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 Wolfe’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.
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.

A Lycanthrope in Wolfe’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.

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

The Book of the Long Sun was always my least favourite part of the Solar Cycle. This is not meant to denigrate the series, nor to suggest that I disliked it, previously, but rather to reflect the way in which it is so different from the other two sequences. Both New and Short Suns are first person narratives, whereas Long Sun is third person and thus does not present a single narrative timeline, however convoluted. Instead, the longer the story extends, the wider the group of people involved becomes. As a result, the series becomes increasingly fragmented, both in itself and in Wolfe’s deliberate elision of events and happenings.
When Nightside was first announced, it was as a series set in the universe of The Book of the New Sun. I bought it in hardback, through my Book Club, eventually replaced it with the NEL paperback, that forms a matching edition with the rest of the series.
The connection between the two series was not apparent on my first reading of Nightside. It’s there, but I did not pick up the link between ‘two-headed Pas, chief of the Gods’, and Typhon the former Autarch of Urth. Wolfe makes this explicit in Lake, naming Typhon, but the atmospheres of the two books remain completely different.
Long Sun is a much more conventional SF set-up. The Whorl is eventually recognisable as a gigantic generation starship, illuminated by the Long Sun, the equivalent of a fluorescent light the length of the ship, with night and day artificially created by a shade rotating about its length. The inhabitants live on the inside surface, unaware of the reality of their existence. Mainframe is the ship’s control room, and its ‘Gods’ are digital beings, created by personality scans on Urth of Typhon, his family and, amongst others, his mistress Kypris.
Though the story itself is about Silk, and about events in Viron, and they take up the vast majority of the account, they are actually nothing more than minor incidents of no more than local concern. What is of far greater importance are the events that Silk and those around him are very slow to understand: that the Whorl has been travelling 300 years from Urth to reach the Sun system of which the planets Blue and Green are inhabitable, that the heatwave is the product of the technology of the Whorl gradually breaking down, to the detriment of everyone, and of the power struggle within Pas’s family for control of the mission. Pas has arranged all of this to give humanity a new home far from Urth, and wants the Cargo to evacuate the Whorl for the planets. But his family seek to keep them as worshippers within the ship, leading to the struggle for dominance that underlies the tale.
Wolfe is notorious for his use of unreliable narrators. Despite the use of the third person in this series, that’s still the case. The narrator is not the omniscient figure of mainstream fiction, but in a surprise revelation at the end (as in Severian’s disclosure at the end of New Sun), he is revealed to be a minor character (who has on a couple of widely separated instances given himself away by the word ‘I’), someone barely present at any of the scenes described.
Despite Horn describing how he has built up the story he wanted to call ‘The Book of Silk’, massive doubts must remain as to how accurate this account is.
Blogging this series has taken a long time because of the increasingly fragmentary nature of the account. Nightside is related solely from Silk’s viewpoint: his actions, his thoughts, his experiences. But increasingly, from Lake though to Exodus, the persons involved increase. Auk and Chenille become viewpoint characters, and then others are added, and added, and added until by the end of Exodus we are looking at a kaleidoscope.
This diffuses the story, and indeed Wolfe, the further he goes along, leaves out certain events, until by the end, the first lander evacuates the Whorl taking two major characters with it having left entirely from offstage, and the unresolved situation in Viron is simply left in the air. Trying to draw so many disparate points and viewpoints into a coherent account was extremely difficult and to do so I have left out much of what happens.
Then there are the accents. Most commentators praise Wolfe’s technique, highly deservedly so. There are up to fifty different voices represented at different times here, each of them distinct, to the point that characters need not be introduced when they reappear but are obvious from how they speak. Oreb speaks in two-syllable bursts, Patera Remora’s um, speech, is ah, incredibly prolonged and prone to, I hesitate to mention this, constant digression, whilst Patera Incus emphasises random words, over and again. Auk talks in a complex thieves’ argot, Master Xiphias in breathless bursts, lad!
