seen. Horn realises this to be the story of Blood and Mucor.
Horn finds Mucor’s old room and she comes to him, looking as she did then. She confirms he will find Silk wherever he goes, which he takes as confirmation Silk is in Viron. He sends her to Pig, who is clearly deeply moved by the sight. Horn avoids Pig for the rest of the night, but gives in to the whim to seek Hyacinth’s room: he find Pig there, smashing things.
Horn discusses with Hound the gods of the Whorl. He reveals that Pas, father of the gods, was originally Typhon and that he sent out the Whorl with both sleepers and men. One or other would survive to colonise Blue and Green. The likes of Silk and Mucor (and Pig) were enhanced embryos, meant to assist in the greater dangers of Green. Hound wants to go to Green to colonise.
Oreb leads Horn to a ‘big man’ but it is not Pig, but a godling, who gives him a message from Silk: the rest are to stay, enough have gone from the Whorl. He tells Hound and Pig the message, but doesn’t intend to spread the message. Hound asks if the message comes from Silk the man, or the god: Silver Silk or Silent Silk: Horn did not know Silk was now supposedly a god.
That night he dreams of himself as both Horn and Silk. Hearing Pig, he confronts him with the fact that Pig is possessed by Silk, and has been given instructions.
The following day, they arrive in Viron. The streets of the city are deserted, decaying and unfamiliar: the area was burned, years ago. Hound confirms the current Caldé is Bison, husband to Mint, former Maytera, former General, and Caldé after Silk. Horn will present himself at the Juzgado in the morning, after he has found the Sun Street Quarter and his old manteion.
Pig is overcome by his memory of attacking a manteion in the Mountains, and of slaying the auger whilst looting. He was possessed in front of the Sacred Window, a feeling he wants to recapture. Horn believes it was the Outsider. They arrive at a clearing and Horn sends Hound away so that he cannot overhear Pig’s shriving.
Horn sends Hound on to Ermine’s inn, and asks Pig to leave him, taking Oreb when he realises he is in the old Sun Street quarter, by Silk’s manteion, and hadn’t remembered it.
Horn looks for his old home – Smoothbone’s Stationers – and meets his own father who offers to help him. They talk about families, until Horn reveals himself as Smoothbone’s son, though he has to overcome disbelief at his appearance with a memory only Horn could recollect. They go to a tavern to catch up. Horn’s mother has remarried on Blue, with Oxlip, Smoothbone also, with further children. When Horn returns to the shop, a pen case is waiting for him, on the step.
Horn walks on to the Caldé’s Palace, which is shut and locked. He is stopped by a woman calling herself Olivine, who, taking him for Silk, asks him to come with her. She takes him within a building, where she offers him a place for a bath, and a change of clothes, which he accepts gratefully.
The new clothes are those of an augur, all black. Horn makes Olivine show her face, which reveals her as a chem: she is the half-made daughter of Marble and Hammerstone. Olivine considers herself ugly and inadequate: she cannot give birth as a woman. She seeks a sacrifice and a blessing from Horn, which he gives. He tells her about her blind mother and about meeting his own father recently: Olivine removes one of her eyes and, before Horn can refuse it, presses it on him and flees.
Horn is reunited with Hound and Pig at Ermine’s, where a visitor, Patera Gulo, the coadjutor from the Prolocutor’s Palace, has left a message to warn him. He wakes in the night and leaves to return to the Caldé’s Palace, where he has left his staff. First, he visit’s Ermine’s ‘Glasshouse’, where he talks to the ‘ghost’ of Silk, asking him to appear: he sees an older Silk in the pond.
Whilst at the Palace, Horn hears shots from Ermine’s, an attack made by the strangers who are seeking Silk. The following day, he and his friends attend on Caldé Bison. Horn explains his mission and asks Bison’s help. Bison explains he has no access to landers, which were eventually used as an alternative to execution, and thus all taken. He invites the trio to lunch with Mint. She is all but confined to a wheelchair, as a result of an assassination attempt.
Horn reluctantly speaks the invocation. Pig explains that he is seeking new eyes. Horn promises that if these have not been found by the time he finds Silk, he will take Pig with him. He is very serious about his mission to find Silk, but no-one seems to know where he is. Mint explains that Silk was Caldé for ten years, but resigned in her favour. Horn asks if she was attacked for being the first woman Caldé. Mint thinks not: almost immediately she was appointed, the Long Sun was darkened for the first time. The Whorl became very hot, the sun was overheating, the tunnels became blocked. They decided that no-one should leave, that the tunnels should be cleared as too many had left already. Trivigaunti declared victory, and Viron agreed it was so.
Horn interjects to relate the godling’s message, and repeat his request to know Silk’s whereabouts. Bison says they do not know, deliberately: some people believe the gods are angry because Silk is not still Caldé, and this is why Mint was attacked. All emigration has been stopped, the landers have been seized. After the shooting, they could have arrested all their opponents, but this would have fomented revolt. Some were allowed to leave.
Horn hopes they will allow Silk to go, but he doesn’t know where to find him. He knows others are hunting him, the men who attacked Ermine’s last night claimed Silk was staying there. They too want to take him to Blue, though he does not believe they are from New Viron. These men clearly have a lander, under guard.
Bison confirms Silk is in hiding. His friends are protective of him. If he and Mint were known to know of his whereabouts, they might be attacked. He believes Silk is being hidden by the Prolocutor. He leaves to speak to him. Mint speaks of the ‘ghost’ and the recent appearance of ‘Silk’. Horn refuses to disclose his knowledge of Olivine but admits he is the one mistaken for Silk. Even the Prolocutor believes he is Silk, and wishes him to sacrifice at the Grand Manteion: at Mint’s request, Horn agrees to do so. He admits that he looks like Silk, but he knows who he is: they cannot make him believe he is someone else.
At the Grand Manteion, Horn prepares to assist Prolocutor Incus. Mint visits him, warningthat those pursuing him may be near. For his protection, she gives him hyacinth’s azoth. Alone, Horn shaves, reducing his resemblance to Silk. He wonders aloud, to Olivine, why no-one will take him to Silk, when it would assist both Bison and the Prolocutor to have a substantial rival taken away.
Horn conducts most of the ceremony himself, giving the reading, during which he passes on the godling’s message. He does not appeal for word of Silk as he senses most people believe him to be Silk. Pig joins him in the sacristy whilst he cleans up. They are surprised by the men from Gaon, led by Hari Mau: they are sworn to take Silk to Gaon, where he will be Rajan, and will judge and lead their people. Horn agrees to go willingly, on condition that first they fly Pig to the West Pole.
