The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Welcome to Conan the Librarian set in the far, far distant future as he lops off heads, resurrects the dead, watches creation-epic plays, and misunderstands the meaning of the universe.
Sound interesting? I've got a claw here I'd like to sell you. It comes with about three tomes of myth references couched deeply in imagery, an insistence on making us think that we must, actually, be living in a disjointed dream, and admittedly damn awesome world-building taking Clarke's maxim to the max but letting us flounder about just as much as Severian our hapless executioner/tomekeeper.
This book is what I consider a *Difficult Reading Experience*, in the same way that any book that prefers to be overflowing with myth references can be, thoroughly confusing the reader if you're not reading the text on that level and probably confusing the hell out of the reader even if you are.
In that respect, this is probably a worse book than the first, which at least had a fairly comprehensible plot, character development, and fairly easy progression.
On the other hand, this one had some shockingly great action scenes that led to Severian's capture, reconfirmation within the ranks, a descent into the underworld, a jaunt with the morlocks, and a quiet season at the playhouse. With witches.
There is a lot to love, but I can't help but think that I'm missing a great portion of it. That which I do get, from Adam and Eve to Ulysses to the bucketful of archetypes, seems incomprehensible in terms of plot progression.
Except... And because I haven't done any additional research or read any scholarly works on this far future SF, this is only a slight and weird intuition on my part... I get the feeling that the far future, not only having colonized the universe and having conquered space AND time, they have also conquered the role of observation upon the continuum, and beyond that, are able to slip and slide along the slope of Metaphor Made Reality.
What does this mean? It means, in a very serious way, that our distant descendants are able to make their Jungian collective unconsciousness mix with the physical reality of the universe, limited only to what knowledge gets preserved over the ages and it is NOT quite functional. I think, in this case, it's tied to the Claw of the Conciliator, and because it's only Severian who's using it, I think we can blame all of this horrible mess on him.
He's the one with the hodge-podge education, and everyone else in the world is swirling around and being modified right down to their experiences and memories as he goes along on his Grand Quest.
It's the only way that my poor abused mind can make sense of this wonderful, difficult, beautiful, crazy work.
Or maybe the worm eating the sun has finally finished the core, allowing it to collapse like rotten fruit, JUST LIKE MY BRAIN.
I'll leave it up to you, dear reader, to make the judgement call. :)
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