Written by: Gene Wolfe, 1980-1983
Instrument of the Apocalypse: A cooling Earth (Urth) due to a dying sun.
Summary: I find these books, which are worshipped among lovers of hard SF, to be almost impossible to understand, let alone summarize, but basically they trace the incredible journey of Severian, apprentice torturer, as he has many adventures and eventually becomes Autarch of his dying world. (There is a follow-up novel, The Urth of the New Sun, in which the Autarch’s people decide to do something about the dying sun, but I haven’t gotten around to that one yet.) Dense and allusive, full of strange and obscure (but darkly beautiful) language, these books defy interpretation; if you’re like me, you’ll struggle through the books with determination and a sense of purpose, finish them with profound relief, and Tweet your friends: “WOW. That was powerful and rewarding and intense. Those books are totally deep. — I think?”
On Screen: No. Even in Hollywood, I can’t imagine who would be mad enough to try. (With that said, I picture Paul Dano as Severian.)
We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is the acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life – they are soldiers from that moment, although they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by then, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.