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Return to the Whorl

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Horn has travelled from his home on the planet Blue, reached the planet Green and visited the starship, the Whorl and walked on the planet Urth. But Horn's identity has become ambiguous, a question embedded in the story, whose telling is itself complex.


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Horn has travelled from his home on the planet Blue, reached the planet Green and visited the starship, the Whorl and walked on the planet Urth. But Horn's identity has become ambiguous, a question embedded in the story, whose telling is itself complex.

30 review for Return to the Whorl

  1. 5 out of 5

    Heath

    Gene Wolfe ruined reading for me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    Well, I think this one took me longer than any of the others in my year of (re)reading Gene Wolfe. I have to admit that my enthusiasm was waning when I finally got to this volume, but having made it through all of the previous eleven volumes of the solar cycle I couldn’t let flagging interest stop me from completing the series. I think this book is better than my slow track record in finishing it would imply and that it actually might be the best of the three volumes of the Short Sun series, but Well, I think this one took me longer than any of the others in my year of (re)reading Gene Wolfe. I have to admit that my enthusiasm was waning when I finally got to this volume, but having made it through all of the previous eleven volumes of the solar cycle I couldn’t let flagging interest stop me from completing the series. I think this book is better than my slow track record in finishing it would imply and that it actually might be the best of the three volumes of the Short Sun series, but I don’t know that I can fully express why, or say that on this reading I fully appreciated that. I left the book feeling as though I ought to read it again when it doesn’t feel like the end of a marathon and perhaps see it with fresher, and more balanced, eyes. We finally get some resolutions to the myriad mysteries that have been surrounding our narrator, and his identity, and he finally manages to end his odyssean wanderings and return home to New Viron, perhaps having achieved everything he had promised, even if he doesn’t believe this to be the case. Of course Gene Wolfe is never straightforward, even when he is presenting resolutions, and so we have some new complications to deal with. To add to the time and place jumps that have kept even the attentive reader on his/her toes throughout these volumes we now have the additional issue of new narrators being introduced, sometimes in ways that are not immediately obvious aside from a subtle shift in pronouns. This obviously calls into question the ‘truth’ of the story being told in these sections as they are apparently not coming directly from the (admittedly confused) person directly experiencing them. How can we take anything we find here at face value? Oh Gene Wolfe, you tricky, tricky fellow! As far as plot goes we have some further repetitions of the cycle of revolution and reform in the settlements that Silkhorn (the spoilerific name usually given to our erstwhile narrator by Wolfe fans on the interwebs…but if you’ve read this far this identity reveal shouldn’t be a spoiler for you) visits, this time the town of Dorp where he is held for trial by a cabal of corrupt judges that have been squeezing the town for their own benefit and are due for some Patera Silk-style justice. We also see Silkhorn continuing to wrestle with the implications of the symbiotic relationship that exists between the humans on Blue and the Inhumi that prey upon them. These elements of the corrupt nature of the human settlements on Blue and the true nature of the Inhumi are subtly intertwined and speak to Wolfe’s examination of the foundations of human nature and the problem of good and evil. Add to this the constant ruminations on the nature of godhood, the role that gods (both ‘real’ and not-so-real) play in human society & morality, and the whole mess of politics, religion, and ethics that all of this drags up and you have a very complex and weighty story. Ultimately I came away from this book most noticebly with a sense of sadness. There is such an air of strange tragedy around the story of Patera Silk (in both the Long Sun and Short Sun books), and of Horn whose life becomes inextricably intertwined with that of his hero...to his own doom. This set of books is perhaps, then, more than anything a rumination on the pitfalls of the role of ‘hero’, especially when that role involves both a moral and a political angle. Patera Silk, as we know from the first lines of the Long Sun series, was enlightened on the ball court and granted something few humans can boast of, an intimate connection with the Divine. Yet this turns out to be as much (or more?) a curse as a blessing. Silk’s insight into the true nature of reality, and humanity’s inability to live up to it, tied with his inherent love and pity for those around him, leave Silk in a tragic place of near-despair for much of his life. And what of Horn, the boy then man who idolized this figure as a hero and, in his attempts to emulate him and bring salvation to his world, ends up losing himself? Perhaps, given Wolfe’s well-known position as a Catholic writer, he has simply expressed the biblical statement of Jesus that “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) Is it then perhaps a comedy (in the classic sense) and not a tragedy? I guess that depends ultimately on your point of view. Overall I’d have to say that I’ve come away from the solar cycle with the impression that the Long Sun-Short Sun parts (which really need to be read together to fully appreciate them) are perhaps the most complex, nuanced, and deep-delving books of the series, but I side with the apparent consensus that the New Sun part of the cycle is really Wolfe’s masterwork and is, in some ways at least, more satisfying. Both 'sets', though, definitely leave you with a lot to chew on after you've closed the final pages.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Muntz

    i reread this series slowly over the last few months. life is worth living because writers like gene wolfe exist

