I’m delving once again into Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. I’m reading Shadow & Claw, a compilation of the first two books, Shadow of the Torturer and Claw of the Conciliator. I read Shadow & Claw back in university and was frankly stunned by it. This was after I had given up on the Wheel of Time (around book four or five), and while I had read some fantasy outside the Tolkien reproductions – stuff like Bridge of Birds – I had been trapped mostly in epic fantasy with only very slight dashes of sword & sorcery.
Shadow & Claw hit me like a ton of bricks. Its style is first person and uses a technique by which the narrator refers to and hints at aspects of the world and society, but only explains certain parts. This makes sense because one would generally not relate to oneself or others of one’s society aspects of one’s world that one assumes are common knowledge. If I say I got into my car, that does not need any further elaboration. However, when I then say that I flew my car to Mars, . . . well, that shakes up the reader, and makes the reader question what the heck that car really is.
Kind of like a citadel that the narrator later mentions – in a very off hand manner – is capable of interplanetary travel.
The world of the Book of the New Sun is not exactly post-apocalyptic, but it is our world very far in the future, when our sun is dying and much of our modern world is forgotten. Much of the world seems fantasyesque medieval, but it is leavened with extraordinary technology.
It was both the style of writing and the science fantasy setting that got me back in the day. Re-reading it now, it still has an impact. Wolfe is, of course, recognized as a great writer. I really haven’t read anything else of his, but have to say that based on Shadow & Claw, his reputation is well-founded.
You can read more about Bridge of Birds here.