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.
https://ansible.uk/writing/longsun.html
http://ultan.org.uk/five-steps-towards-briah/
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 ‘Lake of the Long Sun’


Patera Silk enters the manteion to find the senior boy, Horn, waiting for him. He has been imitating Silk to the night chough, Oreb, but Silk is not offended. He tries to explain his enlightenment to Horn, but ends up giving him a lesson about imitation, about what to imitate and why.
Silk is suspicious of Doctor Crane, who he suspects of eavesdropping on the young augur’s shriving of Chenille that afternoon. When he goes to sleep, he dreams of Kypris trying to draw him into a monitor glass. He wakens, thinking he’s heard noises from the room of old Patera Pike above, and seen Oreb fly, though the bird’s wing is still damaged. Suspecting Auk of breaking in to steal Hyacinth’s valuable azoth, he explores and finds a seeming of Pike, which dissolves.
The following morning, it is Orpine’s funeral, a substantial and lavish affair with sacrifices for all the Gods. The large attendance includes Auk, and also Chenille, deeply affected by rust, a drug to which she is addicted.
At each sacrifice, Silk appeals, in formulated words, for the God or Goddess addressed to favour them with an appearance at their Sacred Window. From the entrails of each sacrifice, he divines futures. Several indicate a time of many deaths arriving. Auk is told that, after having acted alone thus far, he will soon lead a body of men. Silk learns that there is a weapon aimed at him. The audience is told that when danger threatens they are to seek safety between narrow walls, which is interpreted as meaning the old tunnels below Viron.
But when Silk sacrifices a white dove to Kypris, the Holy Hues appear for the first time in twenty years, and Kypris visits the Sacred Window. All who see her take something different from the experience. She offers three messages, one private to Orchid. There will be a great crime committed that night in Viron, which will succeed because she will support the criminals, and she will return, before long. Orchid’s message is that someone who loves something outside herself cannot be wholly bad, but that now Orpine is dead, she must find something else.
The service ends: Silk and Maytera Marble remain to supervise the closing of the coffin. So too does Chenille, whose behaviour is strange and detached until she accuses Orpine of being a spy.
Kypris’s visitation arouses talk all over the quarter, increasing the calls of Silk for Caldé. This new attention could be dangerous, since the Ayuntamiento does not like people to get too popular. Silk, having no such ambitions, assumes his lack of interest will be sufficient.
Silk is cooking when Musk and Chenille both invade the manteion. The former is cold and contemptuous, and threatens Silk with a knife. He tells the augur that Blood’s arrangement is off, that he demands the full sum in a week. Silk disarms and punishes him with the stick lent him by Blood: though Musk has a needler, he doesn’t use it.
Chenille wants to talk to Silk. She stayed behind when the funeral procession left for the graveyard, and fell asleep in the garden. The accused spy was not Orpine but herself: she has been gathering information from patrons of Orchid’s establishment for Doctor Crane, who is not of Viron. But Kypris’s appearance caused a flash of understanding. She proposes blackmailing Crane for the 26,000 cards Silk needs.
Their discussion is interrupted by Patera Remora, Coadjutor to Praeter Quetzal, Prolocutor of the Chapter. He is there to promise Silk the Chapter’s assistance and ensures him that the Sun Street manteion will be saved. Silk suspects that the Chapter’s interest is based in trying to take credit for the events at the funeral.
Once Remora leaves, Chenille reveals that, since the ceremony, she has been possessed by Kypris, and that Silk is not to speak of this. She offers herself to him, but he refuses her. Silk must spy on Crane, however reluctant he may be, and they will try to get a hold over the Doctor. She sleeps at the cenoby, with the three Mayteras.
Back at Blood’s villa, Musk, in a vile temper, meets Hare, a kite-builder. Hare is building a kite to resembles the flyers seen in the air above Viron. He wants to train one of his hawks to attack and bring down a flyer, to capture his propulsion unit. The following day, the hawk, Aquila, succeeds in striking down a flyer who was too busy concentrating on the approaching stormfront, two hundred miles away.
