The Book of the New Sun

Books of the New SunThe Book of the New Sun consists of four novels by Gene Wolfe. I bought all four in two volumes after I had added Gene Wolfe to the list of authors whose work I wanted to look into. This tetralogy is considered some of his best work. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know about his work until shortly before he passed away in April of last year, but I’m glad I am no longer ignorant of its existence.

I would normally have written a book recommendation for the first book in the series, but there are several reasons I did not do that for this story. Of course, I would not recommend the series if I did not like it or I didn’t think it held value. I am glad I read the series since I have learned a lot from it. However, this recommendation comes with a few reservations so let’s get started.

First, a very short introduction: The universe of the New Sun is definitely strange and the adventures of the main character, Severian, lead us through it. He is an apprentice in a guild of torturers and faces consequences for showing mercy to a client (as they refer to the prisoners).

We often compare things to better describe them to others, and I think in this case it would be easier for me to describe this story as a comparison or mixture of a few others you may already know. Since reading the first book, I could not help but think of the story as a mixture between The Name of the Wind (TNotW), Alice in Wonderland, and The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A weird combination, I know, but hear me out.

I thought of TNotW for several reasons. The story of the New Sun is told as a recounting of events by the main character, much like in TNofW, and they both include a spurious young man who has many travels and finds himself involved in powers much greater than himself that impact their entire world. New Sun has many fantastical elements as well and the loner-ish main character often has to fend for himself. I liken New Sun to Alice in the way that we as readers are thrown into a strange land where strange things happen seemingly at random. We don’t get a lot of information about the strange world but are given just enough to know what is going on and how things (kind of) work within the rules of that world. The last comparison, to Hitchhiker’s Guide, brings in the science fiction elements and continues the comparison to Alice insofar as the story’s universe is much larger than the glimpses we are given and things seem to happen randomly but often come back around before the story ends. Unlike Alice and Hitchhiker’s Guide, the random events of this story are not whimsical but often lead Severian into dangerous situations.

So, this series is a mixture of fantasy, science fiction, myth, philosophy, and many other areas I’m sure I may have missed or forgotten. I believe this series is greater than the sum of its parts, which is why I was so hesitant to recommend the first book without having read the entire story. Another reason was because it took me several chapters to get adjusted to the style of the book. Yes, it was written as an account by the main character, but the verbiage and structure took some time getting used to. This alone may deter some readers, but if you can get into the story, you will find it is well-written and engaging.

I consider myself well-read, but I learned a lot of new vocabulary from this series. This, for me, is a bonus though I can see some readers viewing it as negative if they need to look up several words per chapter or page. Most of the terms are more archaic. Very few, if any, were made up as part of the fictional world. This being the case, I’m happy to say that I have several new words in my arsenal for my own writing. I think an expanded vocabulary is definitely a positive.

Another reason I was hesitant in recommending the first book alone was because the transition from the first to second book was a little jarring. I think the series should be viewed as one continuous text, which I just discovered it had been written in its entirety before the first book was published. This may explain why each installment doesn’t follow a familiar story path or begin and end in a traditional method. This could also be seen as a negative, which is why I think considering all four books as one volume is an easy way to escape that thought concern.

I did see a few reviews of readers giving up during or after books two or three because they couldn’t continue with the seemingly random events. I had also heard that the fourth book wrapped things up nicely and fits all the pieces together. I would agree that the ending does bring the whole series together, but there is a lot to get through before this ending and many readers may not be committed to doing so. Which is another reason why I’m recommending this as a series instead of a standalone book. I definitely could have used a little more details regarding how the world of Urth worked, and there is a sequel novel title The Urth of the New Sun which I could read, but I think I may save that for another time.

I recommend this series because it is well written and engaging despite the events seeming to be random at first. There were several times where I thought I just had no idea what was happening or I didn’t have enough information to appreciate the story, but at the end of it all I felt satisfied. I was always interested in the events and characters, and I did read all four books fairly quickly. I am also still thinking about the book and what the whole story accomplished. I will definitely be looking into other books by Gene Wolfe in the future.

