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The Book of the New Sun

(The Book of the New Sun #1-4)

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  3,444 ratings  ·  159 reviews
Recently voted the greatest fantasy of all time, after The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun is an extraordinary epic, set a million years in the future, on an Earth transformed in mysterious and wondrous ways, in a time when our present culture is no longer even a memory. Severian, the central character, is a torturer, exiled from his ...more
Hardcover, 1st Science Fiction Book Club Edition, 950 pages
Published June 1st 1998 by SFBC (first published 1983)
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Miles Johnson This book demands a lot of investment. I would say that as much as any book I've ever read it demands a rereading; it's meant to be reread, or even re…moreThis book demands a lot of investment. I would say that as much as any book I've ever read it demands a rereading; it's meant to be reread, or even researched. It's usually criticized of being cold and meandering, but that's also the spell of the book -- it's absolutely swollen with genre-bending omens and echoes of powers storming behind the fabric of our experience that never end but never reveal themselves. I like Ursula K. Le Guin's comment: "The groundnote of it all is human pain, so that this fantasy has the weight of vision." The book's most compelling fantasy/sci-fi element is the way experience is augmented, and this is furthermore an allegorical exploration of religious phenomenology, hemeneutics, on and on... There are aliens, time-travel, etc., but they're almost a footnote to the experience of body-snatching with which the book is preoccupied.(less)
Ryan Thistlethwaite For anyone else still interested in the answer to this I think it is worth pointing out that Urth of the New Sun isn't only the 5th book. In many ways…moreFor anyone else still interested in the answer to this I think it is worth pointing out that Urth of the New Sun isn't only the 5th book. In many ways all of the Solar Cycle books are required to get the full picture. They're standalone (as far as each series itself goes) but all together paint a deeper picture.(less)

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The Book of the New Sun: SFF’s greatest and most challenging epic
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN is considered by many SFF readers as the greatest, most challenging, and most rewarding SF-fantasy epic ever written in the genre. At the same time, its baroque language, ambiguous plot, unreliable narrator, and depth of symbolism are likely to discourage most casual readers. Therefore, new readers need to dedicate themselves to unraveling the many layers of plot, reli
Chris Hawks
Nov 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned, reviewed, favorites I have now read this book twice in the past year, and am looking forward to regular rereads every December.

I had heard lots of fantastic things about Gene Wolfe, and this series in particular, so I figured this was the best place to start. The first time through, I thought it was good. A little slow in parts, and other times it was difficult to keep up with what was going on, but overall? Very enjoyable. I rated it a modest 3.5 stars, figuring I'd revise my rating up after subsequent r
First Second Books
Reading this book is the closest I've come to replicating the sensation of dreaming.
Vit Babenco
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
After the final analysis, I believe The Book of the New Sun tetralogy is a dystopia… But it’s not all, the book is also a picaresque novel… Severian – a gloomy and outlawed picaro – embarks on the quest of his life, to find his future and his destination in the dying bleak world. But there is more to it – his exotic adventures in the luxuriantly decadent world can’t be nothing but thoroughly decadent as well – so the book follows in the footsteps of the darkest myths of the past…
“I was no sooner
Joe Frisino
Jul 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I just raised my rating from 4 stars to 5 after my second read-through. The Book of the New Sun ranks among the best books I've read in my 55 years on the planet. I can see why the NYT called it "a major work of twentieth-century American literature" and the Washington Post called Gene Wolfe "the finest writer the science fiction world has yet produced."

The story is set so far in the future that the Sun is dying. That is all I'll say about the spoilers here! Very well written. Deeply
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Sixth read. Still amazing.
Christy Ford
Nov 13, 2009 rated it did not like it
I read this at the recommendation of a friend, otherwise I probably would not have finished it.

It's a very odd book. The premise is interesting enough, and the writing is actually pretty good as well, if from a bit of an odd perspective.