And so on and so on and so on, until for one reader at least the technical ability becomes nothing but an irritation, especially with voices like Remora and the whining, self-important, vindictive Incus, who are annoying to begin with. The longer the book goes on, the more voices there are, competing for attention and distinction, the more this begins to feel like showing off.
I know that’s unfair on Wolfe, but this re-reading, focussed upon the reactions I would be expressing, only exacerbated the effect.
This is made worse by what still appears like an unusual structural flaw in the series as a whole. Unlike New Sun, where there are unquantified interludes between each volume, the first three books of Long Sun are a continuous story, taking place over a space of no more than a couple of days. At the end of Caldé, there is an epilogue. Although the story is incomplete in many respects at that time, it gives the feeling of an overall ending. After all, that is the function of an Epilogue: to follow on from the conclusion of a story and comment on its events retrospectively.
And even though there were outstanding issues, it would still have functioned as a satisfying ending, like episode 13 of the first series of 24 would have been an ending if the show had not proved itself with the audience and the option for the full 24 episodes been taken up.
So Exodus came as a surprise, and it still feels like an unintended appendage. It starts two weeks after the previous book finished, it’s the most fragmented of the four books, it has far more gaps in the narrative than all the others added together, and I have always had the subconscious impression that it is both a rushed volume, and one in which Wolfe has ended up with more story than could be properly compressed.
This last volume begins with the resurrection of Councillor Potto, whose continual giggling is equally as annoying as Incus or Remora, and it ends with what feels like several essential scenes relating to the beginning of the evacuation of the Whorl being omitted entirely. And even after that, it leaves the situation back on the Whorl in a very confused and incomplete state: Viron and Trivigaunte at war, yet another retreat into the tunnels, Silk hunting for Hyacinth again, no real political settlement as to Viron’s government: Exodus leaves so many balls in the air that it ultimately is less of a complete ending than Caldé, which is supposedly only three-quarters of the way through the series!
Wolfe followed The Book of the Long Sun immediately with The Book of the Short Sun. As we’ll see next, twenty years separate the two series, though they share a common narrator, and though part of the story once again takes place on the Whorl, the situation there is of little direct concern to Short Sun. Patera Quetzal’s status as non-human is a link between the two series, and that alone indicates that Wolfe had some ideas for his sequel in mind at a relatively early stage when writing Long Sun: Quetzal is implanted at the halfway point, his non-human status revealed almost immediately, though it is of no relevance to this series and is deployed only in the sense that Quetzal has more than human abilities.
Quetzal’s status as link is most effective in a perfunctory manner, at the very end, after the story itself has ended. Horn reveals that, after acting throughout as a positive force, Quetzal turns against the humans, trying to take them to his home planet, Green, to be slaves and food, only to be killed (implicitly) and revealed to be an inhumi.
It’s an awkward transition, made the more so by the distant fashion in which Horns outlines it, and it adds to my impression of the final book as being rushed and incomplete, and not incomplete in the deliberate way by which Wolfe usually works.
These are harsh criticisms to make, and most improbable ones from what we have already seen in Wolfe, and will continue seeing. Ultimately, this re-reading has led me to lose a lot of my previous regard for the series. I found it difficult to read and comprehend, in a way that Short Sun, despite being even more complex in narrative structure, is not. Others have far higher opinions, and it will be useful, I think, to link to two such, for the other side of the coin.
I think it is likely to be some time before I return to this set of books, unlike The Book of the New Sun. I already feel like re-reading that but I still have several more novels by the lupine master to go through before I can afford myself that pleasure again.

A Lycanthrope in Wolfe’s clothing: Gene Wolfe’s ‘Exodus from The Long Sun’

Two weeks have passed. The Ayuntamiento has gone underground, refusing to surrender or acknowledge Silk as Caldé, whilst the Trivigaunte troops effectively occupy Viron. General Mint and Patera Remora are at Blood’s ruined villa, hoping to negotiate a truce. Though Councillor Potto’s chem body remains, another arrives, with his chief spy-catcher Spider, and takes them prisoner.
