Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Sword of the Lictor / Gene Wolfe

4 out of 5 stars
Beneath the dying sun the disgraced torturer, Severian, at last comes to his place of exile - Thrax, the city of Windowless Rooms.
But Severian's journey is not ended, and high in Earth's ancient mountains he draws closer to his destiny.

This is a bit spoilery, so those who don't want to know detail should quit reading right here.

I continue to be drawn into the world of Urth, which is lush and fascinating. I can’t believe the detail that Wolfe indulges in—the many bioclimatic zones that are described, the details of the landscapes, the many ranks and levels of society, the details of cities. I was willing to follow Severian through his journeys just to experience more Urth.

Severian himself continues to be an enigma. He’s an intelligent guy, but so emotionless. His paramour, Dorcas, is plunged into a depression of some kind and what does he do? Installs her at an inn and goes to a fancy-pants masquerade party that his employer has commanded his attendance. So far, so good, he was ordered to go. But once there, he proceeds to make love to another woman (who turns out to be the boss’s wife) as if Dorcas doesn’t exist. So on one hand, he cares enough about Dorcas to spend a bit of dough on her, but not enough to resist the attentions of a woman who admits she’s old enough to be his mother.

He is also particularly unmoved by the deaths of people around him—and, fair enough, he’s a torturer so that kind of makes sense. And the torturers’ guild makes very sure not to admit people who get all excited about killing people (i.e. sadists), which makes me think he must have some other mental disorder that prevents him from feeling emotion. Just when I’ve decided that, he turns around and has “mercy” on his boss’s wife, who he is supposed to strangle, and sets her free to go seek asylum in another city. Later, he takes on an orphaned boy, understands that the kid may be traumatized from watching his family die, but then seems to feel barely a twitch of remorse when the child too is killed. Add to that his eidetic memory and I’m starting to play with the idea that he’s not entirely human.

So, I don’t know what to think of this guy, but I am still fascinated by the world—the alien life forms that feature, the strange mixture of space-faring & medieval technology, wondering how Earth became Urth. The aliens are absolutely enigmatic—I can’t fathom their purposes at all at this point.

Of course NOTHING is resolved in this book, so it’s on to The Citadel of the Autarch now to see if I can find some satisfaction.

Title number 164 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project. 

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