Fiction Reviews

Exodus from the Long Sun

(1996) Gene Wolfe, tor, £?.99, hdbk, 384pp, ISBN 0 312 85585 0

Exodus... forms the fourth and final part of Gene Wolfe's new series, The Book of the Long Sun. Itís been a long while coming - Pat reviewed Caldé of the Long Sun for Phoenicians in December 1994, and Wolfe has even written a short story in the mean time called Ainít You ĎMost Done Yet?

The series is set in a generation starship, the Whorl, which has reached its destination, and is reaching the end of its ability to sustain life. The ship is a huge, hollowed out asteroid, which rotates to provide gravity. Down the axis of the ship runs the long sun, a kind of huge strip light with a rotating shade that provides night and day. At one end of the ship is Mainframe, the vast computer that controls the ship, and stores the personalities of its maker and his family. The inhabitants of the Whorl worship these stored personalities as gods. Unfortunately the gods war amongst themselves and, at the start of Exodus, their leader Pas (Typhon from The Book of the New Sun) has been destroyed because the other gods wish to prevent the inhabitants of the Whorl from discovering that they have to leave.

The action takes place in the city of Viron, where Silk, the young priest who was enlightened in the first book by the Outsider (a god from beyond the Whorl) has become the focus of a popular rebellion. There are two main strands to the plot: the first consists of Silkís attempts to broker peace between his rebels and the former government while maintaining a precarious alliance with the armies of Trivigaunte. The other strand is about the resurrection of Pas, and the completion of his plan: shuttles must soon begin to leave the Whorl or Pas will shut down the sun in an attempt to drive people out.

Without giving away the plot, it is fair to say that the conclusion is hopeful, yet realistic: Silk succeeds in saving his church - the task set for him by the Outsider, but war rages in Viron despite all his efforts to find a peace. The Whorl is reprieved from Pasí threat, but the long sun is still failing and cannot last much longer.

Wolfeís great achievement in The Book of the Long Sun is one of blending. The Whorl is an almost unbelievably intricate piece of world building, but there are no info-dumps to interrupt the flow of the story. The plot is fast paced and exciting, but Wolfe deals in the large themes of human life, especially of freedom and responsibility, amidst the mayhem. And yet the overarching themes do not seem to turn the huge cast of characters (some human, some mechanical and some alien) into mere puppets of the author.

As a Wolfe fan already, Iím biased: but Exodus from the Long Sun is the best book Iíve read this year.

Matt Freestone

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