Saturday, October 1, 2022

New Sun Reread Part 1: Shadow and Claw

Mark Penman


Prior revisit posts: Avatar, Lord of the Rings, Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, Wizard of Earthsea

Sword & Citadel (plus Urth)

 ***

BotNS represents the fastest turnaround on any of these re-read posts, as I originally read the quartet in 2019. The notes to follow will be taken in generally chronological order as I took them, though I will not be adding chapter numbers to them unless it gets particularly unwieldy.

Thanks go to the folks in discord who chose Shadow of the Torturer as a book club, which was the kick in the pants I needed to start the reread, and as always to the Alzabo Soup podcast for being a perennially helpful resource.

Breaking with my normal freewheeling tradition someone, I will be marking chapters where appropriate, for the sake of my own sanity and yours.

Enormous spoilers, obviously. And, of course, these are only my partial thoughts on the matter.

 

Shadow of the Torturer


***


It was not until writing this post that someone pointed out that Hildegrin did indeed try to hit Severian with a shovel in chapter 1. For the entire time during this re-read, and I think for the entire previous read as well, I had thought that the reference to it in chapter 3 was the first major memory disconnect. But it's right there in the text: "I heard him muttering execrations, then a whispering sound as he swung some weapon."

Had to read that sequence four times before I found it and frankly I felt like I was going mad.

Yep, it's New Sun time.

This episode does do a fine job as a practical example of how bad Severian is at actually writing his memoirs because of his quote-unquote perfect memory (which I might as well go into depth about now, since he won't shut up about it) - his memory is so vivid, and the re-living of it so intense, that he is functionally unable to step back and contextualize it. But it is not perfect memory, and this is critical for everything to follow - it's perfect _recall_. He can recall his memories perfectly, but he's shit out of luck if he wasn't paying attention and never remembered them in the first place. And this perfect recall is debilitating because not only will he get lost in his own thoughts (or in other people's thoughts) with no ability to organize them, Severian-the-Autarch, when he sits down to write his memoir, cannot write it without remembering; he can't remember without reliving it, and thus trapped in a fugue state he is more or less incapable of editorializing - everything is as chaotic and obtuse as he was thinking it originally.

Now, onward. If I keep talking about this I will stuck writing this post until the New Sun arrives in reality.

***


Looking back, I wonder if the instant attachment to Vodalus is the influence of Abaia / Erebus (as they are his patrons, most likely), or merely an expression of Severian just doing

***


When Severian dreams of Triskele, he doesn't tell us what dream-Triskele tells him (5). He does this again with the secret of the Guild (10).

***


Valeria is the odd woman out - she's the first one Sev meets properly, but is referenced only one time after her introduction, in Claw 23. Considering how later encounters will involve Severian listing off every woman he has ever interacted with, this is a very curious omission. Valeria herself is even weirder - all we get is that she is the descendent of a noble family that was to leave with the Autarch, and the cryptic line "I am all the sisters we breed, and all the sons". That says she's a clone of some sort to me. We'll see.

***


We get repeated mentions of Sev's height - taller than ordinary folk, but not as tall as an exultant. Something to watch out for, as there have been mention of similar people having an exultant a generation or two back in their family tree. We get, later on in Claw 27, Sev mentioning a memory of his mother in her cell at the Citadel (which is weird, considering that it is apparently a new remembrance) which keeps things in line with how foundlings are brought into the order.

***


While visiting Ultan there's a mention of rats "smearing dung on the [books'] covers to form the rude characters of their speech. This could be metaphorical, or it could be that there are sapient or close-enough rats in Ultan's library. Also he mentions what is essentially a pocket USB (6).

***


I find myself, both times through, saddened by the state of the library and its curators. Especially considering how much of it seems self-inflicted by their own cultic, child-kidnapping guild.

***


We get a sudden, out of place foreknowledge of Vodalus and the analeptic when speaking to Ultan - potentially Severian added that to make it seem like he knew more than he actually did once we reach that point. (6)

***


Drotte is mentioned here (7) raping a prisoner. Severian does not comment on this at all, to the point where he might not actually understand what is happening and has accepted Drotte's explanation for why there is a naked, bloodied woman in the cell with him. That seems in line with the gormless idiocy he demonstrated in the conversation with Gurloes we get in (Claw 7).