There, Horn surrenders one of his own eyes, to be transplanted into Pig. The surgery is done under remote control. The West Pole obeys the orders of Mainframe, at the East Pole. Direct communication has been cut and it is no easy task to restore it. They are not supposed to repair Cargo, but have been instructed to make an exception for Horn’s requirements as to Pig: the word has come by Flyer, their communications system with Mainframe. The surgeon confirms that, once it is repaired, the Whorl will leave this system, but that this will not be for years, a lifetime perhaps.
Horn pays Pig a final visit in sickbay. Pig wants Horn to stay with him, but Horn has promised to accompany Hari Mau to Gaon, and Pig, though willing to join him, will need a long period of care in sick bay if his eye is not to be rejected. Besides, the Rajan will be troublesome if he has a friend who can be made a target. Silk’s voice speaks through Pig: ‘Pig’ would be a danger to Horn as well.
Horn descends to Blue on the lander. It is not his first journey, but it is the first time he has vomited in flight. He watches Blue approach, alongside Hari Mau. He admits that he regards Blue as his home, not the Whorl, however good it was to return. Hound will be happy remaining here, helping to rebuild it.
Hari Mau will be second only to ‘Silk’ in Gaon, a very important position. The town is only 15 years old. They were only 11 days in Viron, and were lucky to find Silk so quickly. Horn knows it was not luck, that their way was pointed by Bison and the Prolocutor: they had got Hound out of the way and left Pig in no danger. They had rid themselves of a challenge to their authority without the risk of murder.
Horn will have the biggest house in Gaon and four wives, an idea he rejects, because he is married, and because he has never seen these women. But to do so will disgrace them: he must have wives to cook and clean, Hari Mau argues. When he is brought to his house in Gaon, two lovely faces look at him briefly.

In the present, Horn’s party fall in with four merchants, who call upon Horn to resolve their quarrels: he agrees on condition he is obeyed absolutely, to which the merchants pledge. Horn then tells the merchants to separate and continue their journey to the coastal town of Dorp one at a time. The richest, Nat, refuses and Horn has the others arrest, bind and gag him. He is not released until the following morning.
Nat is an important man in Dorp because he has troopers sent out to arrest Horn and his party. Under the charge of Sergeant Azijin and his legermen, they stay overnight at an inn, at Horn’s expense. Jahlee complains of the cold, and comes into Horn’s bed at night, seeking warmth. Horn holds her, noting that it feels the same as holding a human woman, although he knows her to be a reptile in human shape.
They sleep, and dream themselves (along with Sergeant Azijin and Legerman Vlug) to Green. They have been drawn there by Jahlee’s longings – for the warmth of Green, to be a human woman for Horn, or Hide, or anyone who has wanted her. They have come to a room in a tower of immeasurable height, stretching above Green’s clouds.
Horn awakens in the inn, with Jahlee asleep beside him: she cannot be woken, because her ‘spirit’ is still on Green. Azijin approaches Horn about his ‘dream’. He explains that their spirits left their bodies and went to another place. He does not say it was Green.
On arrival at Dorp, with Jahlee still asleep, the trio are split up and billeted on different people. Horn fears that Jahlee will be discovered to be an inhuma, and that he and Hide will be beaten, robbed of their goods and probably enslaved.
He is billeted upon Aanvegan and her husband Beroep, honest folk. He makes friends with a young serving girl, Vadsig, who points out Jahlee’s house, diagonally opposite. The next day, she reports where Hide is being kept. The Judge is a cousin of Nat, who is a bad man and a thief. He has been billeted on Beroep because Nat hopes he will escape, providing an excuse to confiscate his goods. Hide’s host Strijk and Jahlee’s, Wijzer, are honest men.
Horn is summoned to ‘court’ at Judge Hamer’s house. He presents a defence for Hide and Jahlee. He is accused of kidnapping – a capital offence. Horn denies the Judge’s right to try him and is beaten. Hide arrives and claims to be his twin, Hoof. He claims to have changed with Hide, to fool their father.
Horn is beaten again, this time into unconsciousness: he dreams of Green, which he believed impossible, since he was alone. He is back in the tower, but Jahlee is not to be seen. Horn climbs out, but is attacked by masses of inhumi, some vaguely human, many like reptilian bats. He climbs to the top of the cliffs and meets Jahlee.
At the formal trial, Hamer is forced to accept there has been a switch. He releases the absent Jahlee, declares Hide guilty as proved by his escape, and enters please of not responding for him and Horn. Strijk is charged with Hide’s escape. Cijfer announces Jahlee has escaped.
Horn is released. Vadsig was possessed during the hearing Mora and Fava.They discuss overthrowing the judges who rule Dorp: it is the only way to secure everyone. Oreb, having been sent with a message to Nettle, returns with news of everyone, including Krait, whom Horn identifies as the son of Jahlee. Apparently, Nettle cried on receiving the message, but has sent no response, which mystifies Horn.
Attempting to raise money by pawning jewellery, Horn finds Hoof is also in Dorp. He aannounces himself to his son and they are joined by Hide.
Horn is kept from writing for some time and cannot set down everything that followed. A succession of the Neighbours attend his trial and gave evidence on behalf of Horn. Nat tries to withdraw his charges, but Hamer refuses and threatens to charge Nat with perjury, demonstrating how the system in Dorp has corrupted everyone. For an undefined but seemingly extensive period, Horn took Judge Hamer and some (if not all) of those attending the trial to the Red Sun Whorl.
Horn does not directly relate this, although later he recalls being visited in his cell by an apprentice of the torturers, a lad with piercing eyes, who does not smile, who cannot forget, who has friends called Drotte, Roche and Eata: Severian. It is necessary for Horn to order Hamer to convict him on their return. This sparks an uprising against the judges.
After the trial, Horn lives for a time in Hamer’s house, which has been given to him by the town. Hide and Vadsig are to marry, and he expects Hoof will follow shortly. Some days after, during which he has done little writing and is clearly falling behind, his party, now including Vadsig, takes sail for New Viron, with Wijzer.
Only now does Horn recognise Wijzer as the merchant who gave him directions in New Viron, almost two years ago. He learns that Marrow is dead, the year before last. Vadsig wants to return to the Whorl, to see Viron and Grotestad, where her parents came from. They discuss why the Vanished People went to the Whorl and introduced the inhumi. Horn believes they wanted to see what humans were: they knew the inhumi and by studying the difference to humans, could learn much. They would give Blue and Green to the humans. Their own race had been ruined by the inhumi, their civilisation failed from shock.