Potto dismisses the rebellion and considers himself free to kill or torture Mint. He threatens to blind her by pouring boiling hot water into her eyes, but is halted by the arrival of Patera Quetzal, bearing tidings of another theophany, this time of the supposedly-dead Pas. Spider forces the prisoners into the tunnels, only for Quetzal to disappear.
Silk still hunts for Hyancinth. He finds Chenille reinstalled at Orchid’s. Auk is also missing. Both women promise to aid his search and he takes Chenille to Sun Street where he shrives her. Auk is at the Orilla, where he has gathered two hundred disciples and is holding Hyacinth under guard by Corporal Hammerstone. He is still following Blind Tartoros.
Silk is approached by Hossaan, a Trivigaunte spy who he recognises as having been Blood’s driver. A Trivigaunti army is approaching which will secure Silk as Caldé, though he will be a puppet in those conditions. Maytera Marble, who has brought her granddaughter Mucor to the mainteion, asks Silk the favour of having her severed hand reattached.
However, Silk first asks Marble to oversee reopening the Caldé’s Palace. He surprises Generalissimo Saba with the knowledge Hossaan has provided of the troop movements, leaving her assuming he has gained this through augury. He presides over their ceremonial arrival and invites Generalissimo Siyuf to a formal banquet at the Palace.
Meanwhile, a team of fliers from Mainframe, led by Sciathan, observe events among the cargo. They are seeking Auk but, when they land near the Trivigaunti forces, all are killed except their leader.
Auk, who is no augur, leads his disciples to Sun Street, where Patera Incus performs the ceremony, leading to Pas’s theophany. Pas’s plan is now to be followed: the occupants of the Whorl must leave it to settle on the Short Sun planets around which it orbits. Anticipating his family’s revolt, forty years ago Pas his small parts of himself in various bios, including one Patera Jerboa. He is now rebuilding himself.
Silk has taken Marble to the shop where her hand is reattached. Whilst there, he orders several taluses for the city.
Imprisoned in the tunnels, Mint and Remora hear shots. Remora tries to signal for aid with his gammadion, but instead Spider takes them deeper within, where they are to shrive one of his men. However, the man is already dead so instead they have to take him into a side-tunnel for burial. Mint suspects all Spider’s men are dead: he tries to negotiate his continued employment as spy-catcher if the Ayuntamiento falls, to which Mint agrees.
The men are dead. Mint questions Spider about the purposes of the tunnels, which were designed by Pas as air-conditioning ducts and to allow water to be flushed through them. After three hundred years the system is breaking down. Spider surrenders his needler to Mint, expecting to be killed, and hopes for interment. He reveals that her aide and second in command Bison, whom she hopes to marry, join her army as his spy, but refused further reports after he became loyal to her. Three chem soldiers, despatched by Silk, erupt from the grave-earth.
Auk leads men to find Patera Jerboa, who returns with them to Sun Street to sacrifice. Jerboa rambles, but the eventual manifestation is of Kypris, who reports that Pas is wiping his wife Echidna out of Mainframe.
Oosik visits Silk to advise on likely future developments now Trivigaunte is here in force: Viron must concentrate on the tunnels, where Siyuf will be at a disadvantage. Bison brings news that a raiding party has found fresh blood in the tunnels. Silk sets a place for Mint at the formal dinner, to prevent Trivigaunte suspecting she may be dead, but Siyuf’s intelligence has already reported this: the Generalissimo is possessed by Mucor who confirms that Mint is alive and above ground.
Sergeant Sand leads the chem soldiers. They get everyone, including released prisoners out of the tunnels up a chute into the private chapel beneath the Prolocutor’s Palace.Mint cleans herself and changes garments before reporting to the Caldé’s Palace, but her message is taken by Hossaan.