***


Severian is in instant violation of "don't listen to them" when observing the woman who had been put in the full boot. We've seen glimpses of this before, such as with Triskele - he cannot completely dehumanise them, though for Severian that is damning with faint praise. (7)

***


A note on numbers: We are told by Thecla that there are ~1400 exultant families in the Commonwealth, most do not reside at court in the House Absolute, and there are only 20 or so women in the harem. Thecla's memories of childhood in the House Absolute are a noteworthy exception from the norm.

***


I would be remiss to not link here the episode of Apocrypals about the Acts of Paul and Thecla, which is very entertaining. St. Thecla being a literal Pauline fanfiction character who almost made it to canon, were it not for the fact that the church fathers looked poorly upon a woman deciding to baptize herself, and then go on to not be martyred. It's great, give it a listen.

***


We will be coming back to Thecla and Severian's relationship multiple times over the course of this read and despite all the words spilled over it, I can't say fully what happened in that cell. I can say that there's a properly fucked power dynamic both ways (Thecla being a prisoner of Severian, Severian being notably younger, less epxerienced, and at a social disadvantage than Thecla) - and I have a feeling that they were both using and abusing the other, fueled by desperation of circumstances.

***


Gurloes is a supremely interesting character to me. Obviously he is wracked by post-traumatic stress from decades as a torturer (drinks heavily, constant nightmares) and finds himself tortured by the guilt of his own actions (though Severian is unable to see it, now or in the flashback we get in Claw 7), but the bit about going up to the top of the tower to brave the "energies" there and listen to voices that speak sometimes to humans and sometimes to the mouths "of other towers and keeps" (7). Radio transmissions, I think - but from where, from who, and to what end? Then there's the secret conversations with clients on the third floor (who is on the 3rd? I can't remember if it is ever mentioned, though I think in Claw they mention that's where the insane clients are held.)

***

Severian has this tic where he compares every woman he meets to all the other women he has met, and it gets increasingly obnoxious as time goes on. Actually, might as well take this as the opportunity to talk about Severian's misogyny as a whole. It is vile, of course, but that is the superficial reading - he's got a very peculiar flavor of hatred going on. There's a sort of variant Madonna-Whore complex as a baseline, with Thecla serving as the woman-on-pedestal and everyone else as a poor imitation of her. New bits get added or old arguments modified every time there's a new screed (accurate, you don't find consistent logic among the hateful): projection / aggrandizement of his sexual experience; an idea of manhood / womanhood bound up in submission and domination; women are trapped in weak bodies; retconning his previous encounters to bring them more in line with what he thinks they should be like etc etc. We'll get more, this is a gift that unfortunately keeps on giving. (An aside: He also compares Eata and Gurloes to women, which I think is worth noting)

The most important takeaway is this, I think: Severian's views do not mirror Wolfe's, and it is testament to Wolfe's great skill as a writer that he is able to thread that needle without falling into didactism. Severian is spot-goddamn-on for a sheltered neotrad college-age dipshit (Wolfe, being Catholic, doubtlessly met a lot of young men who were like Severian. Comes with the territory), but there are always slip-ups. Early on it's his projection, faulty logic, contradiction of events (plus just the horrors of his upbringing and the constant enforcement of _this man is unreliable as a narrator_), and later on we get glimpses of Agia, Dorcas, and Jolenta not as Severian sees them (though his mire of delusions, justifications, and hatreds), but closer to how they actually are.

Just wait until Citadel of the Autarch when we get to the story contest in the Lazaret. There is more to say about this.

***


We get two memory lapses in short succession: Sev finds himself unable to remember the contents of Thecla's food tray as soon as it is out of sight (we've all been there) (7), and in the next chapter says that he was carrying down her food for the first time (8)

***


A good word: Omophagists (those who eat raw meat) - the unlucky who live in the ruins of Nessus lower down the Gyoll. (8)

***


We get our first reference to "the Thecla that lives in me" here in chapter 10. There is also a very convenient gap in the conversation, where Severian elides whatever was said until we get to Thecla laughing. Worth noting.

