Uncanny Valley Digest: Shadow Of The Torturer

don-maitz_the-shadow-of-the-torturer_ny-pocket-books-1981_82825-8Last night’s Shadow Of The Torturer discussion jingled and jangled! The book itself has lofty goals, and the prose style conveys them allusively. The tone of this book is equal in formality to Canticle For Leibowitz. High praise coming from this group. The women are much more real than in any science book we’ve read this year. As the plot thickens, so does the reader’s interest.


I’ll admit, it took me a while to get warmed up, about 50 or 60 pages. But then once I let go, sank in, and let the prose be what it was, I didn’t want to do anything but read this excellent book.
An orphan raised to Journeyman by the Guild of Torturers (Seekers for Truth and Penitence, some call it), is exiled upon showing mercy to a prisoner.

It’s part of Wolfe’s Solar Cycle: Three four-book series, each set in the New Sun universe. Which reminds me of Dark Sun, and – by the way – this book is a D & D nerd’s dreamscape! Such a powerful, dark, refined, rendering of a role playing vibe from the Gygax halcyon days. A real D & D world, and written with depth and beauty. So nerdy, so many cloaks, swords, lances, pikes, and thieves, giants, exotic mounts, ruffians, guards, warriors, gypsies and magistrates, shopkeepers, innkeepers, pilgrims, and dark arcana.

The Wolfe Man Cometh...
The Wolfe Man Cometh…

Literature? By Wolfe’s definition…
Wolfe said, in a letter to Neil Gaiman: “My definition of good literature is that which can be read by an educated reader, and reread with increased pleasure.”

Very similar verbose, eloquent (and stilted), allusive prose as Miller, Jr. in Canticle. But less of a handle on humor.

Interesting note: Both authors are Catholics and I think they show it in each novel. The order of torturers, the guilds in general, the almost liturgical arcane-flavored style of prose, the tight are treated as churches or monastic orders. The same style of rules.
p.111 dressed as a holy man in a world without religion.

Very deft use of obscure language, most of it as refreshed Latin or ancient Greek. And very efficient use of macabre imagery. Just a few brief atrocities spread wide across the book, but they were all that was needed. The atmosphere of the prose, and the psychedelic descriptions of the world outside the citadel.

Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 6.59.04 PMScreen shot 2015-07-08 at 6.59.13 PMScreen shot 2015-07-08 at 6.59.21 PM Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 6.49.40 PM

Alienated From Their Origins
This theme has come up a few times this summer. The characters are so far removed from any epoch of time with which we are familiar (through our histories) that they have no idea what we “were” like. A medieval recreation of atmosphere, brutal monarch, walled feudal city, obscure punishments. Then we start to learn this is the far future, Jack Vance Dying Earth stuff. The place these people call the citadel was probably a starship, with all of its thick walls and corridors, all metal, and revealed ever so gradually, and most times downright eloquently, over the course of a three hundred pages of gothic prose.

Women Characters
Thank Wolfe-ness these women had some dimension. Distinct personalities and motivations. A little hetero normative, but excellent depth and texture.
Thecla, Agia, Dorcas – what characters!

Party dog want SNACKS!

Great Jack Vance Dying Earth Stuff
Red sun, FAR future.
Monochamy – formalized one-on-one mortal combat meant to resolve serious disputes. It is described as a social custom designed to eliminate murder.
super psychedelic, in a guilt ridden catholic way, not some poly-amorous Heinlein shit
Super bleak, but also adherent to the concept of duty
Like Leibowitz: A conservative religious approach that humans need very strict instructions and restrictions or everything falls apart. (Or  is it that the human solution to everything falling apart is strict social control?)
Looking for ancient earth, Like some Asimov Foundation stuff, and the predicament of the characters in Canticle For Leibowitz.

The Garden
The long road to the weapon he must pluck. Where each terrarium is a kind of holodeck on steroids. An immersive tour of what magic technology may become. A place where people become lost and the dead are stowed.

One of our visitors had to hop off.
Uh, is he Australian…?

Consensus Reality
Strong and weak minds and the porous boundaries of reality (PKD was hooked on this concept, how a more grounded or aggressive mind could actually alter the contours of the reality of a less grounded or less aggressive mind.) He’s making an important distinction between the signifier and the signified.
P.66 “Weak people believe what is forced on them. Strong people what they wish to believe, forching that to be real.”
p.127-9 This whole passage (culminating in “…an object will be brought into existence.”) on light and refraction is beyond me. Help…
The octagonal mirror room of optics. It’s like they are creating material objects by perceiving their reflections first. It also reminds me of interstellar wyrmhole ansible kind of stuff. The mechanics of it are described using writing that’s meant to be misunderstood. Complex esoterica bullshit.
p.195 “unseen is as good as unbeen”
p.110 – a child’s sight of other worlds, and hidden parts of the self

Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 8.04.29 PMScreen shot 2015-07-08 at 8.04.39 PMHow does Wolfe make a torturer character likable?
By making him more compassionate than his compatriots. The narrator professionalizes their order so they are just doing their jobs. Severain developed an emotional bond with one of the prisoners immediately.

Unless Severain is lying, he’s almost unscrupulously honest, but at the most peculiar times. As soon as he gives Thecla the knife, he goes and turns himself in.

p. 182 On Clemency: One less one is more than nothing.

A note from Wikipedia: Wolfe intentionally uses the unreliable narrator perspective and writes in the first person, as the character Severain. He believes any narrator would be unreliable, fallible. It also makes for more interesting literary problem solving for the reader.

Wrap up: LOVED IT! The only other book we’ve enjoyed more this season was Canticle For Leibowitz.

Thanks for reading. See you next week!
Thanks for reading. See you next week!

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