The Book of the New Sun

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The Book of the New Sun (1980-2) by Gene Wolfe is a novel in four books, set in the distant future of the dying earth science fiction subgenre, when the aging Sun grows dim. It is a reflective, metafictional story, narrating the rise of an apprentice in the "Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence" (i.e. guild of Torturers) to the position of Autarch, ruler of the free world.

The Shadow of the Torturer (1980)[edit]

  • Certain mystes aver that the real world has been constructed by the human mind, since our ways are governed by the artificial categories into which we place essentially undifferentiated things, things weaker than our words for them.
    • Severian, Chapter 1: Resurrection and Death
  • We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life—they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.
    • Severian, Chapter 1: Resurrection and Death
  • I have found always that the pattern of our guild is repeated [...] in the societies of every trade, so that they are all of them torturers, just as we. His quarry stands to the hunter as our clients to us; those who buy to the tradesman; the enemies of the Commonwealth to the soldier; the governed to the governors; men to women. All love what they destroy.
    • Severian, in Chapter 3: Triskele
  • One can't found a novel theology on Nothing, and nothing is so secure a foundation as a contradiction. Look at the great successes of the past—they say their deities are the masters of all the universes, and yet that they require grandmothers to defend them, as if they were children frightened by poultry. Or that the authority that punishes no one while there exists a chance for reformation will punish everyone when there is no possibility anyone will become the better for it.
    • Thecla, Chapter 8: The Conversationalist
  • It is said that it is the peculiar quality of time to conserve fact, and that it does so by rendering our past falsehoods true.
    • Severian, Chapter 13: The Lictor of Thrax
  • Art had been lavished upon her; but it is the function of art to render attractive and significant those things that without it would not be so, and so art had nothing to give her.
    • Severian, Chapter 14: Terminus Est
  • The Increate maintains all things in order surely; and the theologians say light is his shadow. Must it not be then that in darkness order grows ever less? [...] Perhaps when night closes our eyes there is less order than we believe. Perhaps, indeed, it is this lack of order we perceive as darkness, a randomization of the waves of energy (like the sea), the fields of energy (like a farm) that appear to our deluded eyes—set by light in an order of which they themselves are incapable—to be the real world.
    • Severian, Chapter 24: The Flower of Dissolution, section 1, paragraph 3
  • By the use of the language of sorrow I had for the time being obliterated my sorrow—so powerful is the charm of words, which for us reduces to manageable entities all the passions that would otherwise madden and destroy us.
    • Severian, Chapter 24: The Flower of Dissolution, section 3, paragraph 1
  • I think it is in this that we find the real difference between those women to whom if we are to remain men we must offer our lives, and those who (again–if we are to remain men) we must overpower and outwit if we can, and use as we never would a beast: that the second will never permit us to give them what we give the first.
    • Severian, Chapter 26: Sennet
  • A crowd is not the sum of the individuals who compose it. Rather it is a species of animal, without language or real consciousness, born when they gather, dying when they depart.
    • Severian, Chapter 31: The Shadow of the Torturer
  • To those who have preceded me in the study of the posthistoric world, and particularly to those collectors—too numerous to name here—who have permitted me to examine artifacts surviving so many centuries of futurity, and most especially to those who have allowed me to visit and photograph the era's few extant buildings, I am truly grateful.
    • Appendix: A Note on the Translation

The Claw of the Conciliator (1981)[edit]

  • There is no other difference between those who are called courageous and those who are branded craven than that the second are fearful before the danger and the first after.
    • Severian, Chapter 7: The Assassins
  • All the boasted human panoply of pillars and arches is no more than an imitation in sterile stone of the boles and vaulting branches of the forest.
    • Severian, Chapter 9: The Liege of Leaves
  • I have often heard it said that gratitude is not to be found. That is not true—those who say so have always looked in the mistaken place. One who truly benefits another is for that moment at a level with the Pancreator, and in gratitude for that elevation will serve the other all his days.
    • Severian, Chapter 9: The Liege of Leaves
  • We were one, naked and happy and clean, and we knew that she was no more and that I still lived, and we struggled against neither of those things, but with woven hair read from a single book and talked and sang of other matters.
    • Severian (and Chatelaine Thecla), Chapter 11: Thecla, final paragraph
  • Men to whom wine had brought death long before lay by springs of wine and drank still, too stupefied to know their lives were past.
    • Chapter 17: The Tale of the Student and his Son, Part 4
  • Whatever we may say, all of us suffer from disturbed sleep at times. [...] Some are disquieted by incessant dreams, and a fortunate few are visited often by dreams of a delightful character. Some will say they were at one time troubled in sleeping but have "recovered" from it, as though awareness were a disease, as perhaps it is.
    • Severian, Chapter 18: Mirrors
  • Women believe—or at least often pretend to believe—that all our tenderness for them springs from desire; that we love them when we have not for a time enjoyed them, and dismiss them when we are sated, or to express it more precisely, exhausted. There is no truth in this idea, though it may be made to appear true. When we are rigid with desire, we are apt to pretend a great tenderness in the hope of satisfying that desire; but at no other time are we in fact so liable to treat women brutally, and so unlikely to feel any deep emotion but one.
    • Severian, Chapter 25: The Attack on the Hierodules