***


There is a certain patheticness to the masters showing Thecla all the torture implements. They could just stop. They could stop and nothing would happen because no one cares about their shitty order at the backass end of nowhere, thought by most to be either extinct or nonexistant in the first place. But no, they go through, by rote, all the little niceties they have invented to make themselves feel important. (12)

***


"When a gift is deserved it is not a gift but a payment" (14)

***


Right about here - the exile and immediately after - is where things really sink in that Severian very, very rarely ever acts of his own accord. He will blindly follow whatever anyone tells him to do, and any time that he acts according to his own will he has no plan, nor any real idea of what to do once the dog has caught the car. He flip flops on a dime wrt his loyalty to the order, loving and hating it according to the weather. The masters give him an out, say he's free to leave, but he refuses - despite that he'll give the knife to Thecla the moment he's a full member. He accepts the job in Thrax, never once thinks to himself that he is now free to go where he will, despite his stated hatred of the torturers. He'll give his loyalty to anyone, they don't even have to ask - Vodalus, the Autarch, the torturers, Thecla. He bumbles around Nessus with no plan and never conceives of making one.

***


I love the random corpse in the cafe. It's an excellent sight gag and setting establishment all in one. (16)

***


Agia was clearly not expecting someone like Severian for her little grift. She has a good read on him all the same, but not good enough to prevent her from constantly being on the back foot thanks to Sev's constant, overbearing creepiness. (18)

***


"I had clasped women so before - Thecla often, and hired bodies in the town" - Lies, damned lies, and statistics. In (10) he says that he only ever went to the House Azure once. Physical contact with Thecla is borne out through the rest of the book as pretty concrete, but not the ladies of negotiable affection. (18)

***


In what I think is the only example of this, _Terminus Est_ is called "she" (18)

***


The narrative of Fr. Inire's mirrors is our first look into the space travel / time travel / interuniversal elements of BotNS (more on that later), but much more importantly we get the comedy gold of Severian, having immediately bored Agia with this story, going on to tell it to himself regardless of whether or not she is listening.

***


The Hut in the Jungle is a bizarre episode, but I have a few thoughts and ideas

  • Robert is more aware of Sev and Agia than Marie is, and also more patient and understanding of Isangoma.
  • "They are spirits of the future and we wake them ourselves" - is an astoundingly confusing line - so the tokoloshe are described in-book as spirits created by evil words and deeds, that carry the memory of those words and deeds into the future. Straightforward so far. If Severian and Agia are, here, taking the role of tokoloshe, then that implies that the actions of Robert and Marie in 20th century Africa somehow lead to the posthistoric religious framework that Severian exists in and participates in via the Claw and what the hell is going on.
  • If it is proper time-travel, the the past is weird given how it uses religious terms from Severian's time. So it might not even be our past, if it is indeed the past.
  • If it is as Agia thinks and it's people who got "chant-caught" here, acting out a scene from the past, that would explain the religious terminology and the parts that don't quite line up. But it doesn't explain why this scene.


Also, important to note that fliers in Severian's time have no wings, and thus are closer to flying saucers than airplanes.

***


It is noteworthy, I think, that Severian does not entertain the idea that the 'Cas' the old man is looking for and Dorcas might be the same person. Not at the time, and not in the time the he sat down to write the book. While it might be stupidity on his part - he is not the sharpest lightbulb in the crayon box - considering his relationship with Dorcas I think that it might be intentional. He knew, and he just never said it because his knowing and her ignorance gave him power over her.

Or maybe he's an idiot and never put 2 & 2 together. Both viable. (26)

***


The pacing is wild for Shadow when you think about it. Months to years (depending on how long ago the drowning incident was) fly by through the early chapters, and then most of the book takes place in the space of the same day, day and a half, maybe three at maximum.

***


Dorcas comes right out of the gate with some very curious words and behaviors. Curious enough that I question how much of her dialogue is even her own, and how much of it is Severian's fabrication. She certainly sounds artificial in her instantaneous fawning over Severian, and while I can believe that Agia flirted with Sev as part of the grift, there is no fucking way Dorcas is pulled out of freezing bog water, miraculously resurrected by the Claw, and then immediately invites a strange man to feel her up. (24)

I figure that, using what we see and hear later on she could be playing into Severian's delusions as a means of self-preservation - she is alone and broke in an unfamiliar time and place, trapped with a dangerous, mentally unstable man.