Horn insists upon completing his mission by reporting back to New Viron, despite seeing and passing Lizard Island. Gyrfalcon is now Calde: he is a tyrant, but many regard a tyrant as better than anarchy. Hoof leaves for Lizard. Horn spends all day waiting to see Gyrfalcon, a waste of his time. Next, Horn visits Marrow’s house, meets Capsicum, his ‘executor’. She confirms that Marrow left a letter, asking for various things to be distributed, with the rest going to Capsicum, who had comforted him after his wife died. There is something for Horn, which proves to be a boat, a yawl that he renames Seanettle. Capsicum warns Horn he is in danger from Gyrfalcon, though Horn disagrees.
Having failed to see Gyrfalcon, Horn sets sail in the yawl, with Hide, Vadsig and Jahlee, first to Mucor’s rock. Horn remains on the boat, sending the others up and asking for Marble to descend to him. Marble descends. Immediately she can tell he is not Horn. Horn installs her new eye: he will never forget the great glory and joy at the sight.
At supper, Horn tells Marble that the eye came from her daughter Olivine. The next day he gives her a robe he has had made for her – not a sybil’s gown but similar in appearance. When they leave, Marble comes with them. She intends to find a way back to the Whorl, to find Hammerstone and Olivine, and together complete the building of their daughter, and have another.
At long last he returns home to Nettle. She comes to sit with him on a blanket on the beach, as they used to do. Horn is happy to be home, and not even wretched not to have found Silk. She falls asleep on the sands. Horn goes for a blanket to cover her and returns to find Jahlee feeding from her. He strikes Jahlee with his fists and kicks her to death. Jahlee admits she intended to kill Nettle and Horn was right to strike her. She admits that she and Krait were inhumi: Nettle is horrified that Horn has brought an inhumi here after what was done to Sinew as a baby.
Jahlee gives away the inhumi’s secret to Nettle: without blood, their children have no minds. Jahlee drank blood from Sinew long ago: Krait was her only son to live with a mind taken from Sinew. Without humans, the inhumi are only animals that fly and drink blood at night.
That is the last that Horn writes of his book. The remainder of the story is written by Hoof, with Daisy, his wife, and Hide and Vadsig.
After Jahlee’s burial, Horn leaves Lizard, taking Hoof. They return to New Viron. Horn wants to speak to Gyrfalcon, but spends his days wandering, speaking to many people. He is looking for an inhumi. He attracts Gyrfalcons’ attention and is summoned by the Calde’s men. Gyrfalcon asks if Horn wants to take New Viron off him: Horn says not. He hands over the corn grains, and cries at the completion of his mission.
Horn asks Gyrfalcon to attend Hide and Vadsig’s wedding. He admits he failed to find Silk, a moment he has feared. He confirms he wants to carry on journeying.
Finding an inhumi named Juganu, who recognises Horn as the Rajan of Gaon they sail out to sea, and travel to the Red Sun Whorl, including Babbie. They arrive on a boat out on the Red Sun’s seas. Oreb turns into both a bird and a girl. Horn says he has been possessed by Scylla, ever since the sacrifice in the Grand Manteion: it was why he left on returning to Blue and stayed away for a year: he was searching for a Sacred Window.
Horn is taking Viron’s Scylla to meet the Great Scylla of the Red Sun Whorl: Hoof witnesses but does not follow or understand the conversation: people coming out of the water, giant women, naked or dressed in robes and cowls. Horn tells the Red Sun captain that they will now leave, for good. Scylla will die tomorrow, when they go back to Blue, but Horn must take Scylla to the grave of Typhon’s daughter Cilinia, in the necropolis, a bargain he has made with the monster in the water. The grave was filled 300 years ago, but Horn has a friend who knows the place. It will be their last visit to the Red Sun.
They make the final journey from Marrow’s old house in New Viron. Horn’s cloak changes to fuligin. Severian finds Cilinia’s grave in an old building with lots of coffins. Scylla comments that she died young, not longer after she was scanned: she ‘dissolves’ into the grave. Horn has it re-closed and suggests it not be re-opened.
Hide and Vadsig come to New Viron for their wedding. The church is attacked by inhumi. Many die, human and inhumi: nearly two hundred of the latter. Without the weapons of Gyrfalcon’s guards, Horn and the wedding party would have perished.
Later, Horn speaks with Remora in the garden. Remora divines that Horn was trying to end his own life, by instigating the attack on the wedding: Horn admits this. He had provoked an attack, but had expected it to be against him only. He has not resumed with Nettle. Remora slowly draws Horn towards the realisation he has been avoiding. No-one could have blamed a man who gave his life in pursuit of his mission. Horn did not fail them. Silk nods.
AFTERWORD
The Book of the Short Sun was mostly written by the former Rajan of Gaon. He left no written account of his brief sojourn in Old Viron or the West Pole, but spoke of them often. Based on such conversations they have recreated this as best they could.
After his visit to Remora’s garden, the only one to see Horn again was Daisy, who writes the last account alone. She returned to her father’s boat and encountered the man Hide and Hoof called Father. He congratulated her on surviving the wedding, she having been rescued by Hoof. He introduced her to Seawrack. They are accompanied by an old iron sybil. He said they would sail that night, and asked Daisy to make his farewells. He had been dreading it: in a sense he had killed the twins’ father. Seawrack said they were sailing to Pajarocu. They would find a lander and return to the Whorl.
The Whorl is much farther away now, and invisible to the naked eye.

Some Books: John Winton’s ‘We Joined The Navy’, ‘We Saw The Sea’, ‘Down The Hatch’, Never Go To Sea’ and ‘All The Nice Girls’


Since 2014, when I went in search of books I had once read and re-read enthusiastically from Didsbury, I began an occasional series about re-discovering such books after something like thirty years. I am curious about whether I still find them appealing, and if this is for more than nostalgia for the times I associate them with.


I couldn’t possibly have the patience now, but in my youth, visits to Didsbury Library were long, drawn-out affairs. After checking in my last set of books (always use all eight tickets, always), unless I had some specific author in mind, I would go to General Fiction, start at A and work my way round to Z, painstakingly checking every book spine. As often as not, I would reach the end with fewer than eight books weighing me down and have to go back.
I was always eager for new things to read, though not so eager to break out of those semi-fixed tastes and likings. Shelves and shelves of books would hold no interest for me, but I was always prepared to pull out and examine any book whose title looked interesting or whose spine suggested something I might like.
I’d been at the Library for quite a long time the day I decided I’d take a chance on John Winton’s ‘We Saw The Sea’.