  4. 5 out of 5

    Richard S

    Wolfe does not disappoint in this, the last of the 12 books of the long series. Once again he chooses another artistic literary style, and at this point the complications of the novel and the style are indescribable. He continues the alternation between two different realities, the concept of the book as "thing-in-itself" (a book about the writing of the book) multiple and untrustworthy narrators, the book as text (physical paper), concepts of multiple identity, ambiguous identity, changing/shif Wolfe does not disappoint in this, the last of the 12 books of the long series. Once again he chooses another artistic literary style, and at this point the complications of the novel and the style are indescribable. He continues the alternation between two different realities, the concept of the book as "thing-in-itself" (a book about the writing of the book) multiple and untrustworthy narrators, the book as text (physical paper), concepts of multiple identity, ambiguous identity, changing/shifting identity and form and place. The central conceit of this particular novel is the narrator being someone else physically but denying that he is the person, in one place searching for a physical body that he himself possesses, in the other as father/not father traveling with daughter/not daughter and identical twin sons going to places where they take a different physical being representing more of their "essential" self. He is much more "humanistic" in this work, I suppose he wanted to end on a fairly positive note. Regardless, as I've raved in my prior reviews, Wolfe is a truly great writer - this is as sophisticated and complex as a symphony of a great composer, and comes across as a great "late" work, like Beethoven's 30th through 32nd piano sonatas. It's like nothing else in science fiction, and in fiction reminded me of those certain lines of Shakespeare that are full of ambiguity and multiple meanings. I need to be clear on this _objectively_ the book is marred - which explains why it's not rated as "science fiction" as highly as it might - there are scenes, attitudes, episodes, which are unpleasant, upsetting, like certain parts of Rabelais - but if you look behind the story line at "how" he is writing, stylistically and thematically, the plot is all rather irrelevant. I've described him as the great science fiction writer of "ambiguity" - and the richness of this approach. Someone said that Wolfe is more like "speculative" fiction than anything else, or "imaginative" fiction, but he's exploring the limits of style through content - the story is a mechanism for the style. Overarching the whole Long Sun/Short-Sun group of 7 novels, Wolfe's humanism and overarching compassion comes through. His religious asides are a minor puzzlement. The characters are rich and deep, complex and real. To be critical, there is one rather upsetting and unnecessary scene which goes too far, and there's too much dialogue where his prose is wonderful, but while the book is very difficult, it remains comprehensible, unlike the fifth book Urth in the series. So - to sum up this exceptionally long and worthwhile series: not for the faint, probably only for the literary, a unique and brilliant artistic conception. I put him with Melville, early Pynchon and Gaddis as the greatest American writers, and the greatest American "imaginative" writer ever. I find it impossible to classify his work as sci-fi or fantasy because his stylistic and literary components are so much of the content. Anyway, I've written about him enough. I hope this inspires someone to read him. I strongly suspect he will be still read in 100 years, which is sense I get from very few writers these days.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    At the end of his "Solar Cycle" (12 books in all) and after reading 7 of his other novels, I have, finally, come to the realization that Gene Wolfe never writes the book you want him to and The Book of the Short Sun is no exception. This is not to say I didn't enjoy reading the series. Actually this series offered more than I could ever want or imagine, but achieving the payoff and finishing the series was a struggle. It is (like all Wolfe novels, but more so)a subtle, confusing maze where what At the end of his "Solar Cycle" (12 books in all) and after reading 7 of his other novels, I have, finally, come to the realization that Gene Wolfe never writes the book you want him to and The Book of the Short Sun is no exception. This is not to say I didn't enjoy reading the series. Actually this series offered more than I could ever want or imagine, but achieving the payoff and finishing the series was a struggle. It is (like all Wolfe novels, but more so)a subtle, confusing maze where what is said is less important than what is left unsaid. The enjoyment comes when after slogging through page after page of near incoherent dialogue, the light shines and you understand a bit more of what Wolfe is trying to say. When I finished Return to the Whorl I felt the need to pick up The Shadow of the Torturer and start the cycle over in the hopes that maybe this time I will actually get it...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Petersen

    Hm, again, not sure why this isn't already marked as read. I read it years ago. I like this trilogy probably the best out of the whole Solar Cycle, even though it is the most difficult in some respects. There's something incredibly magical about the setting and beings and events of this trilogy. I think I found the closed system of the Long Sun rather suffocating by the end and I found the dying system of the New Sun so decadent and decaying that it similarly felt somewhat oppressive, if opulent Hm, again, not sure why this isn't already marked as read. I read it years ago. I like this trilogy probably the best out of the whole Solar Cycle, even though it is the most difficult in some respects. There's something incredibly magical about the setting and beings and events of this trilogy. I think I found the closed system of the Long Sun rather suffocating by the end and I found the dying system of the New Sun so decadent and decaying that it similarly felt somewhat oppressive, if opulently so. The Short Sun system is alive and open with deep possibility and plenitude - in its societies, in its ecologies, in its interplanetary relations, and in its haunting by a numinous elder race that once inhabited the planet Blue, where most of the humans from the generation starship The Whorl now live. Even the vampiric shape-shifting Inhumi from the neighbouring planet Green provide an invigorating and mysterious sense of danger and horror, in a way more 'wholesome' somehow than all the abominations of the New Sun. (Long Sun mostly lacked any kind of non-human creatures or races, though its android population was quite fascinating.) So the Short Sun trilogy came as a breath of fresh air to me. And its elliptically entangled narration is really quite fresh as well. Wolfe found yet another way to work his narratological magic in this final series of the Solar Cycle. And it works very well for me - beautiful writing, very different from the ornate style of Severian in the New Sun, or even the graceful economy of the Long Sun, but powerful, taut, and lovely nonetheless. Indeed, this final volume probably has the best prose of the series to me (heresy to most, I'm sure - New Sun is considered the masterwork; and frankly, it is, and it has the most linguistically rich style; but Short Sun achieves a style at least equally great to me, and one that is in most respects just personally preferable). I'd rank the three books of the Short Sun trilogy thus: On Blue's Waters has the best sense of semi-heroic or questing adventure, peppered with horror and the numinous and the promise of a larger tale unfolding. (It's apparently not nearly enough of an odyssey to some readers, but I found its somewhat contemplative and wandering pace just right for creating an alien quality, yet a gripping sense of quest and action.) In Green's Jungles is the best at taking the metaphysics of the narrative to unexpected levels of beauty and weirdness, and horror - and its density of prose and narrative complexity is heightened as well, making it quite a heady read to me. It was trippy. And finally, Return to the Whorl goes to an even richer level of prose style, mesmerising in its sensual sense of nearness and immersion. It even adds in new narrative voices and their styles, equally rich, and it maybe goes to some of the best and most interesting places theologically. There are some very spiritual and moving scenes in this one. Yet this final volume also suffers from a accumulated complexity that made it really bog down for me. I felt really, really lost through the last half as I recall. (And there were perhaps some overlong scenes of not much going on it seemed to me.) Yet I enjoyed finishing it and I recall enjoying the final chapter or chapters especially, even though they felt in some ways as confusing as the rest. A really poignant final paragraph or so though. I look forward to re-reading the trilogy and understanding it better.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David M