***


The note in the Inn of Lost Loves hinges entirely on Severian being the Dumbest Man on Urth - he has failed once again at basic logic puzzles. He does, at the very least, try and track down Trudo, but

Dorcas certainly knows what's going on, if not now then certainly by after the execution of Agius, when she asks about returning to Nessus in (31).

***


Given that the only things we know about Laurentia of the House of the Harp are that A) her opponent never shows up and B) she jumps into action against a madman swinging an avern around, deductive reasoning says that she is a very scary woman, but the cool kind of scary. Probably for the best that whoever she was dueling was a no-show; I don't think they'd win.

***


Severian-the-Autarch is, and I quote (from a source I do not remember) "equivocating like a motherfucker" on the topic of monomachy. He opens with "this is evil and horrible" and then spends the rest of the segment justifying it, praising it, and explaining in great detail why civilization would collapse without it. (27)

***


There's an interesting bit, prior to the execution of Agius, where Dorcas describes Agia's thought process quite perceptively. It is not, as Severian might say, that she thinks "like a woman", or even like a man, but "sidewise" - "the way they think is hard to follow, but that doesn't mean it's clear or deep." (28)

***


Severian, once again, is pretty obviously not directly saying when other people are having sex (in this case, Agia and Agilus). Yeah, sure, that was sobbing you heard, Sev. Real convincing. Perhaps worth noting that the two instances of this occurring are in yikes scenarios (rape and incest, respectively) (29)

***


IMPORTANT: Agia is described as trying to gouge out Sev's eyes "like Thecla would" - this has been burned into my brain because this is our confirmation of violence between Sev and Thecla. (29)

***


A good word: paracoita - here used for a sex-bot for star-sailors like Hethor (30). Speaking of whom, what a character, that guy. Says later he had visited the moons of Verthandi (which we learn later is Mars) (35)

***


Sev saying that it was impossible for him not to hurt Dorcas while having sex is...revealing. It's well in line with his attitude that women are to be possessed or dominated, but it's curious that he reveals to us that he is either A) physically abusive or B) entirely incompetent in the actual act. (30)

***


Palaemon taught clemency as the "madness of the age" - which is weird, considering how little we see of it in the outside world. (30)

***


The Cathedral of the Claw shooting up into the air confused the hell out of me the first time I read it. Thankfully it it's explained early on in Claw. Why it suddenly makes Severian horny for Dorcas and triggers yet another "I totally love her you guys", I know not. (31)

***


"I have never had a vision, Dorcas" - an obvious lie from Sev, as the guy hallucinates often and even admits he might be insane.

***


Dr. Talos struggling to get the story he wants out of his head and into his script is probably the most relatable thing in this book (32) Also he's a robot and we get to see him practicing emotional faces (33)

***


Triskele and Malubrius appear here again. Probably should be keeping better track of them. Worth noting that the order refused Malubrius medical attention. (33)

***


"Because Severian does terrible things but is really so kind." - Hrm. Dorcas being sarcastic here? Lots of confusing reads on Dorcas, can't wrangle an interpretation I like.

***


Jolenta has got some real deviantart-tier proportions, I think. Noteworthy, if predictable, that Sev interprets her "slightly breathless" speech as sexy, instead of her being tired all the time (as we get plenty of later) (34)

***


Dorcas was afraid of Agia. Severian says he didn't think Agia hated Dorcas, but he doesn't pay attention to such things so that's hardly in favor. Dorcas says she'd follow Sev even if he hated her (which I still think is pragmatism on her part.) (35)

***


Jonas' story (35) of the woman casting beans into the ocean where they would eventually destroy the world is so clearly tied to Abaia and Erebus but we get nothing more because Wolfe is going to do that thing he does with every ending, which is have absolutely no denoument whatsoever. The main conflict ended chapters ago, something new weird happens, boom, done.

