Shadow of the Torturer chapters one to four.

1

Severian the apprentice torturer and his companions sneak into a necropolis and encounter three revolutionaries robbing a grave, including the famed Vodalus. He saves Vodalus's life, and Vodalus gives Severian a coin.

We learn of the life of a torturer's apprentice, and how Severian nearly drowned just before the necropolis encounter swimming in the River Gyoll. Severian heals and briefly adopts a wounded "dog".

«1

Comments

  • 2

    Some thoughts...

    • The book is presented as a memoir, and presents the world as if the reader is familiar with it, though not with all aspects. Sometimes this throws me for a loop. For instance, the animals are referred to as if they are present day animals, but they're really very different. There's a reference to bears regrowing their limbs by licking, and it's clear from the description that Triskele is not a dog such as we know today.
    • In chapter 3, Severian wondering if he imagined the Vodalus incident. Despite his claims of perfect memory, this is a suggestion his narration isn't necessarily the absolute truth of things. And he takes certain things for granted about the world. A certain cruelty (the animal fights, for instance, not to mention the torturers). He takes some things he's been told as truth, even if we as reader might doubt (for instance, the cruelty of women torturers in the past).
    • Fulegin. The shade darker than black. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fg2x0L4YAuU and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOSWHyCVX-o
    • The use of unusual and archaic words rather than invented words for unusual and archaic concepts is something I love. I also like the use of Latin as a stand in for an archaic language in the world. It feels right.
  • 3

    Bears were said (by Plato? Aristotle? Maybe some anonymous bestiary author?) to lick their cubs into shape - literally. They were initially shapeless lumps and the mother bear licked them to form them into cubs.

    As for the dogs, they sounds like mastiffs, or perhaps descendants of mastiffs, further specialized by breeding.

  • 1

    I've only just got hold of this so will be a bit behind... will catch up over the weekend hopefully

  • 1

    There's also the reference that the first underground chamber in the torturer's tower used to be the tower's propulsion system. So are these towers, or are they parked rockets?

    I hadn't realised that the main character in these books was a torturer, and the description of the torture victim has already made me very uncomfortable. Is there much more cruelty and torture in the book?

  • 1

    I noticed that about the propulsion system, @NeilNjae! the overall medieval feel of the setting is overlain with ancient technology. There are references to people going to the stars long ago, much like the Dying Earth series. As for the torture thing, I have avoided these books for a very long time because that does not appeal to me. The only grimdark I like is black humor. I am gritting my teeth and reading this book because others wanted it and I want to be part of this group... also because I knew for damn sure I couldn't read Moby Dick, having tried many times! :D

  • 2
    FOMO at work on Clash Bowley? I never... Anyway good on you for putting your money where your vote is. I read this once a couple of years ago and seem to recall he leaves the guild early in the book and embarks on a picaresque adventure. I think the level of gruesome is consistent with Elric of Melnibone. And Paul’s as sensitive a chap as anyone, so I don’t think you need to worry about one of his recos being too gruesome.
  • 2
    Yes, Severian doesn't remain a torturer, and there are no graphic torture scenes that I recall. Though the flayed foot scene wasn't something I remembered and also made me uncomfortable.

    Good call on the towers perhaps being parked rockets. The whole world seems post space-age...there was interstellar travel and alien influences, but now such feels rare, the technology no longer fully understood.

    And clash, good call on the ancient world reference to bears. What was it with ancient Greek philosophers? They as good as invented logic and geometry, and could measure the circumference of the Earth, but refused to take elementary observations when it came to animal life.
  • 2

    @dr_mitch - I have often thought the same thing about the ancients and wondered if the nature of reality was as plastic as they make it seem back then... Might be an interesting game world... :wink:

  • 2

    There has to be something in Plato's theory of forms for an RPG magic system. Coming soon...clash bowley's "Plato was right." :)

  • 4

    @clash_bowley said:
    Bears were said (by Plato? Aristotle? Maybe some anonymous bestiary author?) to lick their cubs into shape - literally. They were initially shapeless lumps and the mother bear licked them to form them into cubs.

    I recall reading something recently that this is a perfectly sensible observation. Newborn bears do look like pretty shapeless lumps, covered in gunk, and the mothers spend a lot of time licking all that off to reveal something bear-like. From a distance, it looks like the cub is being licked into shape, and if you're close enough to a mother bear and her newborn cub to see better… you've probably got more pressing matters on your mind than careful zoological observation.

