EPIPHANY OF THE LONG SUN is an omnibus that combines Caldé of the Long Sun and Exodus from the Long Sun.
A smooth speaker, naturally athletic, and an intuitive and inventive tactician, Silk may well prove to be the greatest Caldé that Viron has ever had. He even has impeccable manners. Even authors of fantasy, a genre that has created many near-perfect savior figures, run a risk when they make their heroes too good. Fortunately, Gene Wolfe’s defense against this charge is more in-depth than the throwaway “he’s a savior figure, so he’s supposed to be nearly perfect.”
In Epiphany of the Long Sun, Gene Wolfe compensates for Silk’s flawlessness by imposing an impressive set of handicaps and obstacles upon him. Even though he has the support of the people, Silk has relatively little clout. Sadly, religious and corporate interests have corrupted Viron’s council, and the world around them (a generation ship traveling to a distant planet) has begun to fall apart. The people’s champion is more a distraction than a threat.
However, Silk is a born politician (in the least cynical sense). Silk uses his wits and words to push the agenda of the people without compromising his values. If Silk sounds like a saint, it is because he may well be one. The series opens with Silk receiving enlightenment from a relatively unknown god, The Outsider.
And perhaps it will take a saint to fix all the things that are wrong with Viron. Just when life can’t get any worse, Viron is invaded. However, once again, Silk is called upon to lead his people to a safe destination, and these invaders, for all their military might, soon find themselves outmaneuvered by Viron’s great leader.
And if these difficulties are not enough to convince readers that Silk is not too perfect for sympathy, Wolfe reveals that Silk was engineered to be a great leader. Some readers might detect a hint of deus ex machina at this.
Perhaps that’s just as well, since gods actually are coming out of Viron’s machines. Or rather, people that uploaded their identities into machines so that they could become gods aboard a generation ship that is designed to deliver humanity to a new planet while Earth’s sun dies have taken an interest in Silk’s struggles. As if that isn’t enough, it seems that there are terrible alien creatures waiting to prey upon humanity on these new planets. Some of them are already aboard.
How will Silk lead his people to freedom and safety?
While some people may find Silk an unlikely leader, I enjoyed his story. Silk is unlikely, particularly when compared to other SFF heroes. Silk often talks, rather than duels, his way to victory, and readers who enjoy well-crafted dialogue should appreciate Epiphany of the Long Sun. In comparison to the first omnibus, Litany of the Long Sun, the scope of the novels’ conflict has shifted from Silk becoming a leader to the intrigues of Silk’s leadership. Gene Wolfe, as always, leaves a healthy amount of conflict and tension in the details and careful readers will find themselves rewarded for paying close attention.
The setting, a generation ship that has been traveling so long that its people have forgotten that they’re aboard a spaceship, is fantastic, but what makes Epiphany of the Long Sun, and The Book of the Long Sun as a whole, such a success is that Gene Wolfe has so carefully, perhaps flawlessly, executed his vision. Perhaps it is the excellence of Wolfe’s writing that makes Silk’s unlikely leadership so believable.
THE SOLAR CYCLE — (1980-2001) Contains the original series, The Book of the New Sun, and two sequel series: The Book of the Long Sun and The Book of the Short Sun.
The Book of the New Sun — (1980-1987) Omnibus editions available. Publisher: Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun is an extraordinary epic, set a million years in the future, on an Earth transformed in mysterious and wondrous ways, in a time when our present culture is no longer even a memory. Severian, the central character, is a torturer, exiled from his guild after falling in love with one of his victims, and journeying to the distant city of Thrax, armed with his ancient executioner’s sword, Terminus Est.
The Book of the Long Sun — (1993-1996) Publisher: In a decrepit school, children are taught to be soothsayers by Patera Silk, an innocent hero. Silk’s school is sold by his superiors to the crude businessman, Blood. Silk finds that he is a powerful sorcerer, and magic is in the air.
The Book of the Short Sun — (1999-2001) Publisher: ON BLUE’S WATERS is the start of a major new work by Gene Wolfe, the first of three volumes that comprise The Book of the Short Sun, which takes place in the years after Wolfe’s Book of the Long Sun. Horn, the narrator of the earlier work, now tells his own story. Though life is hard on the newly settled planet of Blue, Horn and his family have made a decent life for themselves. But Horn is the only one who can locate the great leader Silk, and convince him to return to Blue and lead them all to prosperity. Horn sets sail, in a small boat, on a long and difficult quest across the planet Blue in search of the now legendary Patera Silk.