In 1959, Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander John Pratt had published his first novel, ‘We Joined The Navy’ under the pseudonym John Winton. It was a light-hearted, very popular book, based on his experiences in the training of Naval Officers. It was a great success, and was adapted for a 1962 film of the same name starring Kenneth More in a role that ought to have been a shoo-in for him, but which was an unfunny failure.
By the time Winton left the Navy in 1964, to become a full-time writer, he had written four sequels to ‘We Joined The Navy’. He would go on to a lengthy career as a specialist naval writer, initially with serious novels, but then, after publishers decided there was no interest in his subject (Patrick O’Brien might have disputed that), primarily as a writer of naval history, biography etc. (and for fourteen years, a Daily Telegraph obituarist).
‘We Saw The Sea’ was Winton’s first sequel. I got it home and enjoyed it immensely, finding it very funny. Through Didsbury Library and Central Ref, I ended up borrowing and reading all the series at least twice each, though I read them well out of publication order. Indeed, I was mildly disappointed by ‘We Joined The Navy’ when I got to it, and confused myself for some time over the publication order.
Something jogged my memory of Winton very recently, and I was extremely lucky to find a matching set of the 2004 hardback reissues, through the specialist publishers Maritime Books coming up on eBay at more than reasonable prices (though after getting the first four at asking price, some sod beat me to the last book with a last second 20p overbid: I bought it separately from another seller advertising it as the Maritime Books reissue but it’s actually the familiar Sixties copy I used to read from Didsbury Library).
Winton’s quintet has a connecting spine in the form of Lieutenant Commander Robert Bollinger Badger, known throughout the Navy as The Artful Bodger for his knack of being honest to the wrong person. The Bodger’s career is perpetually being diverted from the course his seniority and abilities should follow, but it keeps his environment forever changing.


Though he’s an important character in all five books, he’s only the central figure in two of the stories, with Cadets and later Lieutenants Michael Hobbes and Paul Vincent being the more or less ‘stars’ of the first two books, and Lieutenant Dagwood Jones of the last. But the Bodger is the true hero throughout, a wry, intelligent man with a comic appreciation of the foibles of the world and, more importantly, the men under, around and over him.
When it came to re-reading it, I was surprised to find that ‘We joined the Navy’ was more of a procedural than I ever realised before, with the characters inserted into a detailed and comprehensive account of Naval Officer Cadet training. In that sense, the book is equivalent to the earlier ‘Doctor’ books by Richard Gordon, who was already a well-established author at that time.
I found the book funny immediately. Winton wrote clear, concise prose in a dry, ironic tone that remains primarily factual, but wasn’t above framing his subjects in classical terms. The book starts with the Selection Board examining candidates for joining the Navy as would be officers and takes the chosen intake all the way through to their end of training, two years and one successful stemming of a south American revolution later.
Because of reading ‘We Saw The Sea’ first, I was pre-conditioned to think of Paul Vincent and Michael Hobbes as the principal characters of the first book, but really they’re only primus inter pares among a crew of cadets. True, we see slightly more of them than others, Paul the sophisticated urbanite from the outside and Michael the everyman the only one really seen from the inside, but the book is about the experience of everyone and the range of responses to it, from the paragon, Thomas Bowles, the natural, to Ted Maconochie, the hapless, helpless victim of his own self-belief, who pays the ultimate price, drowned in a sailing accident midway through the book.
The book is highly technical but never boring. It’s self-evidently based in experience, and I’d bet a substantial portion of the month’s rent on the people and the incidents being directly based in real life. Winton has an eye for telling similes but above all it’s that detached tone that carries the humour. The South American Revolution is a classic set-up and a complete farce that looks and sounds unbelievable, but which is probably very little exaggerated.
‘We Saw The Sea’ picks up the story six years later with Mike, now a Lieutenant, seeking a new posting, preferably Carousel, a destroyer about to go out to the Far East for an eighteen month tour. Mike’s not much changed. He’s managed to win the heart of the cool and charming Mary, who he fails to prise from her reporter boyfriend at the end of ‘We Joined The Navy’ and the two have been in love for quite some time. To his great delight, he shortly bumps into Paul, who has been posted to the same ship as has The Bodger, escaping from his last calamity.
After catching up with Paul, Mike and Mary get ambushed by her ex-journalist boyfriend’s new girlfriend, who turns out to be Ted Maconochie’s younger sister, Anne, eager for the truth as to what happens. It introduces her to Paul, who quickly steals her, and the climax to the book is their wedding (and the inspiration for Mike to marry Mary) once everyone’s back from the East.


‘We Saw The Sea’ is the same again, only at a higher level of service and experience, and taking in the new environment of the Far East. There’s a wonderful sequence on the troop ship delivering everybody to Singapore and points beyond, which contains both Army and RAF contingents. The former includes Goldilocks, an Army Captain and inveterate ‘personality’ who takes it upon himself to organise relentless social events. This insistence on non-stop activity irritates The Bodger (in which he’s far from alone) and his campaign to permanently disable Goldilocks from here to the end of the transfer is a hoot at every turn.
Once again, the book is a model of information about the running of a Destroyer, not to mention the role and activity of the Royal Navy in a period of peace. I can’t help but contrast my enjoyment of these books, especially now, with my failure to get absorbed in Patrick O’Brien’s ‘Aubrey and Maturin’ series, whose careful establishment of accurate and realistic detail failed to interest me at all.
I ended up ‘We Saw The Sea’; (which has a perfect closing line) curious as to Winton’s thought process, for as well as marrying both Paul and Michael off, he has The Bodger intending to retire, because the Navy is no longer what it was when he joined the Service and no longer has the same attraction for him.
Yet ‘Down the Hatch’ has The Bodger as its hero, and in command, of Britain’s newest and biggest submarine, HMS Seahorse. It’s a return to his old branch for The Bodger, who was a submariner in his early days in the Navy and, after a bit of shaking off of the rust, proves not to have lost any of his old wiliness. This is shown to its best effect in the long sequence which is the closest Winton comes to any actual war conditions: a massive Atlantic based Exercise, ‘Lucky Alphonse’, during which Seahorse has to mount an attack on a large Fleet whilst evading the anti-submarine patrols guarding against such things.
The anti-submarine patrols are commanded by ex-submariner Black Sebastian, a poacher-turned-gamekeeper if there ever was one, who can practically smell submarines. It’s a tense, protracted sequence, every bit of it is tense and demanding, even though nothing is at stake but the outcome of the exercise (The Bodger wins, of course).


