Citadel of the Autarch, chapters 20 to 22


Severian goes to war. And war is hell.

(Actually, I don't have much to say about these chapters, but the battle and run-up to it had a sense of reality to it; the writing was very good.)


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    The main feature of these chapters was the weirdness of the various forces engaged in the battle. Near-naked infantry, midgets on blind giant humans, peltasts with large glowing shields. And despite the widespread use of energy weapons, the tactics of the battle seemed downright Napoleonic.

    And was anybody else really confused by who was doing what to whom in Ch 20, the attack on gold transporter?

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    My thoughts? It was weird-ass for the sake of being weird-ass. It made no sense whatever.

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    Totally chaotic, and deliberately so on Gene Wolfe's part I think. The oddness for me was in the lack of any understanding of the big picture (and for me this made it, as @NeilNjae says, Napoleonic). Each unit seemed oblivious of the whole, though one assumes there was a cunning masterplan being coordinated somewhere, and there was apparently no equivalent of radio.

    The gold transporter bit, oddly, made most sense, especially on second read - Severian was basically playing two potential enemies off against each other in order to get his own unit out alive. The arrival of the flying girls was the most confusing bit, but I took Guasacht's explanation to mean that they were actually on the same side.
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    edited November 2019

    @RichardAbbott - I realize that Wolfe meant it to be chaotic. The fighting units were what made no sense to me. They looked like they came out of a pre-game set up session using random tables of people, mounts, weapons, and accoutrements. I had no problem following what was going on. The tactics were Napoleonic because that's how Wolfe wanted the world. With no radio communications, that's what it gets reduced to.

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    > @clash_bowley said:
    >. The fighting units were what made no sense to me. They looked like they came out of a pre-game set up session using random tables of people, mounts, weapons, and accoutrements.

    Yes, that captures it very well. Either warfare in this age makes no sense, or both sides just had some random units in the area and just made it up as they went along!

    I can't square up in my mind the gulf between the super powerful energy weapons we see every so often, and the hand to hand melee occurring in actual battles
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    Chaotic indeed - I like chaotic descriptions of battle - it matches what I see in the better war movies. No wonder soldiers get PTSD.

    On the matter of the flying girls, I'll repost the rather excellent cover picture for this book that I dug up and posted in the most recent newsletter.


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    edited December 2019

    Also, the the flying wheels not make you think of Ezekiel? I thought it was pretty cool how they were described.

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    > @Apocryphal said:
    > Also, the the flying wheels not make you think of Ezekiel? I thought it was pretty cool how they were described.

    From Ezekiel's first vision:
    "This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around."

    The book cover... a slightly toned down version of Gene Wolfe's description as in the book they weren't wearing bras... but you've also alerted me to the fact that I seem to have missed your latest newsletter :)
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    BTW, not related to this particular group of chapters, but a general point... going for a walk yesterday in our frosty fells here brought home to me again just how good, in an unobtrusive way, Gene Wolfe is at describing a nearly-dead world. Only very occasionally does he remind us of this - one such time is when Severian was coming down the huge cliff face, and GW comments that the terrain is formed not by tectonics, but my the crust shrinking around the planet through age. But seeing lively streams and such like highlighted to me how consistently he makes the world and its natural life seem old and in terminal decline.

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    "Let me have your contus, and I'll hold your position for you until you come back."
    I handed over the long weapon. "Who are these people, anyway?"
    "These? Camp followers. Sutlers and whores - men as well as women. Deserters." p.304

    Contus: Greek - long pole or pike - from 'I sting/goad'
    Sutler: A person who follows an army selling provisions.

    It was a fight I did not feel I could take part in. I reined up, and so saw - I believe, before any of the others - the first of the anpiels who dropped, like the angel in Melito's fable, from the sun-dyed clouds. They were fair to look upon, naked and having the slender bodies of young women; but their rainbow wings spread wider than any teratornis's, and each anpiel held a pistol in either hand. p.307

    Anpiel: In ancient Hebrew mysticism, Anpiel is one of the angels charged by rabbis with the government of birds, for every known species was put under the protection of one or more angels.
    Teratornis: Large, extinct, vulture-like, American bird of prey.

    On the day of battle, the graisle's bray summoned us from our blankets at dawn. p.309

    Graisle: a type of horn used in battle five-armed shapes that spun like wheels pursued us above the scattered clouds that dimmed and melted in the level red light of dawn. At first, when they were highest, they seemed merely gray; but as we watched they dropped toward us, and saw they were of a hue for which I can find no name but that stands to achroma as gold to yellow, or silver to white. The air groaned with their turning....
    I had supposed, when I saw our people scatter, that it would be impossible to reassemble the column; but within a few moments of the time the pentadactyl air-strider had passes over us, we were together again. p.310

    Achroma: an absence of colour.
    Pentadactyl: having five toes or fingers.

    I rescued Daria, who I had no known was in the column, in this way. She looked very pretty and boyish dressed as a trooper, with a contus, and a slender sabre at either side of her saddle horn. I could not help thinking when I saw her of how other women I had known would appear in the same situation: Thea a theatrical warrior maid, beuatiful and dramatic but essentially a figure of a figurehead; Thecla - now part of myself - a vengeful mimalone brandishing poisoned weapons; Agia astride a slender-legged sorrel, wearing a cuirass molded to her figure, while her hair, plaited with bowstrings, flew wild into the wind; Jolenta a floriate queen in armour spikey with thorns, her big breasts and fleshy thighs absurd at any gait faster than a walk, smiling dreamily at each halt and attempting to recline in the saddle; Dorcas a naiad riding, lifted momentarily like a fountain flashing with sunshine; Valeria, perhaps, an aristocratic Daria. p.310

    Mimalone: According to the Lexicon Urthus, a set of maenads who wore horned headresses was were more violent than most; the killers of Orpheus.
    Floriate: Having floral ornaments - rather obvious, I guess.

    The cherjakis had recoiled, retreating behind a screen of hobilers who directed a shower of arrows at the leading edge of the Ascians' checkerboard battle line. p.316

    Cherkajis: Persian light cavalry
    Hobiler: (obsolete) A light horseman

    Daria laughed. "They'd fight like alraunes if either of you tried to have anything to do with them. They're scared and forbidden, the Daughters of War. Have you ever been around those animals they're riding?"

    Alraune: From old german for 'mandrake', meaning in this context 'a sorcerer'.

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