You may like this series or find it isn’t for you. I enjoyed it and wanted to (hopefully) introduce others to Gene Wolfe if not this particular story. I have entered the camp of those who believe his work has gone overlooked and I’m glad I remedied my own oversight. I look forward to discovering more of his stories. Perhaps you will too.

Happy Reading.

18 Fantasy Books to Escape Into

I ran a short poll on Twitter to determine which list of books (by genre) I would write about next. The majority vote was Fantasy. I was surprised the lowest amount of votes went to Science Fiction and Memoir with Short Story Collections coming in second. Without further delay, here are 10 fantasy books I’ve read and enjoyed, and 8 I look forward to reading in the future.

10 Fantasy Books I’ve Enjoyed

The Magician: Apprentice

The Magician: Apprentice is the first book in Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga which is the core of the even larger Riftwar Cycle. It tells the story of Pug, a seemingly low status, serving-boy in a castle who unexpectedly finds himself as the apprentice of the lord’s magician. He also quickly realizes he has an aptitude for magic. It’s been some time since I’ve read this book, but I greatly enjoyed it and have fond memories of the story. Perhaps a reread is in order.

The Once and Future King

This book by T.H. White is sometimes classified as science fiction for reasons I don’t quite understand outside of inferred time/inter-dimensional travel. But this book (a collection of four books in one volume) tells a mostly fun, easy-to-read version of the legend of King Arthur. The first part, The Sword in the Stone, inspired the animated film of the same name.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I will always recommend Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I simply love this book, but I still need to read the other two in the trilogy. I also greatly enjoy the animated film adaptation by Studio Ghibli despite the several, smaller changes made to the story. The story follows young Sophie, who gets turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. She sets out to find a cure for the curse placed on her and makes a pact with the fire demon Calcifer who requires her to break his contract with the wizard Howl in exchange for his help.

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is book one of The Kingkiller Chronicle and is an excellent read. It tells the tale of Kvothe as he survives tragedy to then enter the famous University. There, he learns many incredible skills that lead to his eventual fame. The story is told by Kote, the older version of Kvothe, who has since forsaken his abilities. Books one and two of this trilogy have been published along with a supplementary novella and short story. I will be re-reading these books to prepare for when the third is published.

The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a phenomenal read if you have not read it yet. The films by Peter Jackson do it much justice, but the books are still better. You can often find all three in one volume (hence the grouping under the one title). Frodo sets out to destroy the One Ring as he is hunted by the forces of evil who seek to reclaim the ring and allow the Dark Lord Sauron to rule Middle Earth. This trilogy laid a strong foundation for much of the fantasy books we know today.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone as it was originally titled in the UK) is the first in J.K. Rowling’s world-wide bestselling series that was adapted into eight films. This book is the first of seven that tell the story of Harry Potter as he learns he is a wizard and is swept off to the Wizarding School Hogwarts the day after his 11th birthday.

The Eye of the World

The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan’s magnum opus, begins with The Eye of the World. The first of 14 books (plus a prequel) with the final three installments finished posthumously by Brandon Sanderson. The story follows Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, and Nynaeve (as well as a plethora of other characters), as they are swept out of their small village onto an epic journey that leads one of these characters (no spoilers here) as they become the savior of the land against evil forces.

A Darker Shade of Magic

Admittedly, I have only read this first book in V.E. Schwab’s magical trilogy, which I recently heard may have more story to come with future books. This story follows Kell who has the unique ability to travel between the four Londons. The London in each dimension is always the same as far as layout, but each world suffers from different leaders and levels of magic. Red London is teeming with magic and is Kell’s home. Grey London is where us non-magic folk live. White London is slowly losing it’s magic and is ruled by strength. Black London was consumed by magic and effectively no longer holds life. Follow Kell as he must travel through the London’s in order to find the mystery of a powerful artifact given to him that seemingly came from Black London.

The Eyes of God

The Eyes of God is the first of four books by John Marco which follow the knight Lukien. I read the first three books as a trilogy and only recently discovered a fourth was published that follow the events of the original trilogy. I have not read this newer book, so I am unsure what parts of the story it expands upon or if it adds only new material. Lukien, much like Lancelot, falls in love with his king’s wife, Cassandra, and is later tasked with finding a magical item, called the eye of god, to heal Cassandra from an inexplicable illness.