At the end of the book, The Bodger is promoted to Commander, at which level he goes on to his next post, ashore and out of uniform, in ‘Never Go To Sea’. In this book, The Bodger is the new Assistant Director of Publicity for the Navy, charged with managing the Navy’s image, subject to the Navy coming to any sort of conclusion as to what the image ought to be.
There’s a not-unwelcome touch of J.B. Priestley in Winton’s swipes at the advertising industry but that’s really a minor element of the book, because Winton’s using this story as an excuse to go to the Races. This is Operation Blue Riband, a fanciful name for a notion in The Bodger’s head about running a Navy-owned horse in the Derby, and, of course, winning it.
The horse – Battlewagon – is inherited by George Dewberry, a decidedly drunken officer who also appeared in the first two books. He’s being trained by former Commander Peter Terry-Neames, aka The Bodger’s old friend, Poggles. Battlewagon’s got the pedigree, the physique, the speed, but he hasn’t got it, whatever it is, that makes horses want to run races. Nevertheless The Bodger, his beautiful wife Julia and even Poggles go equal shares in a syndicate to run Battlewagon under Julia’s name, with everybody’s eyes on the Derby.
All the technical knowledge and information Winton usually builds in about the Navy is displayed this time with regards to raining and racing a horse, and it’s every bit as fascinating even to someone who’s never placed a bet on a horse in his life. Basically, Battlewagon hasn’t got a chance and is going to be scratched, but the mysterious and undefined Operation Blue Riband has aroused a great deal of interest in the Press. So when it gets out in the Admiralty that it’s about a horse, The Bodger faces court martial, disgrace and dismissal, unless Battlewagon wins.
You always knew he would, and of course he does, but how it comes about is ingenious, not to mention hair-raising, though Winton has left clues for the sharp reader throughout the book, so for many the solution might not be quite such a glorious hoot. I spotted it this time, but then I’ve read the book before, which makes it easy.
The sequence ended with ‘All The Nice Girls’, which returns us to HMS Seahorse and in particular, its Electrical Officer, Lt. Dagwood Jones. Seahorse is coming in for a major refit at Harvey, McNicholl and Drummond, shipyards in Oozemouth, where The Bodger is now the Admiralty Liaison Officer. Seahorse’s refit is going to be a real uphill struggle, having been basically abandoned to its own fate by CEO Major Sir Rollo Falcon Hennesy-Smythe. Dagwood is one of the primarily unrequired crew left to provide continuity throughout the refit, a bachelor dedicated to staying that way. He rents an unusually attractive converted Tithe Barn which, combined with his signature shush kebab, becomes a very successful seduction parlour.
But The Bodger has plans to change Sir Rollo’s attitude by serving him up a naval son-in-law, for the CEO has a very attractive daughter, Caroline, who has already attracted Dagwood’s eye, as well as repelling it with a look that clearly says – in a brilliant line I’ve treasured for over fifty years – ‘the bus outside leaves at twelve – be under it!’


It’s another very funny book, as they all are, smooth and easy reads, but sadly it was the last. John Pratt left the navy the same year ‘All The Nice Girls’ was published, with enough of a track record to become a full-time writer from then until his death in 2001, with fourteen novels and twenty-nine works of no-fiction behind him.
He returned to this comic style twice, with ‘Good enough For Nelson’ in 1977 and ‘The Good Ship Venus’ in 1984. The first of these revived The Bodger whilst the second was a satirical look at the proposal to put women into ships in service on an equal footing with men (Winton was not in favour), which was officially frowned up by the Navy (a proposed film adaptation proved untenable when it became clear the Navy would lend no cooperation at all). Neither book, not even the one with The Bodger, was up to the standard of those first five books.
Of course they’re dated now, in the same way that P.G. Wodehouse is dated, and just like him it doesn’t matter one bit because they’re still funny and they’ll always be funny because they’re about people. There’s no doubt that the Navy, however much things have changed since, is still like this. And, like the Alida Baxter books I re-read at Xmas, John Winton’s The Bodger books will be kept, and read again.

A Lycanthrope in Wolf’s Clothing: Gene Wolfe’s ‘In Green’s Jungles’


Horn resumes his account after obtaining new supplies of paper and ink from a stationer in return for work in his shop and the advert of Horn writing outside. About a week has passed since the end of his first account.
Horn finds himself in Blanko, one of four towns founded by landers from Grandecitta on the Whorl. His appearance – white hair, eye-patch, black augur’s robes and the presence of Oreb – leads the townsfolk to believe him to be a strega, a male witch. He is invited to dinner at the ranch/farm outside Blanko by Inclito, its leading citizen and its Duko in all but name. Horn invites Inclito to give him a name, and he selects Incanto, the name of his elder brother who died as an infant.
Inclito is worried about the neighbouring town of Sordo, whose Duko Rigoglio is fomenting war, intent of extending his rule. Inclito believes there is a spy in his household and wants Incanto to expose them. Apart from servants, who are trustworthy, the household includes Inclito’s 15 year old, heavily built daughter Mora, her small, dark-haired friend, Fava and his mother, Salica, who is ailing.
By custom, the party entertain each other with stories, competing to be best. Each are allegories of one sort or another to the teller’s situation. Horn tells of his time on Green, of being released from captivity on that planet by a Neighbour, who wanted Horn to use his sword to free a blockage in a sewer, consisting of corpses jammed in the pipe. Horn is attacked in the sewer by an old, blind man who is feeding on the dead flesh, and floats downriver.
It does not take Horn long to detect that Fava is not only the spy, but an inhuma, and that she is feeding off Salica.
Horn stays with the stationer for another couple of nights during which he is visited by Mora and Fava after their schoolday. He is invited to Inclito’s for another evening meal, and another round of stories. In some strange fashion, he is able to enter Fava’s story, which is very clearly set on Green, and change the course of it. His own story continues that of the previous night and recounts his recovery of the light given him by the Neighbour and his sword. However, he has released the blockage: corpses are flowing down the river.
Horn goes on to free the human prisoners, forming a rebel band that bases itself in Green’s near-impassable jungles. This includes his son Sinew, who for a time at least seems to be more accepting of his father than his has been before.
But Horn’s accounts of his time on Green are vague and elliptical, even with regard to significant moments, such as Krait’s joining the band, and his eventual death, alone with Horn, who has been abandoned after receiving a wound.
He is wounded twice more, almost dying on both occasions, but finds a lander in the jungle. He holds tight to the dream of repairing it and flying away, leading his dwindling band in raids on settlements for miles around, until Sinew betrays him by falling for a settlement woman, and going over to their side.