That following morning, Chenille/Kypris explains more of the process of possession by Gods, who are in reality programs scanned into the computers at Mainframe. Silk sees the process as quas-hypnotic. For reasons Chenille doesn’t know, Kypris wanted to possess Maytera Mint but only a part of her passed into the shy sybil. The presence of the Gods changes thehost: Mint is not afraid, Chenille/Kypris is free of her addiction to rust.
The plan to blackmail Doctor Crane is now to be enlarged to include money for Chenille to buy a shop, and not return to Orchid. Auk arrives to donate a valuable stolen bracelet: he and Chenille ‘know’ each other already and have pet names. Chenille tells Silk more of Hyancinth, for whom Silk has fallen, heavily.
From what is known of Crane’s movements, Silk suspects the Ayuntamiento having a meeting place at or near Lake Limna. The Lake used to extend to Viron but is shrinking in the ongoing heat. Silk and Chenille/Kypris go to Limna, the town, with Auk to follow. Their departure coincides with the arrival of Silk’s Chapter-sent new assistant, Patera Gulo. As they near, Chenille sees a splash in the Lake, which she attributes to a monster fish. It is actually the flyer downed by Musk’s hawk.
At Blood’s villa, learning from Hare that both have left, Crane searches the cellars, seeking access to the tunnels. He does not find it until Councillor Lemur opens it deliberately. Crane’s needles fire straight through Lemur, who orders him to follow.
In Limna, Silk and Chenille separate to search. At the local Juzgado, Silk learns there is a lakeshore shrine to Sphigx, accessible only on foot by a lengthy Pilgrim’s Way. A friendly couple who advise him not to go in the heat of the day also reveal that Crane goes that way. Accompanied only by Oreb, Silk sets off. The bird sees a man in the shrine when it first appears but, despite the absence of anywhere to go or another way to return, Silk can find nothing of hom when he arrives.
In Viron, Gulo reports back to Remora, including a seeminly compromising perfumed letter from Hyacinth to Silk. Remora educates him on the Ayuntamiento’s takeover of Viron after the last Caldé died. He reveals that, before his death, the Caldé purchased one of a variety of frozen embyros stored on the Whorl, unusual strains with unusual characteristics, some of them human. Gulo suggests this to have been Chenille.
Silk is contemplating the Lake when the shrine floor opens and he is thrown down into the tunnels. He is attacked by a talus, the same one he escaped at Blood’s villa. Returned in disgrace, it is violently resentful and tries to kill him, before he destroys it with the azoth. Unable tp regain the shrine, Silk follows the tunnel for hours, growing disoriented and tired. He briefly sees Mucor, and finds himself dodging an unseen mechanical creature. After the tunnel starts to rise, he is captured by two chem soldiers, Sergeant Sand and Corporal Hammerstone, who force him to name Crane as a spy. Silk’s guilt is alleviated when he finds Crane has already been captured by Councillor Lemur.
Above ground, Auk arrives in Limna to find Chenille. She is drunk and disoriented and in need of rust: her possession by Kypris has ceased as has her memory of this period. He forces her, sometimes brutally, to accompany him to the shrine, but when she refuses to walk back, he abandons her. Briefly she calls him back, to request a new start at Orchid’s: they have never met before. When he leaves, she realises he is her mate. Playing with a brass plate, Chenille finds a screen displaying the Holy Hues.
Underground, Silk is left with Corporal Hammerstone, who shows him ranks of unused chem soldiers, programmed to defend Viron under the Caldé’s orders. All cities have them, but Viron’s is the largest contingent. Pas has arranged things to prevent any one Caldé gaining enough power to attack Mainframe.
Hammerstone also shows Silk doors locked with the seal of Pas, the highest stricture of confidentiality in Silk’s beliefs. It guards a room of bios in suspended animation, a new ‘crop’ of humans to re-seed the Whorl at necessity. He forces the door open a crack to enable Silk to see inside: someone is moving. The soldier forces his way in, shattering the Seal. AA naked woman is strangling inside her crystal chamber: Silk cracks it open so she can breathe.
