cover image Return to the Whorl

Return to the Whorl

Gene Wolfe. Tor Books, $25.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-312-87314-1

Few of the mysteries presented in the first two volumes of the Book of the Short Sun trilogy (On Blue's Waters; In Green's Jungles) are actually explained in this latest novel by one of SF's acknowledged masters, but Wolfe continues to provide literary entertainment of a high order. Horn, the supposed author of Wolfe's previous tetralogy, the Book of the Long Sun, continues his search for the now legendary Cald Silk, the godlike former ruler of the city of Viron. Traveling back and forth between the aging generation starship known as the Whorl, the planets Green and Blue, and, strangely enough, the decadent and dying universe of Wolfe's much earlier Book of the New Sun sequence, Horn encounters a series of bizarre characters, some familiar from earlier books and others, like the blind giant known as Pig, new to this volume. Most of the novel consists of conversations between the various characters as they make their way from place to place on one world or another, attempting to answer some of the complex questions that the author has established over