The Sword of the Lictor (1982)[edit]

  • The brown book I carry says there is nothing stranger than to explore a city wholly different from all those one knows, since to do so is to explore a second and unsuspected self. I have found a thing stranger: to explore such a city only after one has lived in it for some time without learning anything of it.
    • Severian, Chapter 2: Upon the Cataract, paragraph 2
  • I found I could not say what it was I understood; that it was in fact on the level of meaning above language, a level we like to believe scarcely exists, though if it were not for the constant discipline we have learned to exercise upon our thoughts, they would always be climbing to it unaware.
    • Severian, in Chapter 7: Attractions
  • Just as the room of the Inquisitor in Dr. Talos's play, with its high judicial bench, lurked somewhere at the lowest level of the House Absolute, so we have each of us in the dustiest cellars of our minds a counter at which we strive to repay the debts of the past with the debased currency of the present.
    • Severian, Chapter 12: Following the Flood, paragraph 26
  • How strange it is that the sky, which by day is a stationary ground on which the clouds are seen to move, by night becomes the backdrop for Urth's own motion, so that we feel her rolling beneath us as a sailor feels the running of the tide.
    • Severian, in Chapter 13: Into the Mountains
  • That was the brightest day I've ever seen. The sun had new life in him, the way a man will when he was sick yesterday and will be sick tomorrow, but today he walks around and laughs so that if a stranger was to come he'd think there was nothing wrong, no sickness at all, that the medicines and the bed were for somebody else.
    • Casdoe's father, Chapter 15: He Is Ahead of You!
  • The progress of science depends much less upon theoretical considerations or systematic investigation than is commonly believed, but rather on the transmittal of reliable information, gained by chance or insight from one set of men to their successors. The nature of those who hunt after dark knowledge is to hoard it even unto death, or to transmit it so wrapped in disguise and beclouded with self-serving lies that it is of little value.
    • Severian, Chapter 22: The skirts of the Mountain
  • [T]he very existence of such powers argues a counterforce. We call powers of the first kind dark, though they may use a species of deadly light... and we call those of the second kind bright, though I think that they may at times employ darkness, as a good man nevertheless draws the curtains of his bed to sleep. Yet there is truth to the talk of darkness and light, because it shows plainly that one implies the other. The tale I read to little Severian said that the universe was but a long word of the Increate's. We, then, are syllables of that word. But the speaking of any word is futile unless there are other words, words that are not spoken. If a beast has but one cry, the cry tells nothing; and even the wind has a multitude of voices, so that those who sit indoors may hear it and know if the weather is tumultuous or mild. The powers we call dark seem to me to be the words the Increate did not speak... and these words must be maintained in a quasi-existence, if the other word, the word spoken is to be distinguished. What is not said can be important - but what is said is more important... And if the seekers after dark things find them, may not the seekers after bright find them as well? And are they not more apt to hand their wisdom on?
    • Severian, Chapter 22: The skirts of the Mountain
  • Time itself is a thing, so it seems to me, that stands solidly like a fence of iron palings with its endless row of years; and we flow past like Gyoll, on our way to a sea from which we shall return only as rain.
    • Severian, Chapter 24: The Corpse
  • If I had seen one miracle fail, I had witnessed another; and even a seemingly purposeless miracle is an inexhaustible source of hope, because it proves to us that since we do not understand everything, our defeats—so much more numerous than our few and empty victories—may be equally specious.
    • Severian, Chapter 24: The Corpse, penultimate paragraph
  • When I was alone I felt I had in some fashion lost my individuality; to the thrush and the rabbit I had not been Severian, but Man. The many people who like to be utterly alone, and particularly to be utterly alone in a wilderness, do so, I believe, because they enjoy playing that part. But I wanted to be a particular person again, and so I sought the mirror of other persons, which would show me that I was not as they were.
    • Severian, Chapter 27: On High Paths
  • Llibio had worn a fish carved from a tooth about his neck; and when I asked him what it was he had said it was Oannes, and covered it with his hand so that I my eyes could not profane it, for he knew that I did not believe in Oannes, who must surely be the fish-god of these people. I did not, yet I felt I knew everything about Oannes that mattered. I knew that he must live in the darkest deeps of the lake, but that he was seen leaping among the waves in storms. I knew he was the shepherd of the deep, who filled nets of the islanders, and that murderers could not go on the water without fear, lest Oannes appear alongside, with his eyes as big as moons, and overturn the boat. I did not believe in Oannes or fear him. But I knew, I thought, whence he came - I knew that there is an all-pervasive power in the universe of which every other is the shadow. I knew that in the last analysis my conception of that power was as laughable (and as serious) as Oannes.
    • Severian, Chapter 31: The People of the Lake
  • I had not thought, when I began this record of my life, to reveal any of the secrets of our guild [...] But I will tell one now, because what I did that night on Lake Diuturna cannot be understood without understanding it. And the secret is only that we torturers obey. [...] No one truly obeys unless he will do the unthinkable in obedience; no one will do the unthinkable save we.
    • Severian, in Chapter 31: The People of the Lake, penultimate paragraph
  • Dr. Talos whispered, "Look about you—don't you recognize this? It is just as he says!"
    "What do you mean?" I whispered in return.
    "The castle? The monster? The man of learning? I only just thought of it. Surely you know that just as the momentous events of the past cast their shadows down the ages, so now, when the sun is drawing toward the dark, our own shadows race into the past to trouble mankind's dreams."
    • Severian and Dr. Talos, Chapter 35: The Signal
  • The best way to describe silence is to say nothing—but what grace!
    • Severian, in Chapter 37: Terminus Est
  • The beliefs of the populace, the insights of the rhapsodists, and the theories of the metaphysicians have so far diverged that few of them can so much as comprehend what the others say, and someone who knew nothing of any of their ideas might well believe there was no connection at all between them.
    • Severian, in Chapter 38: The Claw