Her name is Mamelta and, recognising her surroundings, she seeks the lifter, but these are memories of her uploading to the Whorl, back at the Short Sun. Silks wants her to escape Hammerstone with him, and retrieve the azoth from the tunnels. He leads her into the belly of the Whorl where they find a ship, embedded in the shiprock wall, with a control room and evidence of stolen embryos. Mamelta begins to repair it. To do so, she needs more of the cards Viron uses as currency: these are really circuit boards.
In Viron, Remora instructs Patera Incus, a black mechanic, to travel to Limna and find Chenille.
Auk, working back towards Limna, hears Chenille call from behind, before she overtakes him, running furiously. When he catches up with her nearer the town, she has stripped naked preparatory to diving into the Lake. She is possessed again, this time openly and contemptuously by Scylla, eldest daughter of Pas, patron of Viron. Scylla identifies ‘Daddy’ as Typhon the First, Autarch of Urth. Pas is dead, wiped out of Mainframe by the family thirty years before. She leaps aboard the boat carrying Patera Incus and takes control of it.
At Sun Street, Maytera Marble is cooking breakfast but her perceptions are wavering. Upstairs, she discovers Maytera Rose is dead and, automatically, begins to transfer working components to her own part-mechanical body. The glass monitor in the bedroom shows Scylla approaching in her boat.
Silk has been recaptured and placed with Crane after being tortured and beaten for some time by the giggling Councillor Potto. Crane thinks Silk is also a spy and wants to know who he is working for. Silk is more concerned with Mucor. Crane confirms that legally she is Blood’s adopted daughter, and one of the frozen embryos, stolen and bought. They are under the Lake in a submarine. Silk relates the story of his enlightenment, which pleases Crane as something that divides and weakens Viron. However, he thinks it an hallucination, caused by a bursting blood vessel in the brain.
Silk is praying when Councillor Lemur enters, offering the return of both prisoners’ possessions, needlers included. He mocks the Gods as obsolete, to be replaced by himself. His body is artificial, superior to human. Silk will be the next Prolocutor, and he takes Crane to be a man from Palustria.
They are taken to another prisoner, the downed flier, Iolar. Crane will treat him, Silk administer last rites if he is dying. Silk will be Caldé, but under Lemur and the Ayuntamiento. Lemur wants flying troops, but Iolar has ditched his propulsion unit. Crane confirms that, with proper medical attention, the injured flier could walk again, but when he still refuses to talk, Lemur ejects him into the Lake, at seventy cubits, to die horribly.
Lemur leads Silk and Crane to where the Councillors’ bio-bodies are maintained, artificially alive. Heis smug at his power until Crane informs him his bio-body is dead. Lemur panics, dropping the azoth, which Crane snatches and uses to destroy the chem-body. Crane and Silk escape with Mamelta. They escape to Limna, but Mamelta is lost.
At Sun Street, troopers arrive to arrest Silk, mistaking Patera Gulo for him. A stone is thrown from the crowd and the troops open fire. They are forced to retreat into the manteion when the Sacred Window opens and the Goddess orders them to support Silk.
At Limna, Crane admits to encouraging support for Silk as Caldé, hoping this would avert a war. Silk has worked out far more of Crane’s plans than the Doctor anticipated, but not that he is actually spying for the female-dominated Trivigaunte. Eventually, they are apprehended by the Guard, but their Captain is there to take his Caldé into protective custody, to escort Silk and Crane back to Viron to be protected against the Ayuntamiento.
As they leave Limna, the rains come at long last, violently. The troop is ambushed and Crane is killed. Their assailants are Guards, here to rescue Caldé Silk…

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


Within the Whorl – whose lands are on the inside and which is lit by the Long Sun, running down its centre, around which a shade revolves, artificially creating night and day – in the ballpark of a run-down manteion on Sun Street, in a poor quarter of Viron, a young augur, Patera Silk, yellow-haired, devout, receives Enlightment in the middle of a game that resembles basketball.
This does not come from any of the nine Gods of Mainframe – two-headed Pas, his wife, Echidna, their five daughters and two sons – but from The Outsider. Silk is transformed by his experience. And he is tasked with saving the Sun Street manteion, which is under threat of being sold for unpaid taxes.