    Great writing at times, but at the end of the day I think Wolfe really only had one great opus in him -Book of the New Sun. On some level he himself must have been aware of it. This winding, confusing epic represents his inability to let it go.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Ausema

    This was my second read of the book and wraps up my re-read of the entire Sun sequence (apart from Urth of the New Sun). New Sun is often held up as the epitome of Wolfe's work, and it is great. Long Sun has some cool world-building (or Whorl-building) to go with its story of a sort of accidental messiah figure, and it definitely should be read before the Short Sun sequence, but I've always thought the Short Sun books highlight Wolfe's narrative skill. The whole story weaves together two separat This was my second read of the book and wraps up my re-read of the entire Sun sequence (apart from Urth of the New Sun). New Sun is often held up as the epitome of Wolfe's work, and it is great. Long Sun has some cool world-building (or Whorl-building) to go with its story of a sort of accidental messiah figure, and it definitely should be read before the Short Sun sequence, but I've always thought the Short Sun books highlight Wolfe's narrative skill. The whole story weaves together two separate timelines, the one that's happening as Horn* is writing and the earlier one he's sitting down intending to recount. The way they play off each other and the way he comments on his own writing as the *now* timeline progresses is stunning. A high wire act. In this book, the earlier storyline is taking place back in the Whorl of the Long Sun sequence, and the now storyline is back again on Blue as he (maybe, finally) finds himself getting back home to Nettle and the island he'd left so long ago. As is typical of Wolfe, he leaves much of the story off the page for readers to piece together. It would probably take another few re-reads to keep track of everything. But it's a beautiful--and sometimes heartbreaking--story. This one especially has a melancholy to it, but isn't depressing, as you piece together the truth of the inhuma through Horn*'s story. It also includes some journeys to the Red Sun Whorl and Severian of the New Sun sequence. While it fits in-story, it feels somewhat contrived, but I'm willing to forgive that for the impressive story as a whole. And when Hari Mau, who was a character of the *now* timeline in book 1 shows up in the *then* timeline of book 3, I got chills at just how beautifully it all falls into place. An impressive conclusion to a story by a master at the height of his craft.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    The grande finale of Gene Wolfe's 12-volume "Solar Cycle", begun over 20 years ago with the "New Sun" quartet/quintet. Nearly all questions are answered about Horn and his altered appearance, his search for the messianic leader Calde Silk back on their mutual home spaceship, and plenty of other lingering plot threads. While all of the books in this series are touching, none may be more so than this one. We see Horn's interactions with a wide range of people and creatures, in an array of environm The grande finale of Gene Wolfe's 12-volume "Solar Cycle", begun over 20 years ago with the "New Sun" quartet/quintet. Nearly all questions are answered about Horn and his altered appearance, his search for the messianic leader Calde Silk back on their mutual home spaceship, and plenty of other lingering plot threads. While all of the books in this series are touching, none may be more so than this one. We see Horn's interactions with a wide range of people and creatures, in an array of environments and situations - some amazingly exotic, others soothingly familiar. Trying to explain it all in a succinct way is impossible. All I can suggest is that you start with The Shadow of the Torturer. See if you can get used to Gene Wolfe's minimalist style. If you can give yourself over to him and meet him halfway as a reader, this entire series will offer you something like you've never read before.

  10. 4 out of 5

    John Lawson

    Completion of the Book of the Short Sun trilogy. Patera Horn finally finishes his quest for Silk, and to no one's surprise he wasn't as far away as he thought. Or maybe he was. I guess it depends on how you want to look at it. The "deep secret" of the inhumi is revealed, though it wasn't much of a secret if you were paying attention. The weakest point was the last few chapters, penned by Horn's children instead of Horn himself. A strange and unnecessary shift, especially since the final scene di Completion of the Book of the Short Sun trilogy. Patera Horn finally finishes his quest for Silk, and to no one's surprise he wasn't as far away as he thought. Or maybe he was. I guess it depends on how you want to look at it. The "deep secret" of the inhumi is revealed, though it wasn't much of a secret if you were paying attention. The weakest point was the last few chapters, penned by Horn's children instead of Horn himself. A strange and unnecessary shift, especially since the final scene did not include any of them, so how could they have possibly been able to retell it? On the plus side, the holes left by the previous books are satisfactorily filled, and connections with the original Book of the New Sun trilogy are established. Astral projection to Blue, Green, the long sun whorl, and the red sun whorl ensues.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Pinkyivan

    I'll need time to recollect everything and put my finger on many things this novel offers, but I'll just say that the ending for whatever reason evoked a feeling of completion few novels do.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    I am certain of only one thing after reading these 3 books ( well, the whole Solar Cycle is told in 12 books ): that I need to read them all again for 4 reasons: 1- they are absolutely pleasurable to read 2- they offer literary puzzles that make it worth a second read 3- As Tad Williams says, and I loosely paraphrase him "Gene Wolfe seems to get there and describe what he sees" because his stories are so vivid that it is hard to think about them as fiction. 4- I recall my literature teachers back in I am certain of only one thing after reading these 3 books ( well, the whole Solar Cycle is told in 12 books ): that I need to read them all again for 4 reasons: 1- they are absolutely pleasurable to read 2- they offer literary puzzles that make it worth a second read 3- As Tad Williams says, and I loosely paraphrase him "Gene Wolfe seems to get there and describe what he sees" because his stories are so vivid that it is hard to think about them as fiction. 4- I recall my literature teachers back in high school and their defenses of the joys of literature. I cannot think of any other finer example than all these 3/12 books.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Perry Whitford