But...okay...Jonas is more reliable as an info source on the past than basically anyone else. His explanation is like this:

During the era when the rulers of the world - predating the Autuarch - had built the Citadel to protect themselves from the common masses (over whom they were terrible tyrants) - and this all, mind, was the era of more common space travel - a woman who had gone out and then returned threatens the rulers of the world with the beans, saying that she'll throw them into the sea and end the world if not obeyed. They murder her. We do not know if she throws the beans.

God damn this passage it is _so close_ to fitting into place. I swear if there's a connection with Valeria... 

 

Claw of the Conciliator


The opening of Claw is just as chaotic as that of Shadow - we get Morwenna's execution (which has not yet happened), interlaced with events at the Piteous Gate (which is still unexplained), Malubrius and Triskele show up again (as they do)

All we learn about the soldiers attacking travelers at the Piteous Gate is that they are described as "more akin than brothers" - which says to me that thy are clones. (1)

***


"A legend, a lie, and likelihood make a tradition" (2) - I love Jonas' little proverbs, they're a fun bit of characterization - I do wonder if it has something to do with him being a robot (more on that later), using a little catalog of fun sayings as a way to cross the social divide.

***


The Green Man is curious. He is, apparently, evident of the transformation of Urth and the coming of the New Sun, but there's an implication that he's not the only one? "Green men know everything, people say." This might be bullshit, but if it is literally true, then there are not only other Green Men in Severian's time, but enough that they have a reputation. (3)

More meaningful, though, is that Severian gives him half a whetstone to free himself with. A glimmer of empathy.

***


Morwenna's execution does a whole lot of ground level exposition for the barely-mentioned Commonwealth religion. It is, unsurprisingly, very, very Catholic. I've pulled the following lines as worthy of note:

  • "[who is] no more evil in your [the Increate's] sight than we"
  • "We who must confront them then [in the age of the New Sun]"
  • "[the New Sun] who will destroy the black worm that devours the sun...shall wither Erebus, Abaia, and Scylla..."
  • "Have mercy on those who had no mercy; have mercy on us who shall have none now."
  • And a non-quoted bit on how the Concilator who died will return as the New Sun.


Of course, just...not doing the execution and maybe actually showing some mercy is unthinkable (hello Palaemon. Which is the most accurate bit of Catholic influence here, let's be frank.

We also get to see Severian again playing the only role he is competent in: acting according to the rote ritual of execution. Feeding the alcade his lines is hilarious, as is the ludicrous showmanship Severian displays throughout, but as with Agius' execution, he is in his element here. (4)

***


Dorcas and the others have not been mentioned once in these opening chapters, save Jonas mentioning his love of Jolenta once. So much for Severian's true and undying love. (5)

Actually, Jonas says "Another woman wanting to sleep with you", which implies that such a thing has happened multiple times in a very short period of time. I doubt that, which means Sev is either lying about it happening at all, or is trying to play off his constant creepiness as the women being insterested in him. Either seems likely. (5)

***


Red sunlight, green moonlight, blue clawlight. (5)

***


I love the entire episode with the man-apes and Agia's return, it reads like it was pulled straight out of a Conan or Fafhrd and Mouser story. Severian being an absolute dumbass and falling for the obviously fake letter, the ancient underground city, the treasure hoard the man-apes' worship of the claw, the terrible thing in the deeps.

He lets Agia live. Another moment of mercy. (6-7)

***


The flashback to Gurloes in Claw 7 stands out as a rather straightforward look into Severian's psychology: it takes him a while to figure out what is being talked about at first, and then later is utterly apathetic to the use of rape as punishment - he's more concerned with Gurloes' use of drugs and implements and how this makes him a coward (Remember how Sev compares Gurloes to a woman back in Shadow? I do) (7)

***


Jonas is able to give us some more background information here (8), though he is reluctant to speak of it. It's mostly confirmation of things we have already suspected.

  • The rulers of earth before the Autarch made more loyal soldiers for themselves through genetic modification / uplift of animals - these are the forces we see in the Wall.
  • The man-apes are some variety of mutant.
  • Erebus and Abaia must compel servants to act in their stead.


