Thoughts on The Book of the New Sun

by Jason Voegele

If science fiction will ever gain any sort of critical respect from the literary canon, this is the type of book that would do it. Although many have compared this book to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, I think it's a poor comparison. Sure, it can be compared to Tolkien on the shallowest level, but it is much more akin to Dickens, Joyce, Proust, Chesterton, and (especially) Borges. Not that I dislike Tolkien, but he is overused as a comparison to provide any meaningful context in which to judge a book.

This book could be read for countless lifetimes without exhausting its wealth. On the surface its another stable boy becomes emporer sort of story (although a neat twist is that the "stable boy" is actually--by profession--a torturer), but wow...if any story can validate an entire genre, here it is. The imagery is also decidedly beautiful. The story is set in an unspecified, but extremely distant future...the moon has been made verdant and now shines green in the sky...the Sun is dying due to "a worm" at its center...the sands on the beach are full of colors because the sand is not really sand, but the glass and stone from our buildings of today ground into a fine powder...all the mountains have been carved to the shape of former "autarchs"...the city in which the action starts is actually a former spaceport and the towers of the city are spaceships....

I could go on and on. Most of these things are not explained directly in the book. They are hinted at and must be pieced together from the clues strewn about, and this makes the imagery that much more powerful. I cannot say enough about this book. If you aren't convinced, read what John Clute has to say about Wolfe, both in his books of essays, and in "The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction", which rightly calls Wolfe the most important writer of science fiction in the world today.