    Wolfe ends his Short Sun series - and with it the entire twelve book Solar Cycle - in typically wonderful, confounding, richly theosophical and willfully frustrating fashion. I realise that those qualities may not sound like much of a recommendation to some readers, or at best appear to be qualified praise, yet this is how Return to the Whorl struck me, and believe it or not I can't recommend it highly enough. Horn's search for Silk was always going to take him to the Whorl, the huge generation sh Wolfe ends his Short Sun series - and with it the entire twelve book Solar Cycle - in typically wonderful, confounding, richly theosophical and willfully frustrating fashion. I realise that those qualities may not sound like much of a recommendation to some readers, or at best appear to be qualified praise, yet this is how Return to the Whorl struck me, and believe it or not I can't recommend it highly enough. Horn's search for Silk was always going to take him to the Whorl, the huge generation ship which navigated the ignorant colonists to the planets Blue and Green in the Long Sun series. When he gets there nothing happens as you may have expected, nor with the expected consequences. The mystery of Horn-Silk's persona is revealed (sort of), as is the mystery of the shapeshifting inhumi, who feed like vampires on the human population. As the narrator observes: 'The inhumi are evil creatures, granted. How could they be otherwise?' As God is to us, we are to the inhumi; which is to say, it is only the relationship and understanding of one to the other that elevates the lesser above the status of the animals. As such, we behave towards God in the same way the inhumi behave towards us, with a mixture of reverence and betrayal. But Wolfe wouldn't be Wolfe without creating a new mystery just as he was clarifying some old ones. There is one incredibly important scene in this book which is left open to a few interpretations so radically different that the entire theosophy of the story - the importance of which can't be overstated - hangs in the balance while you try to figure it out. I don't want to be a spoiler so I won't say anything definitive (not that I could!) but to me the answer lies between not just Silk and his wife Hyacinth, but between the one-eyed giant Pig also, a superb new character who speaks with an intentionally difficult to interpret Scotch dialect. You also need to consider the Old Testament creed of 'An eye for eye...', the view of human justice which Jesus superseded in the New Testament with his advice to 'turn the other cheek'. I did have one or two grumbles. The first half of the book did include one or two scenes which to my mind dragged on unnecessarily, then the second half did the opposite and rushed through some scenes which could have done with more attention. Most disappointingly, the much-heralded scene which connected the world of Severian with the whorl of Silk felt like a let-down to me, offering little to the Solar Cycle as a whole. But I still loved the book and its confused hero(es). As the narrator says of him, he "was the sort of leader we weave legends about but seldom get - or deserve, I might add."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Well, here I am, finally at the end of the epic "Sun Cycle" (i.e. The Book of the New Sun, The Book of the Long Sun, and the Book of the Short Sun, a neat 12 books long). It is epic, and I'm happy to say that in the Book of the Short Sun (of which this is the last volume) includes trips to all three whorls: the Short Sun, the Long Sun, and the Red Sun. I liked it, and this last book proved very exciting. Of course, it would be almost meaningless if you hadn't read the previous 11 books first. An Well, here I am, finally at the end of the epic "Sun Cycle" (i.e. The Book of the New Sun, The Book of the Long Sun, and the Book of the Short Sun, a neat 12 books long). It is epic, and I'm happy to say that in the Book of the Short Sun (of which this is the last volume) includes trips to all three whorls: the Short Sun, the Long Sun, and the Red Sun. I liked it, and this last book proved very exciting. Of course, it would be almost meaningless if you hadn't read the previous 11 books first. And, it might be plausibly argued that the excitement of this book isn't quite worth some of the less exciting places in the others. I disagree, however. I didn't really appreciate the subtlety of these books properly until reading these books. It was there all along, but I missed some of it then. It wasn't until Harry Potter was thrust on me directly after finishing this book that I really appreciated Wolfe's tricks and turns, subtlety, inference, and unreliable narrators. Potential spoilers below: don't read this if you haven't read all these books... be careful, and don't say you haven't been warned. Mostly, I'm just really unhappy with what happened to Silk. I don't think that the Silk we knew in Book of the Long Sun would have joined up as an aspect of Pas. I agree he would have passed the caldéship to Mint, and from Mint to Bison, and retired from public life, but he never wanted to become God, let alone a false god to draw people away from the real religion he realized was out there. I was very upset when I finished reading the Long Sun because I was certain that Silk had died, but I was also extremely pleased. Silk had died, but it was the most tragically heartbreaking death, and end, to the whole series I could ask for. Silk, the truly good, wandering off to his death through a minefield in search of his love, a gold-digging whore? Perfect. But Silk should never have survived that, and I didn't want him to. Even after seeing what it enables in the Book of the Short Sun, I would trade those books back to Wolfe just to get him to leave Silk dead or alive in our imaginations, where he truly belongs.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Althea Ann

    The Final Volume of the Book of the Short Sun. This follow-up to On Blue's Waters and In Green's Jungles continues the saga of the man who calls himself Horn, and his quest to find the political and spiritual leader, Patera Silk, and bring him back to settle political unrest in his hometown. As in the previous two books, Wolfe uses an unreliable narrator, who speaks of things happening in multiple places and times, and whose perspective on events seems to frequently shift and disagree with that of The Final Volume of the Book of the Short Sun. This follow-up to On Blue's Waters and In Green's Jungles continues the saga of the man who calls himself Horn, and his quest to find the political and spiritual leader, Patera Silk, and bring him back to settle political unrest in his hometown. As in the previous two books, Wolfe uses an unreliable narrator, who speaks of things happening in multiple places and times, and whose perspective on events seems to frequently shift and disagree with that of other characters. Philosophical themes include musings on identity, religion, and the various sorts of bonds that there are between people... Although it's not absolutely that a reader be familiar with Wolfe's works The Book of the Long Sun, and The Book of the New Sun to read this (though it wouldn't hurt, either), I would say that one absolutely has to have read the two previous books in this particular series for the story to make any sense whatsoever. Having read them, I enjoyed this conclusion very much - a few story arcs I wish could have been drawn together in a more dramatic and satisfying way - but, on the other hand, it fits with the style to not wrap everything up into a neat package