The Stormcaller

Another unfinished series for me begins with The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd. I read the first three books before the fourth and fifth were published. Unfortunately, it has been some time since I’ve read them so I will likely start from the beginning and read them all the way through. This story follows Isak who is a white-eye, a human with traits that designate them as outcasts. Isak is thrown into the middle of a war and must learn to control his powers and find out what he is really capable of.

8 Fantasy Books I Want to Read

The Sword of Shannara

My wife bought me this book, or the trilogy in one volume, a while back and I’ve always heard it is a great read. It’s been in my to-read list for some time and I need to bump it up and actually read it. Another reason for me to read it is because I have not yet read anything by Terry Brooks.

The Wizard of Earthsea

Another series, the Earthsea books by Ursula K. Le Guin have been on my radar for some time. I have read other books by Le Guin and have enjoyed them so I’m sure I’ll like this one and the sequels. Ironically, this is also another series my wife bought me (because she loves me). She bought the illustrated edition, all in one volume, and it is a massive text.

The Gunslinger

Technically I have already read this book. I just haven’t read the remaining six books in Stephen King’s acclaimed Dark Tower series. A friend of mine recommended this series to me and I will get around to finishing it at some point.

The Lies of Locke Lamora

This book by Scott Lynch I had picked up in a bookstore simply from browsing and thinking it was interesting. This was before I had a massive TBR and I developed the habit of always finding new books to read before I finish the ones I have. I keep seeing this book come up time and time again in mentions by other authors or fans, which bumps it up on the TBR list each time.

Gardens of the Moon

I purchased the first few books in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series but have not read them yet. I think I held out because the series was not yet finished. I think the series is now finished and has a total of 10 books, so I will get around to it soonish. I just finished Wheel of Time which is a big series so I am taking a break at the moment on bigger series.

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is a series that I believe is still on-going. If I remember correctly, the fourth book is slated to be released at the end of this year. I first discovered Sabaa Tahir when I discovered Patrick Rothfuss when I came across them interviewing each other (or maybe it was Patrick interviewing Sabaa). I think I will like this series so will give it a shot one day.

Game of Thrones

I did get into the Game of Thrones craze and greatly enjoyed the show. I am holding out until the book series is finished before diving in because I prefer to be able to read it all in one go without a large hiatus. I believe George R.R. Martin stated there will be two more volumes before the series is completed.

The Fifth Season

Honestly, I do not know much about The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin except it is the start of a trilogy. I’ve heard great things about it and I’ve added N.K. Jemisin to my list of authors to read having only heard great things about her writing and books.

Book Series for the Long Haul

I figured now is as good a time as any to recommend a few longer book series to help us all pass the time while we try not to think about the state of things. Don’t worry, all series on this list are completed so you don’t have to wait for the next one.

It’s always good to get lost in a book. Admittedly, most of these series fall into either fantasy or science fiction, but I have read them and greatly enjoyed them.

The Wheel of Time

The Eye of the WorldThe first series I thought of was the one I read last year and may be the longest I’ve ever read. The Wheel of Time is fourteen books long (fifteen with the prequel) and each book averages at about 800 pages. This epic fantasy series was incredible and I consumed it all in about 9 months. The first book is The Eye of the World. If you decide to dive in, there is a great community of fans on social media sites (at least there is on Twitter) and Amazon is currently adapting it into a television series. I also tracked my way through this series as I was reading it, so you can read my reactions and thoughts on each book after you read each installment to see if we had the same thoughts about the events. You can find my posts on this series on my list of Book Recommendations above.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyIf you a prefer a more whimsical read, then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams may be for you. This series of five books is an absolutely absurd story filled with space travels and nonsense that is joyous to read. Yes, the premise does include (spoiler warning even though the book starts with this) the destruction of Earth, but the journey afterward is a funny exploration of the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

 

The Riftwar Saga

Magician Raymond E Feist

The Riftwar Saga was written by Raymond E. Feist and begins with The Magician. As you may have figured out, this series is a fantasy series. It consists of four core books but there are several other books the extend the story into The Riftwar Cycle. I’ve read the core series and only a few of the books that take place immediately after the main four. I greatly enjoyed them and hope you do to.

