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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gene Wolfe's "Long Sun" books

Often, when I write about literary works, I try not to give away the plot, because I suppose that, once in a while, there may be someone reading this blog who has never read the work under discussion, but decides to try it. This post will be my first one about the four "Long Sun" novels by Gene Wolfe. In this case, the plot is so complex that I'm not sure that I could give it away. Let me rephrase that. The basic plot can be described in a sentence or two, but such sentences would leave out important and interesting parts of these stories. This is not surprising, since many critics, and readers, would say that Wolfe belongs on any reasonable short list of the best writers of fantastic literature who write in English. I will not try to hide the plot in the posts I write about these books.

Here's the basic plot: The Whorl is an enormous hollow spaceship, which is gradually deteriorating. Silk, a young priest, has a spiritual awakening, which culminates in his congregation leaving The Whorl at the end of the fourth book.

The four books are Nightside the Long Sun, Lake of the Long Sun (both 1993, and combined into Litany of the Long Sun, 1994) Caldé of the Long Sun (1994) and Exodus from the Long Sun (1996) which latter two were combined into Epiphany of the Long Sun (1997).

The population of the Whorl is large, probably at least millions, and lives on the inside of this giant space ship, which is mostly an enormous hollow space, with the people living in cities on the inside of the outer wall. (There are tunnels in the wall, and some people live in the tunnels.) The Long Sun is the object that illuminates the interior of the Whorl. It is an artificial sun, apparently suspended along the axis of the ship, and there is a mechanism which sequentially darkens parts of the Whorl's interior, so that there is night and day in this great ship.

Caldé is the title given to the ruler of Viron, the city where Silk lives. Although I can't determine the origin of the word, I would guess that Wolfe found it somewhere. He has a genius for finding obscure ones. Some used in these books are manteion, the house of worship of the religion of Viron; Maytera, the title of females dedicated to the service of the religion -- think nuns; Prolocutor, the head of the religion; Ayuntiamento, the government of Viron; and The Juzgado, the prison.

Here are some key on-line references about Gene Wolfe's "Long Sun" series.

The Wikipedia article is here.

Nick Gevers, Wolfe critic par excellence, has written about the four books, and about connections with Wolfe's other works. In this article, he presents evidence for such connections, and argues that Silk, the main character, is a Christ-figure. In this one, he considers Silk further, and also discusses augury, an important part of the books. (See here for the Wikipedia article on augury. This page discusses Augury in the ancient world.)

Dave Langford has written reviews of the books. These are found here.

Somewhat shorter articles on the series are found here and here, in web pages that also contain material on additional Wolfe works.

The author, Wolfe, has responded to some questions about the book, sometimes cryptically, sometimes more clearly.

I have posted about Wolfe previously, here.

Thanks for reading.


Elliot said...

Thanks for this, Martin.

I've come across the word 'calde' in the real world. If I remember correctly it was a Spanish word for mayor. Ayuntamiento is also derived from Spanish. Viron is culturally vaguely Spanish or Latin American, which is one reason why blond-haired, blue-eyed Silk stands out a bit to his neighbours. Of course, this is a Gene Wolfe story, so that's only implied in one or two passing comments.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, elliot!

For anyone who doesn't know, elliot is a Wolfe expert. His blog is named after one of Gene Wolfe's novels.

Anonymous said...

Alcalde is Spanish for mayor. I don't know if its ever abbreviated anywhere to Calde familiarly, but I'm no expert.

I'm pretty sure that nowhere in the Spanish-speaking world is it pronounced with an accent on the final e, but perhaps this is how the language has evolved in the Whorl, or else its actually derived from Portugese or Catalan or something.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Anonymous, whoever you may be.