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    Wolfe's Sun series culminating in this one isn't just a set of very good books to read, it constitutes one of the masterpieces of our age, and perhaps longer than that. There are many many layers here and just who the narrator is becomes unclear. Return to the Whorl is a story of return to self. That's about as much as I can say without giving crucial things away. Each of these books take place on blue with the story of what took place on Green, the Whorl and the Red sun learned increasingly fro Wolfe's Sun series culminating in this one isn't just a set of very good books to read, it constitutes one of the masterpieces of our age, and perhaps longer than that. There are many many layers here and just who the narrator is becomes unclear. Return to the Whorl is a story of return to self. That's about as much as I can say without giving crucial things away. Each of these books take place on blue with the story of what took place on Green, the Whorl and the Red sun learned increasingly from someone's memory or dream. So many things become subtle clear only on reflection. The secret of the inhumu is reveled 100 times, but to what effect? And just what was that beast with 3 horns? Eh? I'd like Wolfe to go back and edit a couple of technical points. In the hollowed out Whorl, Wolfe completely forgets the importance of plate tectonics. The whorl would quickly become just a flat mud puddle without some way of recycling the sediment that flowed into the lake after a rain. That's the fate that plate tectonnics saves us form on Earth. We'd need some similar recycling on the Whorl. Maybe a job for those Godlings. Also, what really happens to an airship on a spinning world? There is no gravity, just inertia. Anyhow. Way better than a "good read", a great read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    It is hard for me to explain why I've taken so long to read this book. I embarked on re-reading The Book of the Long Sun when I also started a long journey of my own, and without intending it I incorporated The Book of the Short Sun into that journey. There is a big change coming for me soon and I wanted to finish the reading before that; but still, it should not have taken me years. Finishing it only makes me want to read it all again. I will take some of Wolfe with me on my new journey. I have It is hard for me to explain why I've taken so long to read this book. I embarked on re-reading The Book of the Long Sun when I also started a long journey of my own, and without intending it I incorporated The Book of the Short Sun into that journey. There is a big change coming for me soon and I wanted to finish the reading before that; but still, it should not have taken me years. Finishing it only makes me want to read it all again. I will take some of Wolfe with me on my new journey. I have The Book of the New Sun on audio, already loaded onto my little player. The other two will go into boxes and into storage, and give me something to come back to. Perhaps I'll have more perspective and new insights for another reading. Silk, Horn .. the most amazing characters. Here is the quote that sums it up well: "he loved everybody, and until you meet somebody like him, you will never know how scary that was."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hobart Mariner

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Finale entry in the Book of the Short Sun, final Solar Cycle novel, and wonderful conclusion to a twenty year project by the master. We get most (though not all) of the loose ends which have developed over the course of the first two Short Sun novels tied up. At the beginning of the novel our narrator, whose identity in this book is in serious doubt until the very end, has won two wars for two city-states of Blue (Gaon and Blanko). The leadership ability that he has shown certainly recalls the g Finale entry in the Book of the Short Sun, final Solar Cycle novel, and wonderful conclusion to a twenty year project by the master. We get most (though not all) of the loose ends which have developed over the course of the first two Short Sun novels tied up. At the beginning of the novel our narrator, whose identity in this book is in serious doubt until the very end, has won two wars for two city-states of Blue (Gaon and Blanko). The leadership ability that he has shown certainly recalls the great, genetically-engineered charisma of Silk from the Long Sun books, whom he has been assigned to track down in the Long Sun Whorl. Our narrator is imprisoned in the city of Dorp for trumped-up reasons, along with one of his sons and his adopted inhuma daughter. He has to use all the trickery at his disposal, including another twin son roaming around town, his own newfound ability to spirit-project to other planets, and his connections with the mysterious former inhabitants of Blue, in order to overthrow the corrupt rule of the judges of Dorp. The scene where one of the Neighbors is deposed in the courtroom of Dorp, which is later transported to the Red Sun Whorl of Severian, is pretty funny, possibly corny but in an enjoyable way. In the parallel "flashback" story line, the narrator (Horn, who has been reconstituted by the Neighbors in the body of a dying man on the Long Sun Whorl), begins traveling toward his home city of Viron. The Long Sun Whorl has been damaged, I believe during the fighting which began in the Long Sun books, and the Long Sun itself winks out for extended periods. It's also visited by the Fliers, members of Crew who bring the will of Mainframe, and Godlings, giants with claws on their heads. It seems that Pas, the principal god of the Whorl, is trying to drive all the humans down from the Long Sun Whorl onto the world of Blue, but later Silk speaks with one of the godlings who says the opposite. The narrator makes the acquaintance of a blind, genetically engineered giant, who takes the name of Pig. Pig is trying to travel from one end of the Whorl to the other in order to have his eyesight restored at the advanced medical facilities near the engine compartment. The narrator and Pig have some interesting adventures, encountering a nice couple named Hound and Tansy. Eventually it is more or less confirmed (what had been strongly suggested in the past two books) that the old man in whom Horn was revived by the Neighbors actually was Silk. Silk's spirit has ascended to Mainframe, a sort of digital Valhalla for the gods, who are actually digital scans of the emperor and his cohort back on Urth. We learn the details of Scylla's rebellion against Pas, and that she has been stowing away in the consciousness of beloved pet Oreb since the first Long Sun book. During his travels in Viron and to the Pole, Horn/Silk is able to recover an eye for Maytera Marble, meet his own father, and retrieve Hyacinth's azoth. The political situation in New Viron is such that Silk's return could prove extremely destabilizing, hence it is useful to the city rulers when a band of Gaonese from Blue come to conscript Silk to be their ruler. (This is where the book ties in with On Blue's Waters.) Silk/Horn agrees with them, on condition that they take him and Pig to the medical facilities at the end of the Whorl. He gives up one of his eyes to Pig, who sets off on his jolly Scottish way back toward the other end of the Whorl, and returns to Blue with the Gaonese. On Blue, in the "current day" storyline, Horn/Silk enjoys victory over the Dorp judges and returns to New Viron. More political instability and violence lurks in his adopted hometown (Marrow is dead, Gyrfalcon rules), which is more or less the running theme of all the episodes on Blue. He cleverly plays the political game and makes it back to his wife Nettle on their island. She believes it's him until she learns that she's been traveling with an inhuma, specifically Jahlee, who drained their eldest son almost to death, and gave birth to his adopted son Krait. As she dies Jahlee reveals the great secret of the inhumi, which is more or less what I'd inferred from the previous two books: the inhumi only derive their minds from the humans they feed upon. This secret being out leads the inhumi to viciously attack Horn's son's wedding, which results in the death of the New Viron tyrant, which is very suspicious. Did Horn/Silk arrange for Gyrfalcon to attend his son's wedding to make peace, or to set him up to be assassinated (which he is by Marrow's friend or lover)? It's left unclear. The priest of the wedding reveals a prophetic passage to the narrator, to the effect that Hyacinth is still alive (maybe as Seawrack? or Scylla?), and he accepts that he is Silk. Some people choose to return to the Whorl: Silk, Nettle, Seawrack, and Maytera Marble. Horn's sons get set up as the new papermakers and wish the travelers a safe flight. One thing I left out is the interlude with Severian, which is pretty interesting, although maybe it feels tacked on. He has to have Severian say that he can't include the Long Sunners in his own book because no one would believe it. We get some clarity on the political/theological situation back on Urth. The goddess Abaia is related to the sea goddess on Blue -- maybe it's a network of aliens or altered humans. The only thing that annoys me a little about reading this book is that I immediately wanted to start reading the entire Solar Cycle again. I first read the New Sun books in 2002, the Long Sun books in 2004, and the first Short Sun book in 2005. I reread New Sun in 2012, but now I really want to read it again. Really one of the greatest sci-fi/fantasy epics you could imagine. I miss old Gene.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    To review it would imply I understood it, but I am still mulling it around. In short, though, no other author can simultaneously baffle and amaze me as can Gene Wolfe when he's at the top of his game, and the "Sun" novels are an astonishing achievement in genre literature.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David Hunter

