Thursday, January 13, 2011

Recent reading

In off-topic news, I got some reading done over winter break.  A friend recommended The Book of the New Sun, a sci-fi/fantasy tetralogy by Gene Wolfe.  I am precisely halfway through.

I'm assuming that most of you have never read it or heard of it.  Very briefly, it centers on a professional torturer, the narrator, Severian, who gets exiled from his home.  As he adventures, we slowly get a description of the world, though he doesn't seem to understand a lot of it.  It's a world so far in the future that technology has gone all the way and come back again, leaving remnants that are indistinguishable from magic.

This is... my kind of book.  There are a lot of puzzles littered around, things you would miss without reading carefully and connecting the dots.  For a non-spoiler example, Severian once describes a painting of a knight in a desert with a reflective helmet without eye slits, and a strange staff with a banner.  A character remarks that the moon wasn't irrigated at the time of the painting.

But a lot of it just doesn't make sense.  Either because I missed it, it's explained later, or because there are just too many mysteries for them all to be explained by an unreliable narrator.  I find both the solved and unsolved mysteries to be wonderful.

There's also a deep undercurrent of irony.  Severian pledges loyalty both to the guild of torturers, as well as to a revolutionary death cult that wishes to defeat the current political structure and bring back the prosperity of ancient times.  Neither allegiance has very good justification, and they contradict each other.  This hit me half-way through the first book, and I got to thinking how profoundly silly are many of the things in the world, many of the things Severian does, as well as his self-indulgent philosophical musings (once he compares the art of writing to the art of torturing).  This is good, because I need my literature to be coated with a layer of satire so thick that it's virtually unrecognizable as such.

I also read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is a very different book.  It also has puzzles, but of the explicit sort, since the narrator just likes doing math and puzzles.  I found these a lot easier to solve than the ones in The Book of the New Sun, because wouldn't you know it, I am very skilled at solving explicit puzzles.  It was a light, decent read.

I heard that it was told from the perspective of an autistic boy, but I know better than to take it for granted that it's an accurate portrayal.  It'd probably be best to ask an autistic person or an autism expert.  A quick google turned up some differing opinions, as well as a statement by the author that he has no autism expertise.  Well, there you go...  I offer no further opinion, as I don't have the expertise for my opinion to be worth anything.


Anonymous said...

You have any link to read online?

miller said...

Google is your friend.