Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Litany of the Long Sun (Long Sun 1 & 2)

Litany of the Long Sun: Nightside the Long Sun and Lake of the Long Sun (Book of the Long Sun, Books 1 and 2)

Gene Wolfe

Date: 01 April, 2000   —   $11.87   —   Book

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Fiction, Speculative

Wolfe is not an easy read. He dumps you into the story as if you know exactly what he is talking about, and doesn't hesitate to have his characters use their own peculiar argot, which you have to understand through inference. You can assume that his novels are set in a far distant future where Clarke's law* has taken effect, and yet he leaves you to wonder if, in fact, there is magic afoot. And they are dense reading, not the sort of thing you have at bedtime.

The Litany of the Long Sun is a compilation of the first two novels of the four novel Long Sun series. We meet young Patera Silk, an augur at a poor manteion. The manteion is poor to the point, in fact, that it has been sold to cover back taxes. After an epiphany from the Outsider, a god of whom Silk knows little, he sets out to save the manteion, leading him on a trail of amazing deeds and strange interactions, and severe trials of faith as Silk discovers the truth behind the gods he has spent his life in service to.

The cover art for this compilation deserves mention, because without giving anything away it manages to let you know exactly what kind of world Silk inhabits - it is a cylindrical spaceship, with the "sun" a bright line through the center. (It has a shade that rotates, providing night.) In the course of the four days that these two books cover, we learn that the city of Viron is suffering from a years-long drought, that prosthetics were once available but are slowly disappearing as they wear down, that chems - robots - are getting older, and beginning to die. One assumes that other cities are much the same way, but there is little contact between the groups. All in all, it speaks of a world - the Whorl - on the edge of collapse, of a setup that was only meant to endure so long, and has long passed that point.

And one gets the sense that Silk is at the center, someone who will, perhaps, save the world and all its people. Wolfe has a gift for this manner of story, of bringing about a savior whose humble beginnings are never in doubt, and who always follows the necessary path almost by accident. One thing leads to another and somehow the central character ends up in charge of the world as events force him to that point as though it were foreordained. You feel sympathy for Silk (a broken ankle, a wrenched arm, and cuts galore on the first day alone) even as you realize that he is the strong center of the novel, and that his pains are somehow necessary.

Wolfe is well worth your time, but if you find yourself overwhelmed by his phrasing, don't worry. You can put him aside for later.

*Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

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