    Gene Wolfe is widely regarded as one of the best SF/Fantasy writers of the 20th century. His books are typically difficult, mystical, and feature unreliable narrators. The first series in The Solar Cycle is The Book of the New Sun, and this is a fantastic series. It sets up the atmosphere and background of the story so well, and the characters and plot are some of the best in SF/Fantasy. It is rightly regarded as one of the greatest series in the genre. The second series in The Solar Cycle is The Gene Wolfe is widely regarded as one of the best SF/Fantasy writers of the 20th century. His books are typically difficult, mystical, and feature unreliable narrators. The first series in The Solar Cycle is The Book of the New Sun, and this is a fantastic series. It sets up the atmosphere and background of the story so well, and the characters and plot are some of the best in SF/Fantasy. It is rightly regarded as one of the greatest series in the genre. The second series in The Solar Cycle is The Book of the Long Sun, which, while it has many of the same elements as The Book of the New Sun and is set in the same universe, possibly taking place slightly before the first series, the third and fourth books suffer from serious pacing and structural problems. In Return to the Whorl, the final book of The Book of the Short Sun, Gene Wolfe has one of the characters say "I have a mania for recording conversations." This is one of the main causes of the pacing problem. For long stretches of those two books, the characters are simply sitting down and talking. And the horrible thing is that their dialogue is so natural, in the way that people get off topic, don't say what they mean, and are sometimes too polite which makes their sentences even wordier. I greatly enjoyed the first two books of The Book of the Short Sun. I even enjoyed large sections of Return to the Whorl, especially how it begins to tie back to the first series in interesting ways. However, Wolfe's predilection for recording inane conversation runs rampant on multiple occasions, often for 20-40 pages at a time. If you can purge yourself of the worship that most people give Wolfe, acknowledge his many flaws as a writer, I think The Solar Cycle as a whole is still worth reading from beginning to end, and I feel that Return to the Whorl is a fitting ending to it. For readers who do not have the patience, The Book of the New Sun remains the strongest section and is also a good place to stop.

