I have tried to be objective about The Solar Cycle in previous blog posts. I’ve always tried to sum up what the story means to me. I have always failed before, and I failed in my first draft of this blog post to be objective, yet again.I just can’t do it yet, folks. So this is going to be a rambling, overpersonal, dump of a post. You are warned.
If there was ever a book that told me what I wanted to be like, it’s The Wizard Knight, by Gene Wolfe. There’s a level of honor and decency, even amidst the other problems of Sir Able, that I want others to see in me. I hope someday that will be true. I have never consciously asked to be perfect, only good enough. The Wizard Knight is one of the few books that make me feel like I had a hearty steak dinner after reading it.
I start that off because that’s never been the feeling I’ve gotten from reading any of the Solar Cycle books. No, that’s never been my experience. All the books of the Solar Cycle are like holding up a mirror to a leprosy survivor, who hasn’t seen his face in a very long time. It’s a phenomenally painful experience, but there’s a moment of “Oh, so that’s where I’m at, this is what I have to work with”. There’s a horror, but at least (for me) a moment of hope, a moment where I know that, regardless of how bad it is, I am what I am. It’s a deeply personal and harrowing experience, but one that I can either be in despair about or hopeful. The only book I have a stronger experience of this disconcerting and awful hope with than Urth of the New Sun is The Book of the Short Sun. And we’ll get there. Oh, we’ll get there. But, for now, we’re at Urth of the New Sun.
There are books that are good because they challenge you to be different, like Wizard Knight. Or really any classic. I’d no idea there were books that challenged you by just showing you the world as you see it, in the clearest of possible terms, and dare you to actually own it.
Urth of the New Sun is a fever dream of St. Maximos the Confessor, Jewish mythology, and complex PTSD, rammed into a tale of theodicy and hope. I mean, that’s one way I’d talk about it.
But I don’t think that does it justice.
Another way to sum up the book is that it is a practically autobiographical spiritual tale of the healing power of Christ, that Severian is a stand-in for any soul trying to heal and make her way home. When you read about Severian it is your own soul that is being talked about.
That’s still not correct! But y’know, horseshoes, hand grenades, and government work.
Another way to look at the book is an account of what humanity is actually like: grand, evil, good, wretched, but ultimately persevering in the face of its own evil. It is an astonishingly honest appraisal of what the future could be like for us humans.
That one probably stings hard for any liberal or progressive (no, Star Trek will never be our future. Never.), but that’s still not close enough.
Another way to look at Urth is as the admission of a spouse that he was never worthy, and no matter how hard he tries he never will be.
A pretty stinging viewpoint, but again, not enough.
What I see when I read Urth of the New Sun is a frank admission that none of those views are enough. It is a book of unparalleled complexity, weaving in each of the above elements (and more!) into a work that defies them all. It is a deliberate attempt to make the reader look at the opaqueness of the world and see the little trails of thread that let you pull the nailed-down curtain back, just a little bit more. Everything matters, and so therefore nothing can be truly known.
Ultimately, my response to The Solar Cycle is my RPG Crescendo, to answer art with art. I keep trying to babble beyond it, but ultimately the only real response I have to any of The Solar Cycle and The Wizard Knight is a piece of my own making. I have nothing else I can rationally bring forward, but I keep finding myself trying, no matter how foolish it is. These fever dreams of blog posts may not look like they belong on a gaming blog, but I assure you that there is no other point to them. If it wasn’t for space constraints I’d put these blog posts into the book itself.
So you’ll just have to put up with them here. Sorry not sorry.
Yes, I’m ending it on that note. Go check out where Crescendo is at in the Discord!