Dune

Dune

Dune by Frank Herbert is one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in the past several years. Admittedly, I have only read the first book. The series extends beyond the first novel (which can be read as a standalone book if you prefer) to include nearly 20 books in total. The first six were written by Frank Herbert and make up the core books. The series was extended by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. A new film adaptation of the original book is being made and should be coming out within a year (I think the original date was this December).

 

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving CastleHowl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is a trilogy aimed at younger audiences, but that just means anyone can read it. I again have to admit I’ve only read the first book of the trilogy, but this was because I did not know it had sequels until recently. I am definitely going to read them. There is an animated film adaptation of this first book made by Studio Ghibli that is an excellent watch. They do change a few things (as usually happens with film) but it is a great supplement to the book.

 

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the RingsSince I think the Lord of the Rings series/trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien has become one of those stories that people will claim to have read but have never actually read, I thought it would be a great time for many people to actually read it. Of course, the movies are phenomenal and do a great job of adapting the series for the screen, which is why I think many people have not actually read the books. There are quite a few differences between the book and screen despite the scripts sticking really closely to the source material. There is much more to Tolkien’s universe as well if you like this series. Outside of The Hobbit which preludes this trilogy, there are supplemental books that expand into areas well outside the main story-line for any who are interested.

 

Harry Potter

Harry Potter

It’s always a great time to re-read Harry Potter. Or finally read it. The series is great and you can even reward yourself by watching the movie adaptations alongside your read-through.

 

The Murderbot Diaries

Okay, this last one is simply a guilty-pleasure recommendation that actually breaks my rule. The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is not yet completed, but the fifth book comes out next month. The first four books are novella-length, so the series isn’t terrible long, but I think the introverted Murderbot is just a great, fun character who tries to interact with humans a little as possible.Murderbot Series

5 Books About Writing

I am a writer and therefore will every so often pick up a book about the craft. Below is a list of books about writing that I have read over the past several years that I found informative, inspiring, and insightful. I could give entire lectures about writing and all the different things I’ve learned through a formal education and my own individual studies, but I’ll save that for the classroom. For now, I hope you consider these books if you are a writer, if you like interesting things, or if you simply like any of these authors in particular as most of the books listed include biographical content. This is not surprising because writing is a very personal thing and everyone has their own approach and methods, which is why I picked up bits and pieces from most of these books to build upon my own habits.

About WritingThe newest book on the list is About Writing: A Field Guide For Aspiring Authors by Gareth L. Powell. This little pocket book is filled with insights about everything from beginning the writing process to how to build a following and market your published book. It has a bunch of useful tips about social media, outlining a novel, tips for attending conferences or conventions, and overall how to be a present-day author. Gareth is a powerhouse of positive energy and I highly suggest you follow him on Twitter for daily inspiration. I also recommend keeping this book on hand to pick up from time to time and review whatever part of the writing journey you are currently on. One thing I’ve taken into my own practice is Gareth’s suggestion about how to outline a novel. I may end up tweaking it a bit to better suit my needs, but it is proving immensely useful so far.

On WritingThe second book is the first book on the craft of writing I ever read and the first book I had read by this author. The book in question is one of the most popular: On Writing by Stephen King. I picked this one up shortly after finishing my undergraduate degree and felt the need to keep educating myself on the craft. Admittedly, it has been a minute since I’ve read this book, but I do remember a lot from it. First, this book is split basically into two parts. One half is focused on King himself giving some background to his journey as a writer and the other half is about the craft. Both are incredibly interesting and worth your time. One thing I have always kept with me from this book is King’s habit of always having a book on hand no matter where you are. I’m not sure why this particular thought stuck with me, but he was right that you should always keep a book on hand because you can get reading in with all the “in between” time we have in life. Waiting in line for coffee? Read a few pages. At the doctor? Read some more. Nowadays you can do this with your pocket computer if you prefer an ebook and have the willpower to stay off social media. Physical books don’t have distracting apps. I think I may need to give it another read soon since I have grown a lot as a writer and a person since I last read it.