Eventually, Horn is abandoned by his last two followers, who steal the light and the sword. He believes the lander lacks only one part, but he is now dying. All he has left is Seawrack’s ring, into which he gazes. A Neighbour comes to him through the ring, offering the only aid he can: he can send Horn’s spirit into the body of a man on the Whorl, whose spirit is dying: this will leave one whole man in the place of two who are dying.
Horn consents, and finds himself beside an open coffin, occupied by a middle-aged woman, in a house almost destroyed. He is holding a knife on which is his own blood, there is blood on his head, arms, face and neck. He leaves the house, judging it to be midday by the remaining line of the Long Sun.
With war looming, Horn becomes Inclito’s adviser, Everyone believes him to be Inclito’s actual brother and despite his denials, they all believe him to be a strega. Horn sends Fava away without exposing her for what she is. He also arranges for messengers to take secret messages to the other two, more distant towns, Olmo and Novecitta, who are allied to Sordo. One of the messengers, Eco, is from Gaon, and fought in their war under their Rajan. He does not expose Horn.
Horn expects the messages to be intercepted, and intends this to undermine Sordo’s confidence in their allies, but Mora, who is embarrassed and self-conscious of her weight, and becoming aware that her suitors may only court her to inherit Inclito’s wealth, steals a horse and takes one of the messages herself.
Horn is haunted, frequently, by the distant sound of Seawrack’s singing. It is also apparent from other’s comments, that he is eating very little, far lss than a man of his age would normally need to eat.
Inclito is captured whilst in pursuit of Mora. As Incanto, Horn takes over direction of Blanko’s campaign. Exploring a possible ambush site, Horn discovers a Soldo party composed mainly of Gaon’s former mercenaries. He persuades many of them into changing sides. They imprison their commander whilst they debate the issue. The mercenaries have Inclito and his ‘daughter’ who turns out to be Fava.
Horn updates Inclito (and thus the mercenaries) on Blanko’s progress. Though their force seems weak, Horn is confident it will destroy Soldo in a fight. The mercenaries produce their officer, Sfido and attribute magical powers to Horn. Tempers rise and Horn points out how easily he can destroy them by their dissension. He offers himself in exchange for Inclito and ‘Mora’, though the mercenary leader Kupus releases only the former. He and Fava are bound hand-to-hand and his staff is taken.
It snows that night. Horn awakes to what he believes is a dream: impossible as it seems, he, Fava and the mercenaries are on Green, in the cellars under the city where he was imprisoned. Fava has turned into a human woman. The mercenaries ask to be taken back. Horn tries to draw his staff and Oreb to him: the bird appears, transformed into a four year old bird-child. For the moment, the mercenaries remain loyal to Soldo, so Horn shapes his old black sword, and uses it to raise the flagstone covering the steps. He descends with Fava and Oreb: the hole closes behind them.
Fava finds a man in the sewer who tells of coming to the mercenaries’ camp to scout, and finding everyone in an unnatural sleep, and now finds himself in this sewer. Horn theorises that the inhumi used to prey on the Vanished People and thus became somewhat like them: the combination of Horn and inhumi somehow triggers such episodes. He asks Fava to think of the quarters of the Duko of Soldo: they transfer there.
Horn seeks Duko Rigoglio, to sue for peace for Blanko. They are taken to Rigoglio’s bedroom. Horn surrenders his sword, but immediately recreates it. Rigoglio explains that he intends, in time, to claim all of Blue. He was a sleeper from Urth, who recalls Nexus and the light of green Luna. He will offer peace to Blanko if it surrenders all its weapons – then he can do as he chooses. His sentry enters: Horn and Fava concentrate upon returning to the hillside. As they do, the mercenaries break in: one shoots at Rigoglio but the slug hits the wall of the sewer.
Horn and Fava halt when they hear the mercenaries in the sewer. They had lifted the stone in the cellar, found a sheer drop below and landed on a street in Soldo. The mercenaries see the human corpses. Horn tells of his attack on the city with 100 rogues. Now he will attack with troops, and promises they will go home when the last inhumi is dead. The next day, the mercenaries clear the city professionally.
Subsequently, the party returns to the hillside on Blue. Two men, killed in the sewers, are alive but mindless and dumb: Fava is dead, (probably killed by the cold and the snow). Horn conceals that she is an inhuma and buries her there.
Horn returns to Blanko to raise money for the mercenaries. When the leading men of the town talk of how to cheat the mercenaries, Horn leaves, disgusted. He assembles a Horde, of old men, women and children, who he arms. A courier from Olmo brings news that Soldo has attacked and is besieging them. This ensures Blanko will be supported by Olmo and Nova Cittia.
He is visited by Sfido, who has tried to persuade Duko Rigoglio to bribe Incanto over to their side but instead the Duko wants Incanto killed. Sfido has escaped imprisonment and confiscation of his lands. He believes Blanko will lose, being militarily inferior, but also that Incanto is a strego: he seeks employment, wanting only the return of his lands in Soldo.
Horn and Sfido start training Blanko’s Horde. The war is going badly and Sfido is critical of Inclito and Rimando’s tactics. Horn however has a plan. He moves his Horde into the cornfields, where they dig ditches and build sandbag walls, to create defences. Inclito’s wounded are retreating, with Soldese prisoners. Horn bivouacs at a house occupied by an old woman, about whom something is familiar. Whilst he sleeps, it begins to snow.
When Soldo’s army appears, Horn goes out under flag of truce to speak with its Colonel, Terzo, who mocks Incanto’s efforts and offers him a means of escape from the forthcoming slaughter. Horn refuses, and Terzo leaves in anger. The attack does not follow immediately. When the cavalry attack, they fall foul of Horn’s trip-ropes – pairs of roped boars in the corn-fields. Those that get through, founder in snow-filled ditches. Horn offers a truce to Terzo, who is wild with anger at the breach of the ‘laws’ of war. He threatens to shoot Horn, who invokes the singing of the Neighbours, opening Terzo up to hearing Seawrack: he runs in fear.
Soldo’s final attack ends in defeat. Horn has seen a young man, Cuoio, who reminds him of Hoof and Hide. The farmhouse appears to be occupied by two women, one old, one young, both named Jahlee.
Duko Rigoglio has been captured, with General Morello and Colonel Terzo. Horn talks to Rigoglio, learning he was a sleeper, like Silk or Mucor: his real name is Roger and he wants that on his tombstone. Mucor appears: Babbie has returned, does Horn still want him? Horn assures her he does, which is good as Babbie misses him.
