Literature / Book of the Long Sun
In 1983, the final volume of Gene Wolfe
's magnum opus, Book of the New Sun
, was released. Fans of this obscure masterwork immediately began clamoring for more. Four years later, a one-shot "coda" to New Sun
was released, entitled The Urth of the New Sun
. Fans would have to wait six more years before Wolfe began penning another epic; The Book of the Long Sun
Like New Sun, Long Sun
is a tetralogy following the story of a stoic
male lead; Patera Silk, who is the ranking augur of the Sun Street manteion of the Chapter of the Holy City of Viron, one of many cities in a world much like our own called The Whorl. While playing a ball game with the students of the adjacent palaestra, Silk has an out-of-body, not to mention of-of-time experience which he identifies as Enlightenment by an obscure, minor god by the name of The Outsider.
What follows is a tale of religious and political intrigue with Silk at the center. The citizens of Viron want to make him their leader, believing him a messiah; the secular government wants him killed, lest he overthrow them; the church wants to use him to regain their own lost power. And all Silk wants to do is what The Outsider commanded him to do — save his manteion from its impending destruction at the hands of a crime lord who has obtained its deed.
Like New Sun, Long Sun
is also complex. Not only complex, but mysterious and labyrinthine, with much ongoing debate as to the motivations and indeed basic natures of numerous characters, events and concepts within the novels. To top that off, Wolfe employs his usual blink-and-you'll-miss-it, Viewers Are Geniuses
style of prose, all of which is to say that Book of the Long Sun
is a long
and difficult read.
Books in the series include (in order) Nightside the Long Sun
, Lake of the Long Sun
, Caldé of the Long Sun
and Exodus From the Long Sun
. The first two books are compiled in the omnibus Litany of the Long Sun
, the latter two in Epiphany of the Long Sun
Prequel series to Book of the Short Sun
This series contains examples of:
- Affably Evil: Blood. Arguably, he's not even very evil; he runs drug and prostitution rings, so if you don't think drugs and prostitution are objectionable...
- Amazon Brigade: the Trivigaunti army.
- An Aesop: When Blood complains about Mucor, Silk lectures him that adoptive parents can't use the excuses natural parents do, such as "I didn't plan on this" or "she didn't turn out the way I expected," since by definition an adoptive parent is electively a parent.
- Anvilicious: Mucor is a skeletally-thin fifteen year old girl who refuses to wear clothes or eat in part as a result of sexual violation, and half a dozen characters chew out her father for not helping her get better.
- Arc Words: The Plan of Pas. Though there's really only one "arc," so it's more like Entire Series Words.
- Army of Thieves and Whores: General Mint's citizen army.
- Ax-Crazy: Musk.
- Potto has his moments as well.
- BFS: The azoths. So big, they cleave reality in twain.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: The inhumi, revealed in the last book. Patera Quetzal has a snake-like body, fangs, wings and only weighs a couple pounds.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Well, it's not actually Christianity, but it's justified either way in that Gene Wolfe is Catholic, and specifically wanted Catholic themes in the novels.
- The Comically Serious: Silk. Long Sun has many more comedic moments than New Sun, due mostly in part to Silk's utter, bald-faced naïveté.
- To be fair, Severian is also incredibly naive, but since he is the narrator of that series and is not at all objective, he doesn't come off as gullible as Silk. The comedy in New Sun is mostly derived from black humor.
- Creepy Child: Mucor
- Demonic Possession: When Mucor possesses someone, they get an insane, rictus-like smile.
- Do Androids Dream?: The chems, especially Maytera Marble and Hammerstone.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: Silk. Another staple of Wolfe's.
- Eye Scream: Four and a half pages are spent dwelling upon Potto preparing to torture Maytera Mint by holding her down and pouring boiling water in her eyes!
- Fanservice: Chenille and Hyacinth being prostitutes, we're treated to numerous descriptions of their assets.
- Fantastic Drug: Rust. It's like heroin and ecstasy mixed — makes you twitchy, feverish and horny as hell.
- Figure It Out Yourself: Kinda Wolfe's whole M.O. Much less so in this book than others, though.
- Gayngster: The crime lord Blood. With Musk, if you wanted to know.
- Generation Ship: The Whorl itself.
- God Guise: The "gods" of the Whorl are just the A.I.'s of regular people, the family members of the guy who created the Whorl.
- Late-Arrival Spoiler: For those who read the blurbs on the Book Of The Short Sun- the story is actually told in the first-person, not third, the Whorl is headed to Blue and Green and Silk is left on the Whorl after Horn and Nettle leave.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Over a hundred named. Interestingly, there's at least one character for each letter of the alphabet (Auk, Blood, Chenille ... Xiphias, Yapok, Zoril).
- Narrator All Along: Horn
- Magnetic Hero: Silk has quite the knack for turning almost everyone he meets into a loyal ally, without even trying.
- Morality Pet: Musk's birds. He'll snap your neck or a little bunny rabbit without second thought, but he has a soft spot for voracious birds of prey.
- Mysterious Waif: Mucor.
- Non-Human Sidekick / Talking Animal / Ensemble Darkhorse: Oreb.
- Powers via Possession: People possessed by gods can get, among things, super strength and agility.
- Religion of Evil: The established church is basically this, since the gods being worshiped, with one or two exceptions, are deranged sociopaths whose idea of a commandment is "Overthrow your government and let me know when it's done; if you sacrifice enough children you'll probably get my attention."
- It should be noted that even though most of the gods are evil on the Whorl, the religion itself is usually depicted positively. Even Quetzal, an inhumu who preys on the people of Viron, contributes positively to the city by banning human sacrifices. And obviously, the Outsider (who is clearly the Judeo-Christian God) is a benevolent, albeit elusive, deity.
- Schizo Tech: Ostensibly, the Whorl has medieval technology, but then you've got things like androids, hovercraft and reality-splitting magitek swords.
- It's mentioned at one point that there were once people called scientists who knew how to invent new technology, but there aren't any of them around any more. But the main reason for the Whorl's low-tech society is probably a lack of fuel sources - their few power vehicles have to run on fish oil because they have no fossil fuels at all.
- Self-Made Man: Blood. And goddammit, nobody's gonna take that away from him!
- Statuesque Stunner: Chenille.
- Theme Naming: Bio (human) males are named for animals or animal products (Lemur, Oosik), bio females are named for plants (Aloe, Mint) and chems (androids) are named after metals and minerals (Hammerstone, Molybdenum). People in the same family also tend to have similar names - for instance the corrupt government are mostly related to each other, and named after various lemurs.
- The Councillors are named after prosimians, to be technical — Lemur, Loris, Galago, Tarsier, Potto.
- Verbal Tic: Many characters have distinguishing verbal tics, which nicely allows dialogue after dialogue, with no "said X" in between, because you can tell who's speaking from the way they speak — Patera Remora, ah, speaks quite carefully, eh? Patera Incus speaks with singsong elocution. Xiphias shouts a lot and always calls Silk lad!
- Vow of Celibacy: Priests and nuns are required to be abstinent. This has a practical purpose: only virgins can receive divine messages clearly.
- Waif Prophet: Mucor