The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe; Centipede Press

When it comes to fine print editions of novels and longer works,  it is common to see the “classics” of literature. Often it is a classic title and other times a less well known novel by a “classic” author. So it is always nice to see more eclectic titles outside of that bubble and in other genres. Maybe because novels tend to be larger and thus more risky than other things like poetry, presses seem fairly conservative in the titles they choose to publish. I guess Virginia Wolfe is perceived as much less risky that Gene Wolfe?

The Centipede Press is one of the presses I’ve run across that make a living outside the mainstream bubble, specializing in science fiction, horror, gothic, and supernatural titles. Others I can think of are the Subterranean Press and Tartarus Press. Centipede Press mainly concentrates on the horror, crime, and science fiction. I was happy to stumble upon them right when they started publishing Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun a few years back. This series was one of my favorites back in my late teens when I read a LOT of science fiction. They are now halfway through the series having published The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, and The Sword of the Lictor. Remaining to be published are The Citadel of the Autarch, The Urth of the New Sun and The Castle of the Otter. They are publishing them at a rate of about one per year in a limitation of 100. Jared Walters, the proprietor of the press, has chosen an ideal illustrator for the series in Alex Preuss. I think he really captures the spirit of the books in his illustrations and they are vividly reproduced nicely in the each of the volumes. Each book is signed both by Wolfe and bound and slipcased in series in different colors of cloth and with a sewn in ribbon marker. Overall, these are very nice high quality books. The only minor complaint I have is that The Shadow of the Torturer is slightly taller than the other volumes as might be noticed in the pictures.

Title spread for The Shadow of the Torturer

The storyline follows the torturer’s apprentice Severian through various adventures starting shortly before he is dismissed from the Torturer’s Guild for showing mercy on a prisoner. It is set in the far future of our planet when the sun is dying with obvious consequences for Earth, or Urth as it is referred to here. The human race had dispersed to the stars and those that return brought back all sorts of attendant extra-terrestrials and gadgets before Severian’s time. Wolfe has created a complex world and a multi-layered tale that has won numerous awards, been called a masterwork by some, and

Title Spread for The Claw of the Conciliator

spawned a fair amount of literary study over the years since it was first published in the 80’s. For me, this is a series I can read and re-read with pleasure, gaining additional understanding and nuance as I go along. Curiously enough, I am not totally sure that I have read all of the books in the series yet. I am fairly certain I read the four books that comprise the original series but I don’t think I ever got to the coda The Urth of the New Sun or the commentary The Castle of the Otter. So I am looking forward to reading the series through as they are published.

Title spread for The Sword of the Lictor

I would love to see some more science fiction and fantasy series get the fine press treatment. Maybe Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series, Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster of Hed, or maybe some of the early Pern books of Anne McCaffrey. I, for one, would definitely be tempted by these as they are some of my favorites. I’ll look forward to the completion of the series and to what new titles Jared may have up his sleeve next.

Availability: While I believe that the first two books are now out of print, the third book, The Sword of the Lictor is still available from Centipede Press. As of this writing, I did not see any books listed on the second-hand market.

Colophon for The Shadow of the Torturer

For those wishing to delve into some of the detailed studies and reviews of The Book of the New Sun, I suggest you start with the following:

The Ultan’s Library: a resource for the study of Gene Wolfe

What Gene Wolfe Expects of His Readers: The Urth of the New Sun as an Answer to Mysteries in The Book of the New Sun by Michael Andre-Driussi

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