'How could the Outsider have chosen such a bungler? ...When had he ever offered a single sacrifice, however small, to the Outsider? Never! Not one in his entire life. Yet the Outsider had extended infinite credit to him... Certainly he would never be able to repay the Outsider for the knowledge and the honor, no matter how hard or how long he tried.' (Gene Wolfe, Nightside The Long Sun)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Delany & Wolfe - 1st skirmish

I read Samuel R. Delany's first novel The Jewels of Aptor (1962) recently and its pulpy creature-horror adventure vibe as well as its far-future lost-technology/magic premise were very fun.  But it reminded me forcefully of how truly amazing Gene Wolfe is at the same tropes.  In fact, he elevates said tropes straight into true artistry and 'literature'.  I mentioned this in my review of Delany's novel at my THPDDHOTH blog.  Let me elaborate just slightly here simply by saying that whereas Aptor exuberantly portrays winged and furred soldier-creatures, carnivorous beasts, and other monstrosities in quick succession almost for the fun of it, with vague justification and of little real help to the plot, Wolfe's Book of the New Sun is heavily populated with such monsters and marvels and each one is not only subtly rendered but also feels like another layer added to the entirety of the world-building and plot. The Alzabo feels philosophically deep as well as eminently creepy.  Notules are not only uniquely terrifying but also help enrich the premise of an Urth cryptically pervaded with alien fauna.  Man-apes in underground tunnels are as viscerally thrilling as any pulp heroic adventure story but also help develop a sense of the spiritual power of the Claw and Severian's messianic role.  No monster is thematically wasted it seems and each one is a poetic gem of evocation.  Masterful.

In the review of Aptor I also take a brief look at the theological view Delany was putting forth in the novel and contrast it with the theological vision of R. A. Lafferty.  It would be interesting to do this with Wolfe in relation to Delany as well.  It would probably be a slightly more complex conversation between the two worldviews whereas Delany and Lafferty are more forthrightly opposed (though digging deeper into their theological conversation would undoubtedly also elicit much nuance).  But I think a philosophical comparison between Delany and Wolfe will be much more fruitful when I've read more of Delany's mature work.

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