Horn sends Oreb to find a stone table, i.e. an altar of the Vanished People. Horn leaves the return column to pay his devotions. The altar is harder to reach than he expects, but is very impressive. He plans an experiment in reaching Green for that night, to try to locate Sinew and learn the location of the altar on Lizard Island. He believes he should sacrifice to the gods, but has nothing to offer. He ‘shares’ bread and wine with the stone, and finds himself in the presence of the Outsider, though he cannot and must not turn to see him. He tries to explain the experience, as being as if he was in a picture that existed eternally, but only for a moment.
Returning to the column, he takes Cuoio aside: it is his son, Hide. Hide is reluctant to admit he is a foreigner after his experiences on the way here. He describes his father, Horn, as totally different from the man he is with, but agrees to call ‘Incanto’ father. He describes his attempts, and those of Hoof, who has gone north, to find Horn or Pajarocu. He calls his father a good man, and clearly genuinely loves him. Nettle drove both away to hunt for Horn.
They shoot game and drag it into camp for everyone to eat. Horn is taken ill and is taken back to the farmhouse, where he is taken care of by the inhumi Jahlee, who disclaims any feeding off him. Horn will not betray her. Instead, he intends to use her presence to experiment with a return to Green. He calls in everyone present, prisoners, troopers etc. But there are too many, and Mora, arriving with her new husband, Eco, clears the room for Horn’s safety. She is dreaming nightly of Fava as a little girl. Horn can stop the dreams but Mora decides to keep them.
Horn still plans to try to reach Green, limits his party to the three Soldese prisoners, Rigoglio, Morello and Terzo, with Mora and Eco, Inclito’s coachman and Jahlee in her youthful guise. He hopes that if he can show the people of Blue the state of affairs on Green, they will understand that their future benefit lies in joining together, in being co-operative and helpful, rather than engaging in war and suspicion.
Instead of arriving on Green, the party finds itself in an ancient city on an immensely wide river, beneath a massive red sun beyond which the stars are visible in daylight. Horn refers to it as the Red Sun Whorl, but we recognise it as Nessus on Gyoll.
Jahlee has become a beautiful woman, obsessed with a sexuality that, as an inhuma, she has often pretended to but never been able to express. She strips off to admire herself. Horn reveals to Hide that she is an inhuma, to protect him: Jahlee has not yet understood their relationship.
Rigoglio recognises his old house. He is freed to enter it, but inside he is attacked and stabbed by an omophagist. He is badly wounded. Horn can return them to Blue, but Rigoglio would have a knifewound to his soul: they are ‘spirits’ here.
Seeking a physician for Rigoglio, they meet a sentry who asks if they are taking the omophagist to the peltasts. No-one understands. The sentry believes that Horn’s black cloak marks him as a Torturer. Jahlee offers herself to him and he gives her his cloak, to claim her. The sentry escorts them to his lochage, who sends the party to the Bear Tower. Horn recognises the Towers – including the Matachin Tower of the Torturers – as landers, but incredibly ancient, as is everything in the Red Sun Whorl.
Rigoglio receives medical treatment at the Bear Tower but dies in any event. A promise is given that he will be buried in the graveyard, though Horn and the party return to Blue without knowing if this actually takes place. Jahlee rejoins them, having assisted in the treatment of the doomed Rigoglio: she has been beaten by the sentry.
Horn and Hide leave to seek New Viron. Hide asks questions, about the inhumi on Green, and why the Vanished People abandoned Blue and Green to them? Horn can only guess. Hide compares ‘Incanto’ to his real father: only now does the boy realise this is his father, and something has happened to totally change his appearance. Jahlee joins them. She claims to have a human spirit, which Horn says she has stolen. She wants to come with them to New Viron but Horn drives her off, complaining that she has travelled 30 leagues to offer her love and friendship, in vain.
In dream, Horn finds himself on Green, with Hide, the half-human Oreb and a human Jahlee. Hide has found Sinew’s village, well fortified with wooden palisades. They are examined at the gate before being allowed to enter: Jahlee gives their names as Incanto and Cuoio but Horn gives their real names.
Sinew – the village’s rais-man – is away hunting. The group are taken to the Maliki-woman, the township judge, a former woman of the Long Sun Whorl, who recognises Horn as Caldé Silk, and challenges him to recall her name. He identifies her as Trivigaunti, but only after the return to Blue does he name her as the former Colonel Abanja. She had gone to the lander as a spy, but having failed to prevent it landing, she has taken charge: Trivigaunti are the best organised on Green.
Maliki, who openly distrusts Jahlee, takes them to Sinew’s hut, and his wife Bala and children Shauk and Karn. The village has prisoners in its cellar, humans who were slaves of the inhumi. Hide goes to clean them out, in Sinew’s absence, whilst Horn discusses with Maliki how Patera Quetzal got to the Long Sun Whorl in the first place.
The prisoners include a woman who ‘recognises’ Hide as looking like someone she used to know: Horn. She is Chenille, and the big male leader is Auk.
The group ‘returns’ to Blue. Jahlee disappears for two days: she returns to talk with Horn, who admits to liking her, whilst still not trusting her. She wants to return to Green. Horn wants to return to Seawrack, a desire he has not known until he says it.
Hide awakens, having dreamed of being on Green, but only a dream this time. He asks about Sinew, and whether the inhumi will kill the humans as they did the Vanished People. Horn is convinced they will not, though he cannot be sure. Because of something they have done? Not Horn and Hide alone, but Sinew, Bala, Maliki, everyone. The Vanished People would never have asked consent to return to Blue if humans were to become slaves of the inhumi, or exterminated.
Horn admits that, on the lander, descending on Green, he thought Pas had made a mistake, that Green was a death-trap of inhumi. It is not quite so. The inhumi do not have overwhelming numbers. Sinew and the colonists will kill many, and every human the inhumi kill is one less slave they can work.
During the night, the Neighbours visit Horn. They debate the possible errors of Pas. Horn and Hide maintain he was right to send colonists to Blue and Green, Jahlee that it was a mistake. Where Pas did err was in allowing other gods. Humans erred by allowing the Outsider to be removed. He was not one of Pas’s children, but they did not understand he may be Pas’s father.
The Neighbours will not answer when asked who are their gods. Horn asks about Seawrack and her ‘Mother’. A week of rain and snow passes, during which Horn does not write. He and Hide set out again. In mid-morning, they overtake a woman swaddled in furs, who seeks their company. At sunset they reach an inn, the last for 10 leagues. The Innkeeper offers rooms, taking Horn and Hide for the lady’s servants: when she speaks, Horn recognises her and names her his daughter, Jahlee.