However, somewhere between those two it falls apart. There is no thrust to it. It feels aimless. Individual scenes are good, but have little to do with the scene before them or after them. There is great detail spent on things that are not relevant to the plot,
Kerrin Shaw
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My favourite book of all. Bar none. This is so far removed from what people think of as fantasy or science fiction that it is almost impossible to describe to someone who is yet to read it. Some of the most finely crafted writing there is. In any genre. Gene Wolfe is one of those authors who some people just don't get, his style can be disjointed temporally and ambiguous descriptively but if it clicks you will be a fan for life.
This is undoubtedly his masterpiece. The Book of the Long Sun and Th
Earl Biringer
I don't get it. It's sloppily constructed, intentionally vague, and peopled with ridiculous characters. There is distinction between wit and mere cleverness, and this one clearly belongs in the latter category. I'm not sure exactly what happens (and upon perusing the other reviews I find I am not alone in that), but I also don't care what happened. Getting through the fourth book was a laborious chore that I only embarked upon in the faint hope that it would make sense of the first three books ( ...more
Nicholas Kotar
Apr 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In the fantasy genre, coming of age tales abound. Commoner becomes emperor stories abound. Nobody becomes great wielder of magic stories also abound. The Book of the New Sun is all of these. But it's also a story told in the first person by a possibly insane former torturer who claims to have perfect recall, but who may have multiple personalities. Oh, and did I mention he is a Christ figure?

I won't even begin to try to summarize the series, though. The back cover jackets do a decent job, but th
Dec 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Where do I start with this?

This is probably the most intellectually stimulating work of fantasy (or science fantasy, whatever you call it) I've read. Wolfe doesn't pull his punches, he expects his readers to catch all the little hints and references he drops, and then he starts playing around with it to amuse both himself and the reader. This book has its (often humoristic) meta. It has intertextuality. It has an unreliable narrator, approaches science fiction under so many angles, and a puts up
Ian Mathers
Aug 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I actually have a slightly different edition (hardcover, from the Science Fiction Book Club), but this is the only omnibus of all four volumes I could find on here. I ordered this as one of my six free books or whatever when I joined, because the description sounded neat and it was good value for money; I stumbled upon one of the finest writers, in any genre, North America has produced. Still mysterious, beautiful, profound and terrifying in turn, this series is very much a must-read for you. Ye ...more
Claudia Cristina
Sep 13, 2011 rated it did not like it
Gosh , Am I the only one to see the emperor naked ?!?! The book makes me queasy and not only mentally but physically, it goes against the grain .One of the few if not the only book I will not finish . I have looked at the 2nd part and it seems to go the same way so I will not open it .
Feb 15, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didnt-finish
This is compared to LotR in scope and epicness and also I guess in meandering plotlines.
Lord of the Rings at least HAD a plot.

This book has a fairly bland main character, no "MacGuffin" even 20 percent in, as far as I can tell, and women who parade around with their dresses ripped and boobs hanging out for no reason other than to provide something pretty for the main character to look at.

Eowyn she ain't.

This is a nope, nope, nope.
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this tetralogy. re-read, re-read and re-reading again. never read anything like it and probably will never read again. like a drop of quicksilver in the folds of your brain. you know you read something important. you just don't know what.
Tyler Bumpus
Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bryan Thurston
Jun 29, 2017 rated it did not like it
I got through seventy pages in three months, and then I put it down. I realized I got no joy from it, that I would find reasons not to read it. Seeing Neil Gaiman's praise on the cover made my heart sink, but I admit defeat. I feel like I just watched all the raw footage from "Planet Earth", the hours of following around some bird waiting for it to do something, and I don't even have David Attenborough to narrate. Actually, I finally understand why people say, "I don't really get science fiction ...more
Adam Vine
Dec 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I've read "The Book of the New Sun" cover-to-cover four times, and each time it becomes richer, deeper, and more enjoyable. Neil Gaiman wrote an entire article on why you should read Gene Wolfe, who the New York Times called "Science Fiction's Difficult Genius" and who Ursula K. LeGuin called "Our Melville." Wolfe is a writer's writer. His stories are shadowy, labyrinthine puzzles, impossible to fully grasp on the first read-through. Oh, you will think you know what's going on, and who's-who, an ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it liked it
It is a mildly interesting retelling of the experiences of an unusual and likable man, but it is also a meandering, directionless story appearing (along the way) to follow no plan and make no point. I suppose this is the issue with fantasy epics: made up stories about made up situations. But surely if you are making everything up, you can try to make a point, eh? I don't know. I'll bet that was the knock on LOTR until people started to get into it. Then they found an interesting world filled wit ...more
Jay Bhattacharya
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My high school English teacher once told me that James Joyce took a decade to write Ulysses, and that he expected his readers to spend no less time on it. The Book of the New Sun probably won't take a decade of your life, but it repays close attention to details, an appreciation of well-crafted sentences, and at least one complete rereading. Most of all, it repays patience with the author, who knows what he is doing, even while the reader has absolutely no idea. ...more
Aug 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was recommended this by a fellow fantasy fan and wow, I was not disappointed. Definitely one I will re-read and I'm sure enjoy somethign new everytime, a wonderful book.
Jul 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It's difficult for me to "review" this book because of the profound affect it had on me when I first read it. I will admit to being biased.

