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 ‘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 ‘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 ‘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!