Notes and thoughts about recent reads rereads.

5 Stars
The Citadel of the Autarch
Sword and Citadel - Gene Wolfe

If your mind hasn't been blown by the allusions, puzzles, relentlessly unpredictable plot and elegant language in the previous books, then prepare yourself. 

All the above elements reoccur in this fourth part, but blended by mastery.

Orwellian thought controlled races appear, there are horrifying war scenes, the mystery of the Claw is resolved (by dissipating in a deeper mystery), there's a storytelling contest that goes meta all over the four books, and the strangest conclusion to a sci fantasy saga I have ever read. All the fascinating background to what everything means is never stated. It occurs to you over the weeks after reading. 'It can't be!' is what you end up suddenly muttering to yourself after these books. You will be back.

Wolfe delivers again with his thrilling plot and philosophical riffs on time, idealism, loyalty, and the individual. Both epic and haunting.

Whenever such sounds came, I put my unbandaged ear to the planks; and in fact I often anticipated them, sitting that way for long periods in the hope of overhearing some snatch of conversation that would tell me something of Vodalus’s plans. I could not help but think then, as I listened in vain, of the hundreds in our oubliette who must have listened to me when I carried their food to Drotte, and how they must have strained to overhear the fragments of conversation that drifted from Thecla’s cell into the corridor, and thus into their own cells, when I visited her. And what of the dead? I own that I thought of myself, at times, almost as dead. Are they not locked below ground in chambers smaller than mine was, in their millions of millions? There is no category of human activity in which the dead do not outnumber the living many times over. Most beautiful children are dead. Most soldiers, most cowards. The fairest women and the most learned men— all are dead. Their bodies repose in caskets, in sarcophagi, beneath arches of rude stone, everywhere under the earth. Their spirits haunt our minds, ears pressed to the bones of our foreheads. Who can say how intently they listen as we speak, or for what word?

Wolfe, Gene (1994-10-15). Sword & Citadel: The Second Half of 'The Book of the New Sun': The Second Half of the Book of the New Sun (Kindle Locations 6811-6819). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition. 

0 Stars
The Sword of the Lictor
SWORD OF LICTOR - Gene wolfe

Third time is quite the charm. Wolfe starts off with an Urthian version of marital discord, as our hero is now secure in his new job, and the nature of his work is undeniably distasteful to his paramour; the dead/living/reincarnated Dorcas. Besides some non-action reflecting Severian does for awhile, everything is as bizarre and adventure filled, unpredictable and creepily significant-feeling as ever. We journey north (again), watch Sev fall for and free another condemned noble woman (again), run into former friends now revealed as quite different agents (again, again and Very again) and read, learn and outright lie about himself and what he is discovering/remembering. Cacogens. autochthons, alzaboes, and homunculi all reinforce with their presence the feeling that Urth is some sort of interstellar political pawn in something not yet revealed. Wolfe dazzles again with his descriptive imagination, roller coaster plot, and the theo-philosophical allusions galore. (This time it's the Meno again, some Nietzchean eternal return, and Hegel's Spirit.) There's a boy Severian sidekick (a time displaced double?) a two headed titan holding one of his heads hostage (hmmm .. ) the even creepier exploration of the nature of the self, when it's consumable, Hethor's hunting-menagerie grows, and then finally some straight up starships. The best is Baldander's version of how to find an in-network health provider though. That was just sick.