Silk, aged 23, tall with yellow hair and a habit of drawing small circles on his cheek with his forefinger when thinking, shares the manteion with three sibyls, Mayteras Rose – much of whose human body has been replaced by artificial parts, strict and censorious – Marble – a chem, or wholly artificial person – and Mint – a shy, unassuming, wholly human woman. He has been at Sun Street for only a year since ordination, first as assistant to, then as replacement for old Patera Pike.
It is a time of great heat and prolonged dryness, from which the city is steadily suffering.
His first thought is to make a sacrifice to The Outsider, for which he will need a suitable subject. Different animals are birds are sacred to each to the Nine Gods, but Silk has never before sacrificed to The Outsider. Nor has he any cards or cardbits with which to buy a sacrifice. Nevertheless, he sets off for the Marketplace.
En route, he encounters a rich man being driven in a floater, and persuades him to give up three cards, or face the peril of refusing a God’s requirement. Silk is not aware that he is speaking to Blood, a successful criminal, nor that Blood has already bought the manteion by paying its overdue taxes, and who is on the way to inspect it. Blood, however, knows who Silk is.
After much haggling, Silk buys a black night chough to sacrifice. The bird can talk, in brief, two-syllable bursts and understands what Silk intends. Back at the manteion, unknowing as yet that Blood had made himself known to the sybils as the new owner, Silk prepares for the sacrifice. Like all such manteions, Sun Street has a Sacred Window whose leads and connections need checking and tightening. Silk’s voided cross doubles as a screwdriver and a spanner.
Once upon a time, Gods would appear at Sacred Windows in response to a suitable sacrifice, but this has not happened in Viron for twenty years or so. But Silk’s sacrifice fails. Before he can slit the bird’s throat, it suffers a seizure and goes limp, appearing to have died.
Disturbed by his failure, and now aware of Blood’s purchase, Silk determines on a dangerous and morally dubious course. He proposes to find Blood’s home, invade it, and make Blood, by persuasion if possible but by force if necessary, to assign the manteion back to the Chapter, so that it can continue to be of benefit to the people of that Quarter. In short, he plans to steal the manteion back.
Silk justifies his intentions, to first himself and then to those who would dissuade him, by reference his having been commanded by a God, an by pleading a kind of greater morality based on the needs of the poor people, a greater number. Nevertheless, he continues to doubt his self-assigned mission even as he pursues it determinedly.
Being a complete novice at thievery, Silk seeks out a professional to advise and assist. Maytera Mint, the shyest of the sybils, directs him to Auk, a former student at the manteion, who she had favoured. Auk, now a burly, highly competent man, is found at his usual haunt at the tavern, the Flying Cock, at shadelow, when the light of the Long Sun is hidden from Viron and instead illuminates the cities of the skylands on the opposite side of the Whorl.
Auk agrees to advise Silk, but refuses to get involved on any practical basis. He knows the whereabouts of Blood’s villa and will lead Silk there, but no further. Silk shrives Auk of his recent sins, then has the thief shrive him, placing both in a state of grace. He also obtains a promise from Auk to change his life, giving up thievery.
Silk succeeds in scaling the walls that surround Blood’s grounds and, beyond that, gains access to the roofs of the villa, To get this far he has had to evade vicious genetically-modified horned cats and an armoured talus.
Inside the villa, Blood is hosting a substantial party, his guests including Councillors from Viron’s ruling body, the Ayuntamiento. Strictly, they act illicitly: they are supposed to co-exist with a Caldé, but no new Caldé has been appointed since the death of the last one, twenty years before, nor have any new elections been held.
Whilst on the roof, seeking access, Silk undergoes attack again, this time from a genetically-modified bird. He is seriously wounded by the bird’s beak, but manages to kill the bird.
Entering through a skylight, Silk encounters two young women. The first is the unnaturally thin Mucor, with skull-like features. She claims to be Blood’s daughter and it is quickly apparent that she can possess people. The other is Hyacinth, a beautiful woman who is plainly addicted to drink and drugs: it is equally plain that Hyancinth is a prostitute,there to entertain guests, but Silk is struck by her beauty.
There is a monitor glass in Hyacinth’s room. Silk summons up the Artificial Intelligence that mans it, and attempts to get a warning sent to Auk. Hyacinth makes advances to him. Silk removes a small needler from her possession, but when he refuses to have sex with her, she produces an azoth, whose beam disintegrates anything in its path. To escape, Silk is forced to jump out of the window, fracturing his left ankle, and being captured.