  • 1
    > @dr_mitch said:
    > There has to be something in Plato's theory of forms for an RPG magic system. Coming soon...clash bowley's "Plato was right." :)

    "Bless me, what do they teach them in these schools nowadays?"
  • 2

    @dr_mitch said:
    There has to be something in Plato's theory of forms for an RPG magic system. Coming soon...clash bowley's "Plato was right." :)

    You are too funny, Paul! :smiley:

  • 4
    I love the world-building in these first few chapters. We get a sense of the physical layout of the Citadel and the social organization of the city, including political discontent against the Autarch as well as the presence of some different guilds and the optimates. It clearly positions the book as sf rather than fantasy, a less whimsical Dying Earth. I like Severian the boy torturer; like many of Wolfe's narrators, he comes across as ingenuous and somewhat naive. But he also mentions "backing into the throne," so we know that bigger things are in store for him.
  • 2

    The Citadel reminds me of Gormenghast.

  • 2
    In the Citadel I love the idea of the Guilds. And maybe some of them are obsolete or confused over their original functions. I have to wonder for example what the Witches do, and why they're associated to the Torturers.
  • 2

    Ch. 1.

    • "A lift of his thin, freckled arm indicated the thousands of paces of wall stretching across the slum and sweeping up the hill until at last they met the high curtain wall of the Citadel. It was a walk I would take, much later." Since one of the books is titled The Citadel of the Autarch, I think we can look at this as some pretty serious foreshadowing. And of course we get it confirmed at the end of the first chapter "the long journey by which I have backed into the throne."

    • "Certain mystes aver that the real world has been constructed by the human mind, since our ways are governed by the artificial categories into which we place essentially undifferentiated things, things weaker than our words for them." And later, "We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us." A bit of philosophy in your fantasy? Yes, please!

    • "There was a shot, a thing I had never seen before, the bolt of violet energy splitting the darkness like a wedge." Some kind of ray gun?

    • I love it when an author slips in cool words! I had to look up "badelaire" - "A French sword with a heavy, curved blade and S-shaped quillions; used during the 16th century." And then we get, "They would be on us like a pack of dholes, Madame." I think we can assume he means the red, whistling wild dog of India [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhole] and not the slimy, 100+ foot long worms of Lovecraft [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhole_(Cthulhu_Mythos)]. But I'll admit that my nerd-brain went to HPL first.

    • "Now give me one end ... and we'll have her out like a carrot." LOL. I love the image here and it perfectly communicates the disrespect for the dead a grave robber would have.

  • 2

    Ch. 2.

    • "Ymar, the Almost Just." Great title. :smiley:

    • Wow. That bit about them cutting open pregnant women and if the child draws breath, they accept it. That's some dark stuff.

    • More words. Caracara: "any of various large long-legged hawks found from the southern U.S. to South America that are classified with the falcons." And my favorite, saros: "a lunar cycle of 6585.32 days at the end of which the centers of sun and moon return so nearly to their relative positions at the beginning that all the eclipses of the period recur approximately as before though in longitudes about 120 degrees west of the regions where they were visible in the saros immediately preceding"

    • I'm not sure what to make of the coat of arms (fountain, ship, rose) or this passage yet: "Two thoughts (that were nearly dreams) obsessed me and made them infinitely precious. The first was that at some not-distant time, time itself would stop … the colored days that had so long been drawn forth like a chain of conjuror’s scarves come to an end, the sullen sun wink out at last. The second was that there existed somewhere a miraculous light—which I sometimes conceived of as a candle, sometimes as a flambeau—that engendered life in whatever objects it fell upon, so that a leaf plucked from a bush grew slender legs and waving feelers, and a rough brown brush opened black eyes and scurried up a tree."

    • I assume ropes and snails is like snakes and ladders? :) "or scratched boards on the soil of new graves and played draughts with stones, and ropes and snails, and high-toss-cockle."

    • Wolfe drops one of the biggest clues yet that this is a hybrid setting, fantasy + SF, "and even in some degree from the pale cacogens who sometimes visit Urth from the farther stars."

    • I guess the woman was Death. Interesting that the fisherman asks him "not a woman?" when he says he says he saw the old master of apprentices.

  • 1

    Sorry. These are two long. I'll boil my thoughts down more from here. Just so much good stuff here at the outset.

  • 2

    Ch. 3/4: On the Clients

    • It's so much more awful that the torturers call their victims "clients."

    • Severian talks about the beast handlers taking a lion or bear sow in marriage, clarifying that it's a bond so close that they afterward shun women. (Which still leaves the nature of how this marriage is consummated in question, but we won't go there.) The point I want to make is that he compares it to the bond between torturer and client. A kind of Stockholm Syndrome, I reckon, is what he means. Shudder. And vice versa "All love that which they destroy."

  • 1
    Great stuff @Ray_Otus ! Not too long - thought provoking passages. These kinds of observations heighten my enjoyment. Incidentally I was watching two caracaras through the binocs just an hour ago.