5 Stars
Claw of the Conciliator
The Claw of the Conciliator - Gene Wolfe
One of my favorite scifi/fantasy novels to return to, Claw of Conc remains a headspinner. The only cliched action sequences are dealt with and dismissed early on, in order to confirm how insignificant they are to the real story. I always feel a wince when I realize the biggest battle Severian engages in is with cave dwelling pale apes in an obviously false mission to save his quite dead love from the first book. It’s almost a slap on the wrist to the reader to remind themselves where they actually are.
And where are we? In the autobiography of an as yet unconfirmed resident of the House Absolute, sometime in the future. Our not too hero-ish protagonist Severian wanders the country of Urth, reacting blindly, eking out an existence as an executioner when he remembers to, while being thrown all manner of allusive hints as to where and who he may be. There’s a true perversion of the Last Supper, that complicates the narrator’s identity immensely, a riff on the question game from Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, whole plays acted out, then transcripted (for those not paying attention), a mythic quest battle that only takes place in a book Severian/Thecla/Other reads when they are bored (ponder that one!), and before the dismissive ending that simply repeats ShadowTorturer’s, another king-murdering reference when a small coven of witches (and others) shows up plotting in ruins. There’s a king/queen in yellow, and some giant undersea interstellar monsters for the Lovecraft fans, too.
Before you think these are just name-dropping allusions, know that they are also informed explorations of transubstantiation’s political significance, Meno’s knowledge (again), the allusive device itself, and a reinvention of the ‘bookend’. Dizzy yet?

If not, ‘Urth’-shattering details are also dropped so casually you find yourself turning back again and again to make sure you’ve got the context correct. Identity becomes both subject-of , and clue-for what is happening behind and around the narrative. The floating giant bodies of the Abaia, the needle mouthed faces of the cacogens, the illusive appearances of ‘The Autarch’ themselves, the saddest android ever, Jonas, and the political machinations of Vodalus that may include Severian’s earliest ‘memories’. All these vex you, as often as the masterful language dazzles.
Wolfe philosophizes on the nature of desire, on vanity, on dreams, on identity, change, history, progress, revolution, and most of all storytelling itself.

in a novel callled The Claw of The Conciliator, the so-named device is sucessfully employed less than half the time, is kept in a boot, and whenever mentioned, all agree it should simply be returned to its owners. It’s owners? The Perelines, who burned down the church they worshipped it in when it was stolen, because hey, it was no longer there. In that footnote alone, the perversion of logic, faith and ethics into new puzzle, is what Wolfe’s Book of The New Sun is all about.

5 Stars
The Shadow of the Torturer
The Shadow of the Torturer - Gene Wolfe
I return to this often, it's one of the few genre fictions that always rewards another visit.
Wolfe is up to many games here, cloaked in his version of the unreliable narrator, one in an unfamiliar exotic world where the rules are unknown.
There's plenty of action, and gore and political intrigue and fantastical events to satisfy, but the real meat is in-between, in some of the monologues, the dream-recollections, and the descriptive passages.
There's a Lovecraftian tale-within-a-tale that seems to be mining it's horror from explaining quantum mechanics and superpositions. A long dead mentor in a dream drills Severian on the basics of political philosophy, and much to our horror comes Severian's answers. Most disturbing of all is Severian's use of his guild's craft; torture and execution, as a glib metaphor for writing in general!

Deadly sentient plants used as dueling weapons. An ancient named sword. Creatures and monster of all kinds. Rooms built of illusion, whose use has been forgotten. Secret cults, stolen treasures. All here. But wrapped up by an omniscient narrator keeping secrets, or lying, to the reader. A dying future world with the barest of connections to our own. A lexicon of latin, greek, and nonsense to interpret and be memorized two or three times a paragraph. Poetry, improvised sideshow plays, lost histories, alien etymology.

Just finished it again, but I know I'll be back.

5 Stars
Goodbye, Kant!: What Still Stands of the Critique of Pure Reason
Goodbye, Kant!: What Still Stands of the Critique of Pure Reason - Maurizio Ferraris
Ferraris succeeds where many have failed: a succinct, fresh, thorough but never dry examination of Kant's CPR (as well as some exploration of the other two critiques). This is probably the best intro/summary for Kant and Modern Philosophy students out there. As a bonus, near the end it turns out Ferraris is part of the New/Speculative Realism camp, and makes the case for a tradition of realism blossoming from Brentano, Meinong and Husserl (as does Graham Harman of AU Cairo). So . . a good intro to SR/OOO as well. A great read, I will probably hit this a second time very soon.