At the dinner, Silk horrifies everyone by planning to release Mint’s army each with two cards and their weapons. Only Siyuf understands that he will be earning their loyalty. He leaves abruptly on receiving word of Hyacinth and they are soon reunited. After dinner, Siyuf takes Chenille back to her room. Later, Chenille uses the monitor glass to find Auk and arrange for another girl to replace her.
Remora conducts a sacrifice which fails. Sergeant sand offers himself, a sacrifice that brings Pas to the Holy Window. Echidna tries, unsuccessfully, to override him. Pas orders sand to be taken to Auk for restoration. Mint leads a group including Marble to rendezvous with Auk for this.
Everyone gathers at the Grand Manteion anticipating Pas’s next appearance. Quetzal revokes Silk’s vow of chastity so that he can marry Hyacinth. Mint requests the same, and Quetzal lso releases Marble, whom Hammerstone has recognised as his former girl Moly(bdenum): they plan to make a child.
On wakening from a deep sleep, Auk discovers Jerboa has died. He gets Incus to revive Sand. Sciathan is taken away under the control of Colonel Abanja’s, Siyuf’s intelligence Officer, but still refuses to answer questions. Chenille passes on to Silk that a Flier has been captured and is being taken to the Juzgado, which Siyuf plans to take for her headquarters. Auk has himself smuggled in as Sciathan’s cellmate and breaks him out to go to Silk.
Sciathan’s mission is to find Auk, and take him with any companions he chooses to Mainframe. The Long Sun is overheating and will soon have to be shut off. The cargo must leave and go outside and Auk must lead them. Not until they have reached Silk does Auk reveal who he is.
Silk calls a conference with the Ayuntamiento, represented by Loris and Potto. The Trivigauntis have begun disarming Mint’s army, so they have been sent home. Potto is triumphal, but Silk points out that all they have to do is let the Ayuntamiento and Trivigaunte fight in the tunnels: the winner will be too weak to resist Mint’s forces. Silk does not want to do this. Rather he wants to use Saba’s airship to get Auk and Siathan to Mainframe.
Silk reveals that Chenille is the illegitimate daughter of the murdered Caldé, Tussah, and therefore his sister. Sciathan pleads for urgency: if an exodus does not begin soon, Pas will begin to force both cargo and crew out. Loris and especially Potto are obstructive, but the meeting is disrupted by word that a Trivigaunti regiment is approaching. To gain his ends, Silk surrenders to the Ayuntamiento, but all, plus Horn and Nettle, are captured, except Loris, who is killed. The airship is to take them to the Rani of Trivigaunte.
The revived Sergeant Sand bargains with Siyuf, trading information for the release of Hammerstone and Marble, but suggesting the release of Silk as Trivigaunte’s best friend. When Siyuf is unable to recall the airship, she is take hostage, to be exchanged for Silk.
On the airship, Auk reveals that by seemingly betraying them, he has got twenty-one chosen men, his best thieves, on board, ready to take the ship. Silk does not want violence. He climbs out onto the gondola’s roof. Mucor appears to him and receives instructions. The engines begin to fail. Four of eight are out of action before Silk can persuade the captain to tun east to Mainframe. The airship comes down in the desert, where Hyacinth overcomes the pilot and Silk takes command. They resume flight, following the Long Sun.
Silk climbs onto the gondola roof again, followed by Horn, who senses his despondency and fears he will jump to his death. Horn talks of writing a book about Silk and his central role in events. Silk talks about the lies that have surrounded him. Horn persuades him to return, whereupon he returns command to Saba. She promises to take his party to Mainframe. Onscreen, Kypris offers to have Silk scanned in at Mainframe, to become the other head of Pas.
Auk and Chenille depart the Whorl in a lander. There are two planets, green and blue lights in the void.
The airship returns. Silk climbs onto the gondola roof again. Horn and Netle follow, trying to distract Silk from the knowledge that Hyacinth is in Saba’s cabin, seeking to seduce her to Silk’s side. Silk’s explanation of why this does not matter to him causes Hyacinth to run away. There is war in Viron against Trivigaunte and Mint once again leads her army. Silk returns to spread the word that everyone is the leave the Whorl.
