The Book of the New Sun

Here should appear general notes and links to articles about the series in general. Each of the four books has its own page:


  • Note: this Overview is written for those who have not yet read The Book of the New Sun, and as such, deliberately avoids "spoilers." This is not true of the more specific articles linked to below. Caveat lector!

The Book of the New Sun is considered by many to be Wolfe's masterwork. Without debating whether it's his "greatest" achievement, it is clearly the master-work, the work that gained him recognition from his peers, critics, and general readers as a master of his craft.

The world of New Sun is heavily influenced by, and in part a tribute to, Jack Vance's "Dying Earth," but it is quite different from that world. It represents (in Wolfe's terms) the "do-nothing" future, the future in which the human race neither destroys the world through some great catastrophe, nor learns to manage it wisely. As a result, the world, a mere million or so years from now, has grown old, the natural resources used up. Miners dig in the ruins of ancient cities (still far in our future) for artifacts and materials.

The Moon (now called Lune) is green -- it has been terraformed and forested. Humanity once flew among the stars, but no more. Something (this is one of the Book's many puzzles and mysteries) happened to drive human civilization, and the core of the human population, back to the homeworld (now called Urth), and wounded the Sun. A prophecy tells of a messiah-figure, the New Sun, who will bring a new sun to Urth and restore the vitality of Urth and of the human race. This figure was prophesied by another mysterious messiah, the Conciliator, who lived a thousand years in the story's past. The two figures are said to be the same being.

Aliens visit Urth regularly, and are loathed and feared by the common folk of the Commonwealth, the country where the action of New Sun takes place. Alien beasts, as well as animals reconstructed from Urth's past, roam the mountains and forests of the Commonwealth. To the north, the Ascians, "people without shadows," live in a state of perpetual war with the Commonwealth.

Into this world steps Severian, our protagonist and narrator, an apprentice of the Guild of Seekers for Truth and Penitence -- better known as the Torturers' Guild. In the first volume, he becomes a journeyman of his guild, and then sets out on the journey which the Book as a whole narrates.

Severian claims to have a "perfect" memory, to be incapable of forgetting anything; this makes him a kind of ideal character for an unreliable narrator, since, if he contradicts himself, the reader can be certain it isn't simply forgetfulness on his part.

The Book of the New Sun is many things: a bildungsroman, an anatomy, an apologia pro vita sua, a war story, a travelogue, a romance, and much more.