  21. 5 out of 5

    James Proctor

    A simple way would be to admit that myth is neither irresponsible fantasy, nor the object of weighty psychology, nor any other such thing. It is wholly other, and requires to be looked at with open eyes. That's about as close to a mission statement as we're likely to see from the author. Mr Wolfe doesn't explain himself, happy to leave it to the reader's intelligence to suss out the whys and wherefores of his characters and scenarios. His work certainly adheres to the quoted passage, explorin A simple way would be to admit that myth is neither irresponsible fantasy, nor the object of weighty psychology, nor any other such thing. It is wholly other, and requires to be looked at with open eyes. That's about as close to a mission statement as we're likely to see from the author. Mr Wolfe doesn't explain himself, happy to leave it to the reader's intelligence to suss out the whys and wherefores of his characters and scenarios. His work certainly adheres to the quoted passage, exploring myth-making most acutely in its religious and political aspects. Nothing conclusive, mind you, for exploration is the thing. Often confounding but always satisfying and pleasurable, the author is hungry to tell stories in new ways, never settling back on his former methods. This brings a restless and sometimes obscuring energy to the tale, as the lengths to which he goes to keep things fresh can leave plot and story development obscured. Not by accident, no; if nothing else, this is a writer entirely in control of what he is doing. His mythologies take place against a consistent background of conflict: Wolfe exhibits the belief, through his work, that war is a permanent human condition. War over geography, wars of words, war in the streets. Usually revolutionary war, armies of citizens in revolt or militias against despotic regime. Dialogue between characters is unending negotiation and re-negotiation of the terms of survival. Throw into this mixture questions of identity and ethical responsibility. These are the bones of a standard Wolfe fabulation. It brings Faulkner to mind, actually, which is unusual; can't say I've ever associated Faulkner with any other writer of science fiction. But Wolfe is like that: he puts the reader into a literary mindset.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This is the final series of Wolfe's Solar Cycle. The overarching theme of the series is the colonization of the planets Blue and Green, and the challenges the colonists face transitioning from the Long Sun Whorl (their generation ship, and the subject of the second series of the Solar Cycle). Disparate peoples inhabited the Long Sun Whorl, and came in waves to the new planets. The darker sides of humanity are on display as the waves meet, and an emissary is sent to find a savior who can bring ou This is the final series of Wolfe's Solar Cycle. The overarching theme of the series is the colonization of the planets Blue and Green, and the challenges the colonists face transitioning from the Long Sun Whorl (their generation ship, and the subject of the second series of the Solar Cycle). Disparate peoples inhabited the Long Sun Whorl, and came in waves to the new planets. The darker sides of humanity are on display as the waves meet, and an emissary is sent to find a savior who can bring out the good in humanity. My favorite thing about this final book is that it actually closed the loop (vaguely) in connecting this series to the Book of the New Sun. The action centers around this emissary, who serves as the narrator for most of the series. Like the majority of Wolfe's narrators, he is not exactly reliable. He is an entertaining character, though flawed, and reasonably self-aware of these flaws, though also somewhat narcissistic and confident in how he handles everything. The total number of trials he overcomes in this series is a bit absurd, but it holds to the style that Wolfe introduced in the Book of the New Sun. The writing is strong throughout the book. The storytelling drags a little bit, but caught me up so that I kept going to find out how it resolved. I feel this way about most of Wolfe's books. The story is engaging, the writing is grandly ponderous, and requires more attention from me as a reader than a lot of the entertainment fantasy I read. I think it is important to read through some of where scifi/fantasy came from, and Wolfe was a ground-breaking writer for the genre; may light perpetual shine upon him.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I should go back and line out my mistake, I suppose, but I hate lining things out--it gives the page such an ugly appearance. Besides, to line out is to accept responsibility for the correctness of all that is let stand. (184) As I neared the end of Return to the Whorl, it dawned on me that the chronology of this three-book series, called The Book of the Short Sun, made more sense than I'd realized. What we have in these three books are six distinct sequences, where one half of each book is a sor I should go back and line out my mistake, I suppose, but I hate lining things out--it gives the page such an ugly appearance. Besides, to line out is to accept responsibility for the correctness of all that is let stand. (184) As I neared the end of Return to the Whorl, it dawned on me that the chronology of this three-book series, called The Book of the Short Sun, made more sense than I'd realized. What we have in these three books are six distinct sequences, where one half of each book is a sort of diary (i.e., present tense), and the other half is a memoir or retelling (i.e., past tense), so that On Blue's Waters actually contains the first and fourth parts; In Green's Jungles contains the second and fifth parts; and Return to the Whorl contains the third and sixth parts. At least that's my understanding (I readily admit I could be wrong). But if I'm right, this means--in a very tiny and inadequate nutshell--that Horn (1) sailed the oceans of Blue to Pajarocu, (2) was taken by the inhuma in a lander to Green, (3) somehow traveled from Green to the long sun whorl, (4) was taken by Hari Mau in a lander back to Gaon on Blue, (5) escaped to the town of Blanko, and finally (6) found his way back to New Viron (via the town of Dorp). I feel better having straightened this out for myself, because I have to admit that part of what kept my excitement muted throughout this series was a chronic inability to understand my temporal location within the story at any given moment. As such, I'm confident that I would enjoy reading it much better a second time around, but for this first-time reading The Book of the Short Sun earns, for me, a solid but not impressive three stars. (And how's this for a literary bit of sacrilege: were I to read it again, I would go against Wolfe's implicit wishes and read it truly chronologically, so that I read the Blue chapters, then the Green chapters, then the long sun chapters, then the diary-style chapters. I have no doubt that the series, as Wolfe has presented it, is the "right" way, but I think I'd get more out of it if I manipulated it to my own needs as a reader.) So that's that, but what of Return to Whorl as a reading experience by itself? I'm unsure, this close to having finished it, whether I liked it better than Green or not (whether I liked it better than Blue is probably self-evident). I'm tempted to say that Return is my favorite of the three, though that might change with time. The one thing I found irritating in Return was the recurrent motif of Horn, our protagonist and narrator, being consistently identified by his family, friends, and old acquaintances, as Silk, and Horn, just as consistently, denying that he is Silk. Somehow this confusion of identities felt more subtle and pleasingly mysterious in Green, whereas in Return it began to grate on my nerves. Yes, we get it! Horn is no longer Horn, or at least not completely Horn. Wolfe provides a "solution" of sorts (insofar as Wolfe ever provides a solution to any of his novels' tantalizing mysteries), indicating that Horn, or his consciousness, anyway, inhabited Silk's body in the long sun whorl at the beginning of the third part (perhaps in the way that Horn astrally "traveled" to Green and Urth in Green). Of course this "solution" comes not from a dependable (which is to say authorial) third-person narration, as I'd first thought, but rather from a third-hand narration cobbled together by Horn's sons Hide and Hoof, and by their two wives, based on conversations they'd had with Horn after the fact (and shame on me for not seeing this coming). In other words, we the readers have been provided with no reliable understanding of how, or even if, Horn and Silk became one person. The man who departs from Lizard with Seawrack, Nettle, and Maytera Marble at the end of the sixth part seems to be almost certainly more Silk than Horn (or so he seems to Daisy, Hoof's wife--and to whichever of our four "authors" writes about his final conversation with Patera Remora), but who knows? Nobody knows anything in a Wolfe novel; least of all his readers. Regardless, I enjoyed the story of Horn/Silk's adventure in the long sun whorl. As always, Wolfe provided a few more memorable characters in the forms of Pig and Olivine, among others. And to be fair to Wolfe (who maybe takes more flack for not solving his mysteries than he should), he does provide us with some definitive information about how the inhuma are born (316), the immediate fate of the long sun whorl (331, 411), that Horn/Silk sacrificed one of his eyes so that Pig might see again (372), that Silk was a test tube baby (129), that Pas is now referred to, by the Crew of the long sun whorl, as Passilk (335), and so on. Perhaps most enjoyable, however, was Horn's astral return to Urth, with Scylla/Cilinia, to find her grave with the help of a young Severian (chronologically around about chapter four of The Shadow of the Torturer, when he's nursing Triskele back to health). This return to The Book of the New Sun, the series that started me on this three-series journey through Wolfe's fascinating and complex future universe, filled me with a strong desire to re-read Severian's adventures, this time with his future, and the future of humanity, in mind. For as lukewarm, ultimately, as my response was to The Book of the Short Sun as a whole, Wolfe's prose reminds me again and again that he has created some of the most memorable stories that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I hope that, with time, my recollection of The Book of the Short Sun will be more charitable than it--possibly undeservedly--is now.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tom Ippen

