After the “Book of the New Sun”, Wolfe went on to write many other books, including the undeservedly obscure “Soldier of the Mist” and “Soldier of Arete“, historically rigorous novels of a wandering mercenary in Greece at the time of the wars recounted in Homer. The soldier, who is nameless, has the same brain problem that the Guy Pearce character had in “Memento”, and keeps track of events in the world by keeping a journal.
These books reawakened my interest in classical culture and led me to read a great deal more about Greek and Roman history, and in the end to a deep appreciation of the surviving Greek plays, literature, and philosophy. A year or two ago Viv and I saw a fantastic production of the Odyssey, as a play, which KICKED my ASS! I laughed, I cried: it was a gift from God. I certainly would never have been interested if not for these books.
After that Wolfe wrote two connected series, “The Book of the Long Sun” and most recently, the just completed “Book of the Short Sun”. Both books are essentially about religion and writing, which is a predominant theme in the “Soldier” books as well. The “Long Sun” books are not as interesting, to me, as the “Short Sun” books. The “Short Sun” series approaches the “New Sun” series in psychological depth, and ties together all of the themes that emerged from Wolfe’s work in the wake of the “New Sun”.
Pulling these long marches through a single author’s work is an incredibly rewarding experience, if you’ve got the stamina. You begin to see though the tools and tricks the author uses, and after a time one begins to suspect you know something about the individual producing the work.
This is largely due to the re-use and re-examination in individual authors’ works of images, situations, and character types. It reminds me of listening to a musical performer over a span of years, coming to know their material, and learning to differentiate the ways in which their arrangements evolve over time.
3 thoughts on “Gene Wolfe, part two”
I found Gene Wolfe purely by accident, in the “Claw of the Conciliator”. After that, I was hooked. “Soldier of the Mist” is one of the most surreal, disturbing stories I have read, while at the same time, written with great skill, and attention.
I love sci-fi and fantasy, but not, alas, most sci-fi writers.
The other Wolfe story that made an indelible impression on me was “Free Live Free”.
I wish Wolfe had continued the Soldier… series; I remember reading somewhere that some confusion between his publisher and him had given Wolfe the impression that no more books were wanted, and by the time that his agent straightened him out, no more were forthcoming. Sigh.
Heh, maybe if he just ran his phone messages backword, like Memento, all would be revealed.
I think he was also using the books to work out ideas more fully explored in the most recent trilogy, the Book of the Short Sun; that set of work is his most literarily ambitious work to date and takes full advantage of the chops he developed in the Soldier books.
They’re better, richer, I think, than the New Sun books. Interestingly, it appears that my opinion of them has grown since I wrote this entry.
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