Mike’s Prattle


Books/CD Received; Gene Wolfe – The Citadel of the Autarch; Neil Gaiman – Coraline

Posted by Mike on November 3, 2006

  • Paul Di Filippo – Lost Pages
  • Liz Williams – Demon in the City (Limited Ed)
  • Jack Womack – Ambient
  • Tim Lebbon – Face (hb)
  • CD: Mal Waldron – The Call (mini LP)

I started reading Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun in the late 90s and managed to finish the first three books in the series in a relatively short period of time, but it wasn’t until about a week ago I finally finished the original four-book series (there’s a follow up novel, The Urth of the New Sun). Anyway, The Book of the New Sun is one of the most critically acclaimed series coming from the speculative fiction genre, and for good reason. Now, I’m not going to say it lived up to the hype for me, but only for the reason that my literary tastes have changed quite a bit since I read the first volumes and that I probably didn’t read it very effectively. Strangely enough, most of what I remember comes from the first book, The Shadow of the Torturer, protagonist Severian’s life as torturer, his compassion to save a prisoner from further torture, his expulsion and the beginning of his pilgrimage. I loved the book, especially the end. I’m almost blank on the middle two books, except for a few scenes. So I feel I lost some continuity here. I can probably add these books to the short list of books I plan on reading again, hopefully not so far apart.

Anyway, Citadel was probably my least favorite of the four, although Wolfe has such a way with prose and subtlety that it was always a joy to read it, even if it seemed that it meandered a bit to its conclusion. Then again I’d probably listen to Wolfe meander all day given his skill with every facet of writing a book. As Severian recuperates in something of a hospital at the beginning of the book, several other travellers relate stories to him, hoping he chooses the best of them. These stories are fantastic, almost Dunsany-esque in their cosmic nature, in fact there’s something of a messianic thread running through the book, something of a reflection of Wolfe’s Catholicism. In fact, it’s somewhat ironic that one of the best science fiction writers of all time isn’t an atheist or agnostic. Anyway, its essential reading for anyone interested in the field, he’s one of the world’s best living writers in any genre.

In fact he toured with Neil Gaiman a few years back as something of a cross-promotion, Gaiman being one of those rare, famous megastars in the field. Gaiman’s Coraline, a children’s novella, picked up nearly every award in the field a couple years back. I’d read American Gods, which I enjoyed but barely remember, and recently a few of his Sandman comics. Coraline is a delightful little book, the type of story that takes me back to my childhood with people like Roald Dahl. Little Coraline finds a secret door in their house and proceeds to go through it, only to find something of a parallel world where everyone she knows is different, her parents having button eyes and a creepy vibe. She’s eventually forced to be a heroine when she finds her real parents in trouble. The book reminds me a little of the two James Stoddard “House” books and plays on the fascination children have with big houses. Having lived in England and played in many endless mansions, something like this resonates with me in a real way. A good one for your 8 and above.

Off to San Francisco tomorrow…


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