***


Always have to shout-out a baluchitherium when I see one. Love me a baluchitherium. I know authors who don't include baluchitheriums in their settings and to the last they are all cowards. Love the ridiculous dramatic entrance to Vodalus' court that comes with it. (9)

***


In the rubble hills beyond Saltus there are "crystal sarcophagi" containing those "seeking a private resurrection" - cryogenics equipment, obviously. (9)

***


Right then, Vodalus...Vodalus is a fucking loser. Every new piece of information we get is more evidence of him being a loser. He hypes himself up (or perhaps Severian hypes him) as being the one to reclaim the glorious past and literally all he and his asshole friends are able to do is sit in the woods and eat stolen corpses. He's pinned between the House Absolute and the City that there's no way his presence would be unknown even if he wasn't literally being played like a fiddle by the Autarch. He admits to having other masters (Abaia, perhaps?)

***


"It is beyond value, which means it is worthless" - Vodalus, when speaking of the Claw, inadvertently echoes the Pelerine sister in Shadow 18 when she says "I found nothing of value" when searching Severian for stolen items. (10)

***


Severian says that for Jonas to be raised by both parents "in the usual way" is a rarity, and I cannot begin to unravel this statement. Jonas is a cyborg by way of being a robot who had human parts grafted to him (16), so does this mean that he was a robot raised as a human child, or that he was human and then uploaded into a robot (there's the butler-bot in Fifth Head of Cerberus as precedent), or that he was being sarcastic and Severian didn't pick up on it, what the hell is going on. Like it's obvious Severian has no idea what the usual family life of the Commonwealth is, he's fresh out of his hell-school for psychopathic orphans, but if he is somehow correct in this that certainly says a thing or two. (10)

***


The ceremony with the analeptic, of course, has what we call in the biz Big Eucharist Energy - but I am unclear as to why they are eating Thecla. She was not part of his rebellion, and any information of the House and the nobility that she would have would be easier gotten just by asking Thea. (11)

***


It is worth noting that after re-uniting with the theater crew, the first person Severian speaks to is Baldanders. He speaks to Dorcas for "only a moment" despite there being an entire hour glossed over after he wakes up. That says a lot about their relationship (namely, that he doesn't give a shit). The analeptic was apparently given to Vodalus by "our allies", which could mean Abaia et al but could just as easily be the Autarch playing him for the dumb, dumb, idiot fool that he is. (11)

***


Not much to say about the notules, other than I imagine them as vantablack versions of the tohul from Orion's Arm. (12) Jonas says he knows how to deal with them, citing a port he'd visited, and Severian still thinks that he was a sea-sailor instead of a space-sailor. (13)

But we also get our first intended resurrection via Claw in this scene and I'll be damned if I can figure out why.

***


Severian either does not notice, or does not care to notice, when Thecla's memories override his own. (13)

***


The sequence from the arrival at the House Absolute and through to the Antechamber strikes me as another very pulpy episode. Bullet points:

  • We get reasonable confirmation that Jonas is Korean (he swears in Korean), and knowledge that Korea is now sunk beneath the ocean - which is strange considering how ice ages lower the water level. (15)
  • Thecla did her fair share of torturing Antechamber inmates (16)
  • The fucking pastries and coffee are a Douglas Adams-ass joke and it still gets me. Now, Restaurant at the End of the Universe (the Golgafrinchans being the most likely inspiration, if there was any) was published in the US in Jan 1981, and Claw was published a month later, so I cannot say that there is a thru-line, but god damn if it doesn't feel like it (16)


***


IT'S THE STORY OF THESIS AND THE MONITOR, GET IT?

***


The little girl in the antechamber (who Severian is uncharacteristically kind to, potentially Thecla's doing) asks where "the lady" went - Severian was apparently so far into Thecla's memories that he was unconsciously acting out her mannerisms. Likewise we get a slip into Thecla's voice and how she views Severian and she calls him her "boy lover", but there's no telling if that's her actual thoughts or Sev doing a mental filter (18)

***


IMPORTANT: Severian knew that there was a secret door and a stairwell thanks to Thecla's memories. To which he appends "beyond the stair I remembered nothing" - because Thecla didn't remember it. Thus he can't inherit it through the analeptic. (18)

***


Severian shows an uncharacteristic logic in finding his sword - perhaps because it's the location of objects, rather than people. Still, too clever by far for our lad Sev. (20)