The Citadel of the Autarch (1983)[edit]

  • "When we sleep," Merryn told me, "we move from temporality to eternity."
    "When we wake," the Cumaean whispered, "we lose the facility to see beyond the present moment."
    • Hethor, in Chapter 4: Fever, §2
  • Sometimes driven aground by the photon storms, by the swirling of the galaxies, clockwise and counterclockwise, ticking with light down the dark sea-corridors lined with our silver sails, our demon-haunted mirror sails...
    • Hethor, Chapter 4: Fever, §2
  • Every person, you see, is like a plant. There is a beautiful green part, often with flowers or fruit, that grows upward toward the sun, toward the Increate. There is also a dark part that grows away from it, tunneling where no light comes. [...] Was I speaking of good and evil? It is the roots that give the plant the strength to climb toward the sun, though they know nothing of it. [...] The things we love in others and admire in ourselves spring from things we do not see and seldom think about.
    • A Pelerine, Chapter 8: The Pelerine
  • "The pancreator is infinitely far from us," the angel said, "And thus infinitely far from me, though I fly so much higher than you. I guess at his desires—no one can do otherwise."
    • Chapter 9: Melito's Story—The Cock, the Angel, and the Eagle
  • It often seems to me that of all the good things in the world, the only ones humanity can claim for itself are stories and music; the rest, mercy, beauty, sleep, clean water and hot food [...] are all the work of the Increate. Thus, stories are small things indeed in the scheme of the universe, but it is hard not to love best what is our own.
    • Severian, in Chapter 11: Loyal to the Group of Seventeen's Story—The Just Man
  • "In a fable made in the earliest morning of our race, a man sold his shadow and found himself driven out everywhere he went. No one would believe that he was human"
    "Did this man ever regain his shadow, Master Ash?"
    "No. But for a time he traveled with a man who had no reflection."
    • Severian and Ash, Chapter 16: The Anchorite
  • Resolution and a plan are better than a sword, because a man whets his own edges on them.
    • Severian, Chapter 17: Ragnarok—The Final Winter, paragraph 4
  • Religion and science have always been matters of faith in something. It is the same something. You are yourself what you call a man of science, so I talk of science to you.
    • Ash, Chapter 17: Ragnarok—The Final Winter
  • There is no limit to stupidity. Space itself is said to be bounded by its own curvature, but stupidity continues beyond infinity.
    • Severian, Chapter 24: The Flier
  • You were a danger to them unless you were terribly punished because they might otherwise someday be tempted. A judge or a jailer who has no crime of his own is a monster, alternately purloining the forgiveness that belongs to the Increate alone and practicing a deathly rigor that belongs to no one and nothing.
    • The Autarch, Chapter 24: The Flier
  • Because the prehistoric cultures endured for so many chiliads, they have shaped our heritage in such a way as to cause us to behave as if their conditions obtained today.
    • Severian, Chapter 26: Above the Jungle
  • 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. [...] Who can say how intently they listen as we speak, or for what word?
    • Severian, Chapter 26: Above the Jungle, last paragraph
  • There was a cook who so despised the armigers and exultants for whom he prepared food that, in order that he should never have to bear the indignity of their reproaches, he did everything with a feverish perfection. He was eventually made chief of the cooks of that wing.
    • Chapter 30: The Corridors of Time
  • When a client is driven to the utmost extremity, it is warmth and food and ease from pain he wants. Peace and justice come afterward. Rain symbolizes mercy and sunlight charity, but rain and sunlight are better than mercy and charity. Otherwise they would degrade the things they symbolize.
    • Severian, Chapter 31: The Sand Garden
  • The sand in my boots was sacred sand because it came from a beach of sacred sand. The cenobites treasured up the relics of the sannyasins because the sannyasins had approached the Pancreator. But everything had approached and even touched the Pancreator, because everything had dropped from his hand. Everything was a relic. All the world was a relic. I drew off my boots, that had traveled with me so far, and threw them into the waves that I might not walk shod on holy ground.
    • Severian, Chapter 31: The Sand Garden, final paragraph

See also[edit]

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