Elements of StyleNext is another “classic” on the craft and another small, pocket-sized book. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. This is a craft book specific to the actual grammar and syntax and overall use of language and it is useful for writing in general and not just creative writing. It is a great book that can help you bolster your writing and form good habits, but like all the others, it isn’t a rule book. It may be the closest thing to one, but writing is again personal and you have your own style. This is simply one of the better resources to help you stay away from rookie mistakes and improve your prose. I think King mentions this book in his own and had some comments about Strunk and White’s thoughts about adverbs.

Zen and the Art of WritingThis next book I happened to discover while perusing the shelves of my local library. Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. This book was such a fun find. I was surprised to find so many great essays about writing that were simply inspirational. I plan to get a copy of my own to have on hand because you can pick this book up and read any essay and get that spark to start a story or continue whatever you are working on. He has such a great way of reminding you what a joy and privilege it is to write. Any self-doubt will disappear as you read. He definitely puts the zest and gusto into his thoughts about the craft. Bradbury wrote one thousand words every day since he was a kid. I’m hoping I can build a habit like his, to write every day so I am always progressing toward my goal of finishing a novel or short story. I’m still working on this though. I don’t need a thousand words. For now, any amount will do. I just need to build the good habit.

ReflectionsReflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones is another collection of essays. This collection contains a large amount of biographical content about Diana and several essays repeat the same small tidbits about her life as they were written over the course of her career. She led a very interesting life and had some strange things happen to her. You’d almost think she were truly a witch. A good-natured one though. Did you know she had C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as professors? It does contain a lot of practical advice about writing, the market, agents, editors, and publishers. However, a lot of what she is describing is from a few decades ago and much has changed since then. I’ve no doubt some of the changes were due to her influence. Many things haven’t changed much at all unfortunately. The literary landscape may have changed since the writing of the essays, but she has plenty of relevant information in this book, especially about writing for younger audiences.

I have many more books on the craft I still want to read and many more I’m sure I will discover in the future. The next on my list I already have lined up and plan to start soon. Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. I also want to read Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood. If you have a book about the craft of writing that you like, let me know with a comment. I’d love to find more. Perhaps I’ll write another list about another set of books on writing. For now, I’m going to get back to work by sticking with Rule #1 from Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules for writing which is simply: Write.

8 Rules of Writing_Neil Gaiman

Solaris

SolarisSolaris by Stanislaw Lem is strange to say the least. The premise is intriguing and I must admit I greatly enjoyed the first half of the book. The second half stalls a bit and gets a little abstract, but overall I think the book is interesting enough to recommend.

Written in 1961, it is a science fiction novel that takes place on a distant planet called Solaris, where the ocean covering nearly the entire surface is discovered to be a sentient life form. We follow a psychiatrist, Kris Kelvin, who travels to the station hovering in the planetary atmosphere. The story takes place in a distant future where humanity has thoroughly mastered space travel and the planet of Solaris is a still unknown entity. A rare, inexplicable puzzle still yet to be solved.

The book itself is an interesting thought experiment that imagines a planet-sized life-form while also delving into what it means to be human; physically and mentally. As I said, the first half really drew me in and made me want to discover how and why the events were taking place. Of course, I had to then finish the novel and the second half was good, don’t get me wrong, but it left me wanting a bit more.

This book has been adapted into film three times (1968, 1972, 2002) with the most recent staring George Clooney. I have not seen any of the adaptations, but I may check them out eventually. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a new adaptation especially since there are many elements that remind me of movies such as Sphere, Alien, or Sunshine. The premise is great enough that I don’t think Hollywood will leave it alone.

The book is approximately 200 pages so it is a fairly quick read. I first heard of this book from a student who was reading it for a class. I then saw it again mentioned in a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin who discussed a few other of Lem’s books which I do want to read. I think Lem has a good writing style and, from what I have read, he has interesting ideas that encompass psychological or philosophical ideas. This alone makes me interested in reading more of his work. It helps that he is able to frame the ideas around an interesting narrative.

Happy Reading.