Reading Book of the New Sun
I recently started reading Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, a sprawling piece of science fiction from the early '80s that practically defined the 'dying Earth' genre. I'm a few hundred pages in now and feel relatively confident I have a bearing on the text's cadence. Having said that, though, I realize there are 1200 more pages to go in this four-volume core series, so I could be sorely mistaken.
Some observations so far:
- Book order is confusing - Is BotNS two books or four? Why are there six different names for these collections? The digital version I picked up was touted as being the complete series. Sometimes I'm not sure where one book begins and one ends.
- The prose isn't meant to be precise, but evocative - Wolfe stated this in an interview ages ago, but it's something I suspected myself while reading. A lot of the language (particularly nouns) were completely foreign to me. On several occasions I stopped to look them up, only realizing they were an archaic/medieval term for something I already understood from context. Eventually, I relaxed into the prose and just enjoyed it for what it is.
- Multiple readings - I get the sense that this book is made for repeat readings. I struggle to see what relevance certain events have on the characters or plot, only to realize they are simply flavor (not fluff, mind you).
- It's a journey meant to be savored, not a destination to be reached - With so many books I want to reach the end to see how things conclude. With this, sure, I want to see how things tie together, but I also think it's a tale best immersed in slowly and over time, not rushed through. I pick at chapters throughout the day and try to avoid long stretches of reading.
I rarely research books I'm reading while I read, as I greatly dislike spoilers. When trying to validate that I was reading the books in order, though, I did see several notes on forums where people urged researchers to put down the search engine and just read the book. Plenty of time to pore over details and ask questions about events later, after the main story has been worked through.
I can genuinely see why this book was such an inspiration to so many writers, especially Tchaikovsky and his Cage of Souls, which I adored.