cover image On Blue's Waters

On Blue's Waters

Gene Wolfe. Tor Books, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86614-3

Launching a three-book series, Wolfe's latest takes place several decades after the close of his acclaimed four-volume the Book of the Long Sun. There, it was revealed that the great artifact called the Whorl, unbeknownst to its millions of inhabitants, was in fact a failing spaceship and that the AI ""Gods"" that ruled the Whorl wanted its inhabitants to leave and colonize two nearby terrestrial planets, Blue and Green. Now, decades later, Blue has many human cities, but civilization is slowly decaying. Horn, who also narrated the earlier series, has been dispatched to find Patera Silk, the legendary leader responsible for the colonization of Blue. Wolfe's complex, two-part story line follows Horn's initial quest across Blue in search of a vehicle, or lander, capable of returning to the Whorl, while it simultaneously recounts the aging Horn's life as the involuntary ruler of a city far from his home and family. In his initial quest, Horn must battle vampiric shapeshifters and attempt to thwart their plot to divert the lander and its human cargo to Green, their home world, where the humans will be used as cattle. As always, Wolfe's prose is masterful and his main characters are well developed. The novel starts slowly, however, and moves in fits and starts. Horn, who narrated Patera Silk's story in such a self-effacing manner in the earlier series, can't seem to stick to his narrative for more than a page or two without dithering off into inconsequential meditations on his own shortcomings. But Wolfe does establish several tantalizing mysteries that hold readers' attention, and which, presumably, will be explored fully in later volumes. (Oct.)