I had heard vague rumours about the science fiction author Gene Wolfe and heard writers, whom I very much admire, referring to his work this summer at Worldcon. But I didn’t do anything about it until after I joined an online SF writing critique site and stumbled across something interesting when I was made curious about the background of one of the people who had commented on one of my short stories. The site that gained my attention was for Lexicon Urthus, a 440 page book of years of fan analysis of Gene Wolfe’s New Sun series. I was intrigued that such a cult of fans could exist for an SF author I knew so little of.
So I read The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) which is the first novel in The Book of the New Sun. At first I found the language so wild and dense, I was daunted, but like Shakespeare’s rolling prose (and that is no idle comparison) you disarmingly and quickly get to a point where you can’t put the damn book down. Wolfe’s characterization and incredible imagery are stunning. His command of the language and ability to invent or re-use obscure words (and, by the way, make you feel that reaching for a dictionary isn’t really necessary although you’d like to if it wouldn’t be interrupting your reading) is incredible.
There is no question that I will be reading the rest of his books and likely re-reading The Shadow of the Torturer for pure pleasure.
There is enough written about Wolfe and certainly his work that I shouldn’t need to entice anyone to look into his writing. But if you absolutely need a spoiler that will goad you into reading this book then here it is: Wolfe conjures up a duel between two hooded men using alien flowers as weapons, makes it believable and creates an image that is very likely to be burned into your brain forever.
What can I say. Like Paul Linebarger, Octavia Butler and Neal Stephenson, Wolfe is a visionary writer and worth the time of any serious science fiction reader.
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