A Lycanthrope in Wolfe’s Clothing: Gene Wolfe’s ‘On Blue’s Waters’


Horn, who wrote the Book of Silk with the aid of his wife, Nettle, is now writing another book, on his own. A year earlier, he agreed to carry out a mission, at which he has failed. He is, in effect, a prisoner, a long way from his home of New Viron. He hopes that, one day, his story will make its way to New Viron, to explain his failure and to advise his wife, and his three sons, Sinew, Hoof and Hide, of his fate.
Twenty years have passed since Horn and Nettle landed on Blue from the Whorl as part of a Vironese party. New Viron has been founded on the coast of the eastern continent. After failing as farmers, Horn and Nettle have set up on Lizard Island as paper manufacturers. Their elder son Sinew is a difficult boy, perpetually at war with his father: the twins are much younger.
Life is hard on Blue and the colonists are going backwards every year. A committee of five, the richest people in New Viron, approach Horn. A letter has been received from the unknown town of Pajarocu, claiming that a lander has been repaired and will return to the Whorl: places are being offered.
The representatives want Horn to go, to obtain new, pure strains of wheat, to prevent crops failing, and they also want Horn to persuade Silk to come to New Viron and become its Calde: none of them trust the others is they become Calde.
Horn, now in his mid-thirties, and almost bald, agrees to take on this task, at which he says he has failed. In a haphazard, rambling manner, full of digressions, he recounts his journey from New Viron to Pajarocu and the lander.
At the same time, he records what is happening to him as he writes. He has been installed as Rajan of Gaon, apparently in a case of mistaken identity for Silk. Gaon is an inland territory many miles north of New Viron: though Horn is the ‘ruler’, he would not be allowed to leave.
Pajarocu’s whereabouts are unknown, but a merchant, Wijzer of Dorp, places it on the western continent, known locally as Shadelow. Horn sets sail in the boat he has built himself. First, he visits the tiny island where Maytera Marble looks after Mucor, hoping to get her to project herself to the Whorl and identify Silk’s whereabouts. Marble is now blind, and, giving Horn one of her failed eyes, asks him to try to find a working one for her. Mucor reports that Silk does not want to be found and that searching for him would put him in danger.
Horn is determined to proceed however, and sails on with Babbie, a young hus, gifted to him by Marble and Mucor.
His account wanders between the story of his voyage, his considerable doubts and fears about the accuracy and honesty of what he is writing, and his attempts to rule Gaon, in the sense of acting as a fair and neutral Judge, as closely as he can to how Silk would act in his place.
Horn gains a travelling companion in the form of a beautiful young woman, naked with long blonde hair, and with only one arm. The young woman’s origins are unknown: she has lost her arm to an attack by Babbie on her first attempt to board, but on her second she is sent aboard by a giant woman, rising from the sea, whom she calls Mother. This latter appears to be some kind of sea-goddess, who has cared for the young woman underwater for some time, and who is now driving her back to her own kind, humans.
Horn names her Seawrack, being the closest he can come to the name he is given for her. He finds her incredibly beautiful and tempting, though he intends to remain loyal to Nettle (even as he hopes she has found herself a new husband, to replace him).
Time passes in Gaon. The Convergence with Green, during which the inhumi attack openly and in greater numbers, passes without any reference to its events.
Horn is asked to extend his ‘rule’ to the downriver community of Skany but refuses to do so because of the distance between the two towns. He sends engineering experts to create a more navigable channel around cataracts below Gaon, improving the town’s commerce. Upriver, there are further cataracts, less susceptible to being by-passed. The upper town of Han asks for the same courtesy and, when this is not extended, they start a war, in which Horn is wounded.
Back on his voyage, Horn repels the attack of an inhumu, who drinks blood from Babbie. Later, however, whilst seeking game and water on an island, he falls into a deep pit and is badly injured. Seawrack abandons him, convinced he is dead. The inhumu offers assistance in escaping, but demands Horn swear not to hurt him, or betray him as an inhumu, and to assist him to join the lander at Pajarocu.
Horn is forced to humiliate himself to gain assistance. He takes Krait, as the inhumu names himself, as not just a travelling companion but also as a son, despite the fact that the two quarrel daily. Seawrack is recovered from the sea and Krait leads Horn to demand she sing, a song that inflames him into raping her brutally: nevertheless, the two become lovers as the voyage progresses.
The war does not go well for Gaon. Horn sees an opportunity to escape but this requires him to disinter buried inhumi. Thanks to Krait, he knows a secret about the inhumi that they do not want revealed: he threatens to make this public unless they act for Gaon in the war. The first inhuma released takes the name Jahlee, meaning false, but she and her fellows keep their word.
Horn finally sees lights on Shadelow. These belong to a family of four, headed by He-pens-sheep. He has some contact with the Vanished People, or Neighbours. These are the seemingly vanished original population of Blue. Horn goes out at night to find them, though they appear in no light, cannot be counted and seem to have twice the number of arms and legs. The Neighbours have left Blue for another form of existence: Horm, in the name of all humans, accepts Blue from them and promises they may visit without molestation perpetually.
Returning, he discovers he can navigate the thickest of thickets and jungle with ease.
Pajarocu is now within reach, but before navigating the river that leads to it, Horn’s boat is overtaken by his son Sinew, who is pursuing him in his usual refusal to accept directions. Sinew is shocked at Seawrack. The party manages to reach the Town where the lander has not yet left. Horn recognises it immediately, the only man who might, because it is different from all the others. It is a crew lander, the one in which Auk and Chenille set off. It will not return to the Whorl but will take its passengers to Green, to be cattle for the inhumi: it is Pajarocu’s price for being left in peace.
In Gaon, Horn is still hindered by his wound. Hari Mau, who brought him back from the Whorl, is now the Gaon War Leader and looks set to win the war with Han. If he loses, Han will execute Horn, if he wins, Hari Mau’s friends will dispose of him to enable Hari Mau to become Rajan.
Horn advances his plans to leave, with the aid of Evensong, his Hannese ‘wife’. His paper supply is running short and he is determined to take his story too the launching of the lander, though in the end the account is scanty. Seawrack is left behind, Krait betrays the humans, Sinew stands with Horn but they cannot persuade enough humans to believe them and prevent the lander travelling to Green. Krait is killed but before dying reveals the inhumi’s great secret to Horn, on oath not to repeat it. His threat to do so is what persuaded Jahlee and the others to work for him and Gaon.
Horn escapes downriver but is forced to abandon his boat under inhumi attack. His last pages are written in the middle of nowhere. He muses about the many omissions from his account. His last recollection is that of Silk, snatching the ball from Horn on the ballcourt.