I read these books within a year or so after their individual release(s). My personal prelude to this series was LOTR/Sim, Zelanzy, Moorcock, Asimov, Heinlein, Vance, (as a kid I cut my teeth on Lewis, Hobbit, Lieber, Feist, Anthony, etc.) I had read through what many consider as classics of the genre, most of them multiple times. I tell you this because I t
Julian Meynell
The Book of the New Sun is one of the greatest works of literature ever written.

The Book of the New Sun is really not four novels, but instead one book divided into four parts. It's fundamentally a picaresque novel, although all the incidents are related and produce an overarching narrative, but this is secondary to the picaresque nature of the novel. The novel is set in the far future. The novel is set millions of years in the future, possibly hundreds of millions of years in the future and wh
Manuela Gonzaga
To fully understand this book one must read the former ones in which this is anchored: The Shadow of the Torturer; The Claw of the Conciliator; The Sword of the Lictor; The Citadel of the Autarch - all published in Portuguese by Europa América, Lisboa.
It's an outstanding saga,some how between the past and the future, strongly anchored in deep knowledge of history, mythology, ancient cultures and contemporary science. Sort of a future archaeology.
And so, so well written!! It's so rare. Some pag
Jul 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
I just couldn't get through this book. I read 400 pages and just had enough. I know it is heralded as wonderful sciencfiction/fantasy and has won all kinds of awards, but for me it was just too rambling and difficult to follow in any enjoyable way.
Bethany Bee
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
Did I lucid-dream these books? Quite possibly.
David Giard
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I finished this 4-volume set a couple weeks ago.

Since that time, I've been thinking about it and reading about it and I even listened to a podcast that analyzed each chapter of book 1.

The story takes place a million years in Earth's future. The sun is dying.

The Earth - now called "Urth" - has resorted to a medieval society, but it still retains remnants of its forgotten technology. For example, man no longer can travel between the stars, but old spaceships are repurposed as buildings and alien
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
This was a book club side read.
First, I was cautioned it was a difficult read - I did not find that at all.
Additionally, I've read too many books of late that are just regurgitations of facts and this was a refreshing change from that 'genre'.
This is a craft of thought and story telling at its finest.
It is now on my "I'd read it again" shelf which has not occurred in a very long time.
Its very quotable, lends itself to reading aloud and is fantastically current on many levels. Its about human
Scot Eaton
Mar 07, 2018 rated it liked it
I feel that "classic" works of any medium should be divided into 2 categories:
1. Classics of the Art - works that appeal to people who participate in the craft. They push the boundaries of what the craft was originally thought to do.
2. Classics of the Heart - works that have a timeless quality to them, that can be enjoyed apart from any historical context.

So when I heard that "The Book of the New Sun" was a Sci-Fi/Fantasy (SFF) classic, like "The Lord of the Rings", I assumed that like LotR, it
Grace Harwood
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In a time before Game of Thrones (did such a time ever exist?) I never read fantasy or sci-fi novels. That time has now passed and this novel - if you are GOT fan - is simply awesome. In fact, there's a lot in here that is awfully reminiscent of GOT (or rather, GOT is reminiscent of this, being as this predates GOT).

The story is as follows: Severian, a young, very large, man is a member of the sinister guild of torturers. However, he is disgraced when he falls in love with one of the 'clients' a
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Gene Wolfe was an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He was noted for his dense, allusive prose as well as the strong influence of his Catholic faith, to which he converted after marrying a Catholic. He was a prolific short story writer and a novelist, and has won many awards in the field.

The Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award is given by SFWA for ‘lifetime achievement in science f

Other books in the series

The Book of the New Sun (5 books)
  • The Shadow of the Torturer (The Book of the New Sun, #1)
  • The Claw of the Conciliator (The Book of the New Sun, #2)
  • The Sword of the Lictor (The Book of the New Sun, #3)
  • The Citadel of the Autarch (The Book of the New Sun, #4)
  • The Urth of the New Sun (The Book of the New Sun, #5)

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