    New Sun, Long Sun, Short Sun; I've never had an experience this challenging, inspiring, or enlightening. These books have changed my perspective on history, belief, and the nature of storytelling. I urge you to pick them up, from the very beginning. Good fishing!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christine Pompeo

    I finished reading the solar cycle and found this book to be enjoyable but not excellent. Wolfe set the bar pretty high with BOTNS and Urth of the New Sun, and his Long and Short Sun books didn't come close to that bar.

  26. 5 out of 5

    MF

    Wow! The Solar Cycle is absolutely amazing. Return to the Whorl was a fitting final volume.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jesus Barriga

    Too many limbs, not enough eyes.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    As good as the rest. He gets more religious in some ways in this one, and more sci-fi, with time and soul travel stuff.

  29. 4 out of 5

    matthew

    Wow

  30. 4 out of 5

    Adam Vine

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Spoilers. You've been warned. Reviewing this one is tough. The Book of the Short Sun is far more complex and confusing than either of the other two series in Wolfe's Solar Cycle, Book of the New Sun and Book of the Long Sun. While I loved this series as a whole, some parts of this, the final book, really rubbed me the wrong way. That isn't to say it's a bad book. It's a Gene Wolfe book, which means a few things. There are mind-blowing moments that fly completely under your radar. You won't reali Spoilers. You've been warned. Reviewing this one is tough. The Book of the Short Sun is far more complex and confusing than either of the other two series in Wolfe's Solar Cycle, Book of the New Sun and Book of the Long Sun. While I loved this series as a whole, some parts of this, the final book, really rubbed me the wrong way. That isn't to say it's a bad book. It's a Gene Wolfe book, which means a few things. There are mind-blowing moments that fly completely under your radar. You won't realize until much later (either when you finish the book and go back to think hard about the parts that don't make sense, or look up fan discussions online), that sometimes just single scenes or lines of seemingly insignificant description, held secrets that unlocked vast truths about this world and its characters. The big one for me was the connection between the trees, the liana vines on Green, the Vanished People, and the Inhumi. And I will admit that I missed all of it while I was reading the first two books in the series. However, because it's a Wolfe book, and a really, really Wolfe book at that, there are tons of character monologs that go on forever, featuring RPG-style conversation trees full of exposition that you sometimes wish would just end already, causing you to skim, and accidentally miss aforementioned scenes or lines that hold the keys to the entire story. While I love this approach in most of Wolfe's books, it missed the mark for me in Return to the Whorl, because the pacing is wrong. The first 50% of this book is painfully slow, and there was a lot that simply didn't need to be there or should have been edited down. I am a diehard Wolfe fan who has read almost all of his books, including BOTNS and BOTLS twice, and even I almost quit this one in the first half because it was too slow and expository. I'm glad I didn't quit, though, because the second half is all payoff, not only for the very gradual buildup of the first, but for the other two books, as well. I still have many questions about the Short Sun universe, and the universe of the whole Solar Cycle, such as: - Are the Green Man and the Vanished People connected? (I'm pretty sure they are, and that this connection is the key that unlocks the "big secret" of the Solar Cycle... but I'm not entirely sure) - Does Horn die when he falls in the hole? If so, who is the person who narrates the rest of the remaining 2.5/3 books of the series? - Are the Vanished People a hive mind? - If so, is this how they achieve astral projection? - Also if so, do the Vanished People absorb the minds of people the trees eat? - Also also if so, does this mean that when Horn dies, the rest of the series is narrated by a tree-person who believes he is Horn, then who believes he is Silk who believes he is Horn... like a really convoluted version of Alan Moore's Swamp thing? - Is Green a far-future Urth? - If Green is Urth, where did Blue come from? - If Green is Urth, why did Typhon send the generation ship off in the first place? - Is the base form of the Inhumi those reptilian/slug-like blank slates, as the text suggests multiple times, and did they become the liana vines on Green from feeding on the Vanished people? I think - Did the Inhumi gain their ability to absorb minds from the Vanished People, or the other way around? - Is/was/will this be how the Hieros evolve from mankind and eventually guide the formation of Briah/future Briah/Past Briah? The fact I have these questions, and not the answers to them, tells me that Wolfe did his job. He once again wove a complex, multi-faceted tale that is both far larger in scope than it first appears, and is reluctant to yield or even reveal all of its plot threads on a single read-through. I just wish the final volume had been paced a little bit better, so I would have been more able to follow the text as closely as it wanted me to. Score for RttW: 3 Stars Score for Book of the Short Sun Series as a whole: 4.5 Stars

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