In a not-epilogue, Horn describes how he has written this book, with Nettle’s assistance as editor, despite having seen so little of what happened first hand. He reveals that, at the last, Quetzal tried to lead their lander to Green, to become food for the inhumi, of which he was one, only for its monitor to overrule and take them to Blue.

A Lycanthrope in Wolfe’s clothing: Gene Wolfe’s ‘Caldé of the Long Sun’

At his Palace, Prolocutor Quetzal, who despite appearances is not human, having snake-like fangs concealed in the roof of his mouth, discusses the rapidly changing situation in Viron with Patera Remora. He orders a letter sent to the Chapter endorsing the return of a Caldé then, once alone, flies into the pouring rain.
On Lake Limna, Auk steers Patera Incus’s boat back to the shrine, on the instructions of the possessed Chenille/Scylla. The Goddess orders these three, and Dace the boatman, to prevent Kypria from taking Viron. She appoints Incus as Prolocutor before leaving Chenille, which flatters his self-importance. When Auk tries to ignore her instructions, they are attacked bya talus which smashes the boat and bears them off into the tunnels.
At Sun Street, Mayteras Marble and Mint prepare to conduct the sacrifices in the absence of both augurs. Mint announces the death of Maytera Rose and orders that, in view of the large congregation, the service be conducted in the street. Volunteers under Horn move the Sacred Window. To her amazement, she conducts the sacrifices with growing confidence and boldness.
Blood and Musk present themselves. Maytera Rose, speaking through Marble, identifies the former as her son, Bloody. Mint prophecies an early death for Blood, or perhaps Musk, who presents two rabbits: she mistakes him for Blood’s son. The prophecies refer to victories. Mint’s readings are interrupted by the return of Patera Gulo, here to announce that Silk is back, and lead open chants of Silk for Caldé.
Silk returns, warning the crowd not to assume the Guards are against them. Gulo resumes the sacrifices whilst he changes. Mucor warns that Blood has been ordered to kill him. He collects two letters before returning outside, in his robes, and takes over the sacrifices.
Immediately, the Sacred Window is occupied by Echidna, wife of Pas, Queen of the Gods. She countermands Kypris, orders that Viron must remain Scylla’s and all sacrifices must be hers. The Ayuntamiento must be overthrown. Mint is ordered to lead the crowd to the Alambrera, their Palace. A part of Echidna occupies her. Silk throws her the azoth. The bull he is sacrificing foretells war, tyranny and fire.
The last supplicant is Musk, who is intent on killing Silk. Maytera Marble intervenes, imprisoning Musk in her arms and sacrificing him by burning him in the pyre. Echidna possesses her, announcing that Pas is dead. Mucor possesses an old woman, tittering that she could kill Silk with Musk’s needler, but it is slapped from her hand by an old man who identifies himself as Quetzal.
In the tunnels, the talus carries Auk’s party into battle against chem soldiers that it ‘kills’. Incus restores Corporal Hammerstone and reprogrammes it to worship him. When the talus is destroyed by a launcher gun, and Auk receives a head wound that nearly kills him and leaves him mentally affected for a long period, Incus turns on Auk with spite and threats over his earlier casual treatment, using Hammersone’s muscle to back up his affronted dignity. Auk begins to imagine his older brother, Bustard, dead several years, talking to him.
They encounter a band of escaped criminals, one of whom, Urus, they take with them on their stumbling journey. Dace is captured and killed by the convict leader, Gelada, who starts to eat him: Auk talks Gelada into range with promises of forgiveness but executes him.
Echidna’s announcement has shocked Silk and undermined his faith
Silk is in shock at Echidna’s announcement and feels he can never sacrifice to her again. Quetzal takes temporary charge as the crowd follows General Mint to the Alambrera. The little sybil becomes an immediate stretegist. Silk learns of Maytera Rose’s death. She has largely replaced Marble and confirms the details of being Blood’s mother: she is to blame for his urge to cause trouble by buying the manteion.