Silk’s ankle is attended by Docftor Crane, Blood’s physician. To speed up the knitting of the bone, Crane applies a leather-like, self-sealing bandage that generates heat. To maintain the heat, Silk must periodically unwrap the bandage and thrash it against a flat surface to restore its kinetic potential. He is then taken before Blood and his main henchman (and lover) Musk, a mostly silent but entirely vicious young man whose sole enthusiasm in life is in hunting birds. Musk holds a deep-lying grudge against Silk, for his having killed Musk’s bird on the roof.
Silk is now wholly at Blood’s mercy, but despite his weak position, indeed with nothing to offer, he succeeds in drawing a bargain that will enable him to buy back the mainteion, albeit for twice what Blood has paid for it: 26,000 cards. He has a month in which to raise a substantial sum towards that total, as a demonstration to Blood that he is not merely a time-waster.
Silk is sent home in Blood’s flier. Crane will come to check Silk’s health that coming afternoon but Blood also requires an exorcism at one of his properties, on Lamp Street, a brothel under the Madameship of Orchid. En route to Sun Street, and passing this house, Silk hears a scream from within, but the driver refuses his pleas to halt.
When Crane arrives, he finds Silk trying to identify a hidden intruder. This turns out to be the night chough, which did not die but merely suffered some form of fit. Having threatened to cut its throat, not to mention damaging its wing poking about with Crane’s stick, Silk finds it hard to gain the trust of Oreb, as he names the bird. Once it does emerge, Crane bandages its wing before taking Silk to Lamp Street for his one o’clock meeting with Blood.
Blood is late, and Silk begins to discuss the exorcism with the Madame, Orchid, a barely awake overweight woman. They are interrupted by a scream: Orpine, one of the girls, is dead, stabbed under the left breast. Silk administers the last rites over the hysterical and blasphemous shouting of the red-headed Chenille.
When he arrives, Blood wants Silk to testify that Orpine’s death was suicide, to conclude the matter without question. Silk refuses, and combines his preparations for the exorcism with questions to establish the truth behind this. Orchid is persuaded to admit that Orpine was her daughter, which enables her to grieve properly. Thus relieved, she asks for a lavish funeral at Sun Street, and gives Silk thousands of cards to pay for this.
Silk identifies Chenille as the killer and elicits her confession. However, Chenille was not in possession of herself, being taken over by Mucus, who is also responsible for all the strange happenings that have prompted the exorcism. As part of the exorcism, he reconnects and retunes a long-disused Sacred Window from when the house was itself a manteion. Before the conclusion of the ceremony the Window is visited by the Goddess Kypris.
She is a beautiful, dark-haired woman and it takes Silk time to identify her. She is not one of the Nine but rather a minor Goddess, of Love, lover of Pas. She twits Silk over his twenty-three years of abstinence and about how Hyacinth, who she possessed the previous night, liked him. She commands the obedient Silk to keep their conversation secret.
The exorcism complete, Silk returns to Sun Street, to find Auk waiting for him. On a wall is chalked the words ‘Silk for Caldé’. Auk wants to know what happened, to advise Silk on the nightside world he has gotten himself mixed up with, and to protect him: these wall-scrawlings could put him in danger.
Indeed, Doctor Crane is currently filing a report to unknown masters outside of Viron on such a subject, and the possibilities of a popular movement in Silk’s favour, based on the ‘miracles’ he is reputed to have wrought.
Silk is still in debate with himself about the comparative moralities of his various courses. In order that he may be taught to defend himself, Auk takes him to meet the elderly one-legged fencing teacher, Master Xiphias, who hops around energetically and speaks in short bursts of excited sentences.
Silk returns to the manteion, tired, his ankle hurting. For a moment, he waits outside, listening to a conversation. He feels himself divided between Patera Silk and nightside Silk, convinced that the latter despises the former. Little more than twenty-four hours have passed since his moment of enlightenment. One of the voices inside sounds familiar: it is his own. Needler in hand, Silk enters.

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!