***


Rudesind delivers yet another wink from Wolfe of the audience: "There's a logical explanation for everything and don't your forget it." (20)

***


Severian hates Impressionism. (20)

***


Right then, meeting with the Autarch - who is, of course, the proprietor of the House Azure, and has, of course, been playing Vodalus like a fiddle (as previously mentioned). His response to Vodalus' message is cryptic - that "we must fight on two flanks" seems like an odd choice considering how Vodalus is not a threat at all. (21)

More importantly, we get to see an angel in the book of mirrors - no way that a big space butterfly lady with eyes on her wings isn't an angel. There is a foreshadowing of the Autarch's death and the means it will be done by, though of course we the readers do not know the significance at the time. (21)

***


There is a second reference here to the statue of Night, atop the khan (a large tent, not a Mongol emperor) that was across the Gyoll from the Citadel. Night-the-goddess has been mentioned twice in this context...and then as the mother of the Monitor-Ogre and the princess Noctua in the Thesis vs Monitor story. And the ogre was a giant who had to remain in the water, and BOY HOWDY I WONDER WHAT THAT COULD MEAN. (21)

***


"People don't want other people to be people" - Whether Dorcas is trying to get through to Severian here or is just making a general point, this is a good line.

***


No beating around the bush here: Severian rapes Jolenta. Whether or not the other characters are aware of this, or if they think it was a consensual tryst, we don't know - but they're all aware that something has happened. Talos and Baldanders don't particularly care, but Dorcas is in tears when they return, and that is curious - it could be that she thinks Severian is cheating on her, which feels likely and also colors their relationship as a bit less one-sided than I typically hold it to be. Or it could be she has a hunch as to what happened and is crying for Jolenta (who, by this point, she has spent more time with than Severian) (23)

***


All right, time for Eschatology and Genesis. Buckle up.

CAST

  • Dr. Talos playing Gabriel, the Autarch, Soldier 1, and the inquisitor
  • Baldanders playing Nod and the Statue
  • Severian playing Meschia, Soldier 2, the Prophet, the Generalissimo, and the Familiar
  • Dorcas playing Meschiane, the Maid, and Demon 2
  • Jolenta playing Jahi, the Contessa, and Demon 1


The play cuts off before we reach the end, so we don't get to see who plays the Angelic Beings, New Sun, Old Sun, and Moon. There might not even be an ending, considering how Dr. Talos used the "promise DLC, scare 'em away" grift earlier.

Bullet points.

  • "Certain parts of the lost Book of the New Sun" - which is clearly the origin of the main religion in the Commonwealth, but I wonder if it is a different book from what Severian is writing, or if the one that goes back in time will become the basis for the play.
  • Nod and the Nephilim are described as "the children of Gea" and "born of clay", and is seeking to unify his people to the new humanity through marriage of his daughter (who does not appear, unless she is Jahi, but that doesn't make sense to me) to Meschia. He is NOT aligned with Abaia and Erebus, given how the play ends with Meschiane begging him to stop Jahi.
  • Gabriel is described as a servant of / son of the Autarch (let's bear in mind the angelic being found in the book of mirrors only a few chapters before)
  • Meschia has three options for peopling the world of the New Sun - via Meschia (the human), via Nod's daughter (Geans, lacking a better term) or via Jahi (who seeks to "poison the seed" and is described as "not of the earth", and is thus clearly connected to Abaia and Erebus)
  • First reference of the name of the new Urth (the world of the Green Man) - Ushas; new sun, new world, new people, new monsters.
  • First reference to the black hole inside the sun, in some wonderful prose: "Cancer eats the heart of the old sun...matter falls in upon itself...pit without bottom."
  •  People are described as being "worn like a cloak" by greater powers, supporting what Jonas had said earlier.
  • On a meta level, this play is astoundingly fucked up: Jolenta has to share a stage, naked, with the man who raped her literally hours before. Severian gets to strike her (and Dorcas' role is also cruel to her, with threatened physical violence), and then Sev goes on to have both women in stage-torture equipment, going through the motions.
  • Sev mentions that he overhears the audience discussing aspects unintended or that he hadn't thought of - Wolfe winking at the reader again. (25)