Quetzal leads Silk in completing the funerary ceremonies for Maytera Rose and Musk. He explains his reasons for not opposing the Ayuntamiento’s seizure of power, and reveals that it was believed that Caldé Tussah – who knew Silk’s mother – nominated a secret successor, an adopted son, an embryo taken from the chambers in the tunnels, before he was killed.
Quetzal and Silk walk towards the Alabrera. Quetzal confesses already knowing Pas was dead. It happened thirty years ago, and Echidna and the seven children openly boast of in in other cities of the Whorl but Quetzal has kept it secret in Viron to uphold morality and keep the Chapter safe. He has tried to distance Pas in favour of Scylla and prevent theophanies. Their talk is interrupted by a Guard Lieutenant who shoots Silk.
He suffers a punctured lung and receives expert and sympathetic care, but Crane’s bandage is taken away for more urgent use. Patera Shell, his junior, updates him on the seige, shrives him and delivers the Chapter letter supporting Silk. This puts Quetzal into as much danger as Silk, who orders Shell to find him and take refuge in areas controlled by Mint. He is also reminded of his two letters and calls for his clothes.
At Sun Street, Marble/Rose has the Sacred Window brought back inside. She begins to re-organise the manteion. From the roof, she sees what she assumes is a solid cloud, over the Lake, moving against the wind.
Silk is visited by General Oosik of the Guard, who is embarrassed to have the Caldé as his captive, entirely on the initiative of an officer who was only supposed to reconnoitre. He is in an invidious position, holding Silk alive when the Ayuntamiento’s orders are to kill on sight. The rebellion is finely balanced: whichever side wins, he will be at best disgraced, at worst executed. Silk shows him the Chapter letter, including information that Councillor Lemur is dead, which Oosik didn’t know.
He returns Silk’s robes and their contents. He has read the other letter, from Hyacinth, who wants to meet Silk. Oosik knows and has slept with both Hyacinth and Chenille. He gives Silk directions to Hyacinth’s meeting place and leaves, removing the guard and leaving Siilk his needlers. Not knowing whether Oosik wishes him to escape, or seeks an excuse to kill him whilst escaping, Silk leaves. He addresses a letter of apology to the owner of the bedchamber in which he has recuperated, signing it as Caldé for the first time. In the street, Oreb rejoins him.
Auk’s confusion has separated him from the party. Chenille wants to search for him but Incus to abandon him. They argue over their destination. Whilst incus prays, Urus sneaks off, noticed only by Oreb. When they chase Urus, he sets off in search of Silk, who has sought shelter with Master Xiphias, the swordsmaster. Xiphias insists on another bout before, despite Silk’s exhaustion and multiple wounds. Silk wants to learn a safe route to the Palatine, for Hyacinth, but when it becomes apparent that Xiphias intends to escort him, he slips away alone.
Auk hears the voice of blind Tartaros, god of night and thieves, who addresses him as ‘my noctolator’. Tartaros will guide the damaged Auk back to where he can leave the tunnels, can eat and preserve himself. He is reunited with Chenille, who has fled Incus and Hammerstone.
Silk is held up at the barricades by Lieutenant Liana, a girl no more than twenty, but argues his way through under a white flag as a simple augur, bringing the Peace of Pas to mortally wounded Guardsmen. A jeweller tells him that the last augur to do so was killed as soon as he finished his prayers. He leads Silk to his shop and its strongroom to keep him safe. There, Silk finds Quetzal.