    @Bill_White says SF. I say Fantasy. You say both. I can see the hybrid angle - it’s got future trappings, but there isn’t really any attempt projecting the impact of science and tech on future society, so it’s not SF for me, but Future Fantasy I suppose. More like Dying Earth than, say, Vernon Vinge’s Zones of Thought novels (which we should do one day, btw) which are wondrous, but sill scientific.
  • 1

    @clash_bowley said:
    The Citadel reminds me of Gormenghast.

    In what way? (I have never read Gormenghast, but I'm curious.)

  • 2
    edited March 25

    Hi, Ray Otus!
    Gormenghast is a giant, rambling, partly ruined castle with an inward focused population, set in a technologically advanced world, though the castle mostly ignores that. It would be accurate to say if Gormenghast was built on the Dying Earth, the resemblance would be striking.

  • 1

    BTW. I read these once before a looooong time ago. I loved them for tone, but will admit that I just let the stuff that confused me wash over me. It's nice to be able to focus on the work in smaller chunks. Mirrors and light are a big theme that you will see rehashed. And this bit, from chapter 4 I believe, "like the repetitions of Father Inire’s mirrors in the House Absolute" is worth noting for future reference.

  • 1

    I thought this passage was particularly lyrical (referencing his encounter with Triskele).

    "There are encounters that change nothing. Urth turns her aged face to the sun and he beams upon her snows; they scintillate and coruscate until each little point of ice hanging from the swelling sides of the towers seems the Claw of the Conciliator, the most precious of gems. Then everyone except the wisest believes that the snow must melt and give way to a protracted summer beyond summer.

    Nothing of the sort occurs. The paradise endures for a watch or two, then shadows blue as watered milk lengthen on the snow, which shifts and dances under the spur of an east wind. Night comes, and all is at it was."

  • 2

    What the... LOL.

    "Is that what you call it? The Atrium of Time? Because of the dials, I suppose."
    "No, the dials were put there because we call it that."

  • 1

    @Apocryphal @Bill_White I subscribe to the idea that this is primarily fantasy set in a SF world. But it actually becomes a little more SF as you progress. It almost varies chapter by chapter. It's not an easy work to pigeonhole, which is part of the reason it is often "given a miss" by fans.

  • 2
    Yes, the term "clients" makes me shudder. And the torturers' professionalism and detachment, the way Severian has taken all this on board as the right way to behave.

    I read an interview with Gene Wolfe where he mentioned part of the book was about Severian learning virtue- the process of growing a conscience, despite his upbringing working against it.

    As for fantasy or science fiction...it feels fantasy when I try to think of it as science fiction and science fiction when I try to think of it as fantasy. There are ample science fiction trappings with a much more primitive world view. There's a mysticism about it which doesn't really feel science fiction. But it feels completely coherent.

    And @Ray_Otus definitely not too long!
  • 2

    Right! Caught up now. What did I think? I liked the way that Gene Wolfe does not feel compelled to explain loads of stuff up front, but just lets you work it out as you go along. And that while he as author has a good grasp of what's where, none of the characters seem to have much of a clue of anything outside their very specific and circumscribed tasks.

    I wasn't sold on the language, with all of the unusual/archaic words tossed in - it felt a bit alphabet soup to me a lot of the time. Some of my historical fiction friends (especially, for some reason, those who write about the events leading up to the Norman Conquest) feel compelled to use lots of Saxon words every few paragraphs. I find it disrupts the narrative flow in that context, and gives very little in return... and I have something of the same feeling here. Pace @dr_mitch who evidently likes this :smile: Also it is a weird hybrid of Latin and Greek - for example the coin names orichalks, asimi, chrisos are nearly pure Greek for brass, silver, gold, but other bits are Latin. I suspect he is just trying to give a sense of antiquity, and to build up the sense that this culture has largely forgotten its own past.

    I also had a sense that the culture basically ran on its own inertia rather than having a real vitality left, and assume that this is exactly what Gene Wolfe meant to convey. For example, the torturers are more properly "seekers for Truth and Penitence", but are instructed not to actually listen to or take note of whatever their "clients" say. Which would be weird unless you simply wanted to maintain the status quo over a very long time.

    It's not yet clear to me (and I don't think it's supposed to be clear at this stage) whether the culture is predominantly religious or pragmatic. The torturers are clearly supposed to remind us of the Inquisition, but I don't get much sense that religion or faith play much part in daily lives. There is a real feeling of living in the ruins of former glory.

    In summary: mixed so far, and I'll be interested to see how it develops. The story hasn't drawn me in yet, but neither has it put me off.

  • 1

    I think "culture ran on its own inertia rather than having a real vitality left" is exactly on point. I also think the mish mash from ancient languages is deliberate, and a way of showing the long past all blends into one, half-forgotten.

  • 1

    Is there a post for the next section?

Sign In or Register to comment.