The Book of the New Sun

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Every morning I wake up saying, I'm still alive; a miracle. And so I keep on pushing.
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The Book of the New Sun (1980-2) by Gene Wolfe is a series of novels set in the distant future detailing the life of an apprentice torturer.


  • "We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life—they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all."
    • Severian, ruminations on his life as an apprentice, and the events which led to the end of that life.
    • Source: The Shadow of the Torturer, Chapter I (Resurrection and Death)


  • "His yellow eyes held a certain clean madness."
    • Serverian, on the appearance of Triskele.
    • Source: The Shadow of the Torturer, Chapter III (Triskele), paragraph 9


  • "[T]he authority that punishes no one while there exists a chance for reformation will punish everyone when there is no possibility anyone will become the better for it."
    • Chatelaine Thecla, thoughts on philosophy of the afterlife.
    • Source: The Shadow of the Torturer, Chapter VIII (The Conversationalist), paragraph 8


  • "By the use of the language of sorrow I had for the time being obliterated my sorrow—so powerful is the charm of words, which for us reduces to manageable entities all the passions that would otherwise madden and destroy us."
    • Severian, on the power of language.
    • Source: The Shadow of the Torturer, Chapter XXIV (The Flower of Dissolution), section 3, paragraph 1


  • "We were one, naked and happy and clean, and we knew that she was no more and that I still lived, and we struggled against neither of those things, but with woven hair read from a single book and talked and sang of other matters."
    • Severian and Chatelaine Thecla when he absorbed her memories.
    • Source: The Claw of the Concilliator, Chapter XI (Thecla), final paragraph


  • "One who truly benefits another is for that moment at a level with the Pancreator, and in gratitude for that elevation will serve the other all his days..."
    • Serverian asserts that to truly help another person causes a subtle relationship to form.
    • Source: The Claw of the Concilliator


  • "The brown book I carry says there is nothing stranger than to explore a city wholly different from all those one knows, since to do so is to explore a second and unsuspected self. I have found a thing stranger: to explore such a city only after one has lived in it for some time without learning anything of it."
    • Severian reflects upon the sights of Thrax city as he goes to find Dorcas.
    • Source: The Sword of the Lictor, Chapter II (Upon the Cataract), paragraph 2


  • "That was the brightest day I've ever seen. The sun had new life in him, the way a man will when he was sick yesterday and will be sick tomorrow, but today he walks around and laughs so that if a stranger was to come he'd think there was nothing wrong, no sickness at all, that the medicines and the bed were for somebody else."
    • Casdoe's father, while remembering the painter Fechin
    • Source: The Sword of the Lictor


  • "[T]he very existence of such powers argues a counterforce. We call powers of the first kind dark, though they may use a species of deadly light... and we call those of the second kind bright, though I think that they may at times employ darkness, as a good man nevertheless draws the curtains of his bed to sleep. Yet there is truth to the talk of darkness and light, because it shows plainly that one implies the other. The tale I read to little Severian said that the universe was but a long word of the Increate's. We, then, are syllables of that word. But the speaking of any word is futile unless there are other words, words that are not spoken. If a beast has but one cry, the cry tells nothing; and even the wind has a multitude of voices, so that those who sit indoors may hear it and know if the weather is tumultuous or mild. The powers we call dark seem to me to be the words the Increate did not speak... and these words must be maintained in a quasi-existence, if the other word, the word spoken is to be distinguished. What is not said can be important - but what is said is more important... And if the seekers after dark things find them, may not the seekers after bright find them as well? And are they not more apt to hand their wisdom on?"
    • Severian on why magic is rare in the world.
    • Source: The Sword of the Lictor


  • "Just as the room of the Inquisitor in Dr. Talos's play, with its high judicial bench, lurked somewhere at the lowest level of the House Absolute, so we have each of us in the dustiest cellars of our minds a counter at which we strive to repay the debts of the past with the debased currency of the present."
    • Severian explains his choice to neglect his duty.
    • Source: The Sword of the Lictor, Chapter XII (Following the Flood), paragraph 26


  • "If I had seen one miracle fail, I had witnessed another; and even a seemingly purposeless miracle is an inexhaustible source of hope, because it proves to us that since we do not understand everything, our defeats—so much more numerous than our few and empty victories—may be equally specious."
    • Severian finding hope after the death of Little Severian.
    • Source: The Sword of the Lictor, Chapter XXIV (The Corpse), second-to-last paragraph


  • "Time itself is a thing, so it seems to me, that stands solidly like a fence of iron palings with its endless row of years; and we flow past like Gyoll, on our way to a sea from which we shall return only as rain."
    • Severian on the nature of time and mortality.
    • Source: The Sword of the Lictor


  • "Just as I had not known my weakness, until I saw the boats and the rounded curves of the thatched roofs of the village I had not known how solitary I had been since the boy died. It was more than mere loneliness, I think... I believe that when I was alone I felt I had in some fashion lost my individuality; to the thrush and the rabbit I had not been Severian, but Man. The many people who like to be utterly alone, and particularly to be utterly alone in a wilderness, do so, I believe, because they enjoy playing that part. But I wanted to be a particular person again, and so I sought the mirror of other persons, which would show me that I was not as they were."
    • Severian arrives at a lake after sometime alone in the wilderness.
    • Source: The Sword of the Lictor


  • "Llibio [wore] a fish carved from a tooth about his neck; and when I asked him what it was he had said it was Oannes, and covered it with his hand so that I my eyes could not profane it, for he knew that I did not believe in Oannes, who must surely be the fish-god of these people. I did not, yet I felt I knew everything about Oannes that mattered. I knew that he must live in the darkest deeps of the lake, but that he was seen leaping among the waves in storms. I knew he was the shepherd of the deep, who filled nets of the islanders, and that murderers could not go on the water without fear, lest Oannes appear alongside, with his eyes as big as moons and overturn the boat. I did not believe in Oannes or fear him. But I knew, I thought, whence he came - I knew that there is an all-pervasive power in the universe of which every other is the shadow. I knew that in the last analysis, my conception of that power was as laughable (and as serious) as Oannes."
    • Severian contemplates the fish-god amulet of one of the boatmen
    • Source: The Sword of the Lictor


  • "[R]esolution and a plan are better than a sword, because a man whets his own edges on them."
    • Severian compares resources and resourcefulness.
    • Source: The Citadel of the Autarch, Chapter XVII (Ragnarok—The Final Winter), paragraph 4


  • "There is no category of human activity in which the dead do not outnumber the living many times over. Most beautiful children are dead. Most soldiers, most cowards. The fairest women and the most learned men—all are dead. […] Who can say how intently they listen as we speak, or for what word?"
    • Severian, on the dead.
    • Source: The Citadel of the Autarch, Chapter XXVI (Above the Jungle), last paragraph

See also

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