Silk reaches Ermine’s Hotel, for his rendezvous with Hyacinth. He is extremely nervous, expecting to be refused entrance, but he is expected and afforded all courtesy. Someone has been asking for him but this is actually Remora, ejected from the Prolocutor’s Palace by Guards seeking Quetzal. Silk writes a letter requesting Mint’s forces to permit Remora to pass, to try to negotiate a truce with Brigadier Erne. Remora is then possessed by Mucor, who is being tortured to do the Ayuntamiento’s work. Xiphias appears, prepared to save Silk’s life. Silk sends both away, just in time for Hyacinth to appear, kissing him and professing love. They are barely united when Silk collapses, coughing blood.
At Sun Street, Maytera Marble is washing and cleaning and increasingly remembering another figure, male, of metal. The seeming cloud is now hovering overhead, but is an airship. Auk and Chenille see it from the pit, where they find ncus and Hammerstone disarmed and bound, the former gagged. According to Tartaros, the airship is from Trivigaunte, whose Rani has ordered an invasion. A sudden announcement, by Silk, fills the pit, releasing the criminals to fight for Viron.
Before this, Silk comes to in bed again, surrounded by people, including General Oosik, who wants to ensure the revolt is ended with minimum further bloodshed, and without the moral disaster of the Alhambrera being taken. Silk accedes: whatever Echidna has ordered, to return to Viron’s Charter of Caldé and Ayuntamiento it is neither victory nor defeat .
Silk and Quetzal broadcast their announcement live across the city. Privately, the Ayuntamiento offers massive rewards for the bodies of Silk, Oosik and Quetzal.
Silk is taken by floater to the front-line, with Quetzal accompanying him officially and Hyancinth unofficially. En route, they are attacked by parachuting women warriors from Trivigaunte’s airship. Auk’s escape is hindered by bombs from the airship that shatter the Alambrera’s wall. Silk undergoes a near-death experience: his soul leaves his body for the Aureate Path, where he is greeted by his mother and his father, former Caldé Tusssah. Silk comes to, underground, back in the tunnels, having been rescued from being buried alive.
Whilst Quetzal seeks water, Silk digs desperately, believing Hyacinth to be similarly buried nearby: instead, he uncovers and is arrested by Sergeant Sand.
Silk is imprisoned at the Juzgado. After a failed attempt at a truce on behalf of General Saba of Trivigaunte, Maytera Marble gains access under a white flag, by asking for her son, Bloody. He admits that his purpose in buying the manteion was to get back at Maytera Rose, for abandoning him, and that he grossly misrepresented the price to Silk. Blood has won his game, but his house stands only because Silk is inside. He has done well out of the Ayuntamiento, but is beginning to resent being taken for granted by them.
Silk is brought up by Councillor Potto to a meeting involving the Ayuntamiento’s new presiding officer, Councillor Loris. Present are Blood, Maytera Marble, Chenille, Xiphias and Patera Incus, still proclaiming himself Prolocutor.
Marble recites exactly the forces outside, which Loris refuses to believe. He issues terms, non-negotiable, or all the prisoners will be killed. They represent total surrender, withdrawal of Trivigaunte, disarmament and a declaration that only the Ayuntamieto rules, with only its present Councillors, into infinity. The terms are wholly unrealistic, as Silk spells out. Marble gets agreement to allow her and Silk to talk alone before she reports back to Mint and Oosik.
They are joined after a long talk by Blood, bringing Mucor for safety. Blood is looking for an opportunity to change sides if he can keep the criminal empire he’s built. Silk refuses: he accepts the return of the manteion, but Blood will be prosecuted, fairly.
Suddenly, Mucor announces that Potto coming, to kill Silk and send his body back with the woman who killed Musk. Blood realises this must be Marble. As she reaches towards him, he uses his azoth to cut off her hand. He’s about to kill her when Silk intervenes with Xithias’ swordstick, automatically running Blood through the throat. Potto bursts in, ordering Sand to kill the Caldé, but on identifying Silk as the true authority, Sand kills Potto. Marble gives Silk the azoth before she uses it on him. Sand and his fellow soldiers salute Silk.