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Fun detail: Fashionable ladies at the thiasius wearing glowing larvae in their hair. (25)

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There is a curious memory here: "As Thecla dodged the hooves of my father's mounted guard" - whose memory is this? At this point in the narrative Severian has only subsumed Thecla, but the memory is only about her, not of her specifically. (25)

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All right, now we get a Wife of Abaia in a talking role and some very interesting tidbits (28)

  • She / the wives as a whole are described as wanting Severian's love - which, coming right after Eschatology and Genesis puts them in the Jahi role, collectively speaking.
  • Abaia is referred to as father-husband, but that does bring up the question of who is their mother? Night-the-goddess, if we are to take the Thesis v. Monitor story as having any semblance of truth about the setting at all, might _potentially_ be a lead - helped that poetically night can = outer space, but this is a stretch.
  • They are watching Baldanders, who appears to be of the same type of being.
  • There were humans trapped in underwater arcologies for hundreds of generations.
  • The Wives can travel through both space and time, but cannot stand their own weight or the light of the sun.
  • This particular undine was the one who saved Sev from drowning as a child.


Evocative image of the undine rearing up out of the water and her body instantly beginning to collapse from its own weight.

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Severian attempting to explain away Jolenta's attempted suicide as a vampire bat bite might be, of all the gross things he has said, possibly the second grossest - it is such a pathetic, transparent lie and attempt to sidestep his part in the whole affair. (28)

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The herdsman's son somehow knows that Severian is going to be the new lictor of Thrax. That part is confusing. Him saying "He'll kill all of them who haven't died already" is perfectly straightforward, given what is to occur later.

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There's a Maid and a Crone, but no Matron in these wyrd sisters. I feel like this is meaningful. (30) They also mention an Abraxus, who "perceives all time", and who is a frustratingly vague figure in gnosticism so mythically we are simultaneously overflowing with riches and entirely underserved.

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"Death is nothing, and for that reason you must fear it" - woof, what a line. I like the witches, they've got some good stuff here.

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What the fuck is up with the Apu Punchau episode? His face is the one on the coin (apparently), Hildegrin thinks he can aid Vodalus' rebellion (how?), and there is an alien intelligence on the lone planet of Fomalhaut that was alive at the same time and knew him and *aaaaaaaaaaagh*

But... Apu Punchau is a three-aspect male sun diety in Incan mythology so if we presume that the name is provided to us is specifically to draw parallels...and Apu Punchau is described as appearing and disappearing over time... Concilator? A time-displaced Severian who hasn't been made yet?

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Here, then, we reach the end of this review for now. If you do not wish to continue, I understand; it is a long and difficult road.

7 comments:

  1. Appropriate to the subject matter, this reread post was written out of order, sometimes in reverse, and with little care as to whether or not a topic was already broached.

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  2. Wow, I've read Shadow of the Torturer at least twice and not picked up on ANY of those points. Enlightening 🌞

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    1. Alzabo Soup + rigorous note-taking helped immensely.

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  3. 'You equivocating like a motherfucker' is from Bubbles in The Wire, a line that's always stuck with me for whatever reason.

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    1. Ah, that would be it! A very sticky quote.

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  4. The Vodaleri eat Thecla because they're addicted to the rite of the Alzabo, and that lets Vodalus control them just like drugs or money would. It's a reward for his top guys. Some of them get sexual gratification from it, like the couple dudes hoping that Thecla isn't "another tribade" (apparently they're tired of lesbians).

    I was thinking the other day about the revolutionary - the machine that Thecla gets tortured with, which awakes an "anti self" within your body, dedicated to your own destruction. It occurs to me that this Shadow Thecla would have been uploaded into Severian's brain along with regular Thecla through the Alzabo ritual. Some of his weirder behavior, and unconvincing explanations for it, might actually be the Shadow Thecla's will to self harm expressing itself.

    You ever read Long Sun? It's no New Sun but you'd probably like it. It's like if Gene Wolfe had written Discworld.

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    1. Haven't read Long Sun yet, but it is on the list after Urth.

      Good point on the lingering effects of the revolutionary, had not considered that.

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