In a brief epilogue, Silk wears the Caldé’s robes as he prepares to meet the new Tivigaunti Generalissimo. He reflects on the journey he has taken in so few days, and wonders as to the whereabouts of those he has drawn with him…

A Lycanthrope in Wolfe’s clothing: The Solar Cycle resumed

Though The Urth of the New Sun had appeared as a single-volume sequel to The Book of the New Sun tetraology, the very completeness of the sweeping story appeared to preclude any further visits to that overwhelmingly distant future of decay and rebirth. So it was both a surprise and a delight too learn that Gene Wolfe was writing ‘another multi-volume series’ set in the same Universe.
As is always the case with Wolfe, beware of assumptions for they will invariably fail to materialise.
The Book of the Long Sun is massively different in all but one aspect, and that is that at its centre it has a Christ-like figure acting, though he doesn’t know it, to save his people and his world. And even then there are very few correspondences between Severian the Lame, and Patera Silk, whether he be what he is at the outset, a young augur at a run-down manteion in a poor part of a dying town or, what he becomes, the Caldé of Viron and the centre of a massive popular revolt. One saves by destroying everything, one saves by expelling his people outwards.
The biggest contrast between the New Sun and the Long Sun, apart from practically everything, is that the first was a first person narrative, by an unreliable narrator, and the second is a third person story, something that is comparatively rare in Wolfe’s work, yet in exactly the same way that Severian’s revelation of his own insight into his true nature at the end of ‘The Citadel of the Autarch’, there is a revelation at the end of ‘Exodus from the Long Sun’ that throws everything the reader has faithfully absorbed into doubt, when the writer of the Long Sun makes himself known.
Don’t mistake an authoritative impersonal narrative voice for authority.
Another major difference is that whereas the entirety of the New Sun is seen through the single, unaware viewpoint of Severian, in the Long Sun Wolfe sustains the viewpoints of dozens of characters, each with their own distinct modes of speech, whether it be a wholly invented and equally convincing Thieves Cant, the drawn out prolocution of a senior religious figure, the repeated emphasis on certain words of another such. Modes of speech, accents, voices, each clear and unmistakable.
It’s difficult, indeed almost impossible, to accept the Long Sun as taking place in the same Universe as the New Sun. There isn’t a moment in which the feel of either series corresponds to the other, in which the sense of what we are reading is in anyway comparable. But there is a link, detectable even in the opening volume, ‘Nightside the Long Sun’, that the perceptive reader can seize upon to draw the two into a single continuity, though I admit I had to have it pointed out to me.
Of the three series that go to make up ‘The Solar Cycle’ – which, let us remember, is a title put forward by Wolfe’s fans, not the lupine master himself – The Book of the Long Sun has always been the least to me. Previously, I promised to summarise as best as I could the four books of the tetraology as with the New Sun. It is trying to hold to that promise that has meant so long a delay in picking up this series of posts. The increasing profusion of characters, the increasing profusion of separate strands, the increasing variation from not only a single, coherent narrative but also a single, coherent narrative plot has not only made that promise untenable for me, but also made the re-reading of each volume a very tedious and unenjoyable process.
I’ve done just as I said, but the result is an unintelligible mess. What will follow will be shorter précis of each volume, and a longer analysis of the series as a whole at the end.
I was introduced to The Book of the Long Sun via a hardback copy of ‘Nightside the Long Sun’, bought in the last phase of my short-lived Book Club commitment. I bought the rest of the story in paperback, lovely themed covers of predominately yellow colouring reflecting the conditions of heat affecting the inhabitants of the Whorl. Completist that I am, I sold my hardback to buy the paperback.
The books came out one a year between 1991 and 1994 and, to the best of my knowledge, were the last of Gene Wolfe’s books to be published in Britain for many years: the only other Wolfe book I am aware of having a UK edition since was the 2009 retrospective, The Best of Gene Wolfe. Thankfully, Waterstones in Manchester had adopted a vigorous policy of importing American SF editions, which kept me going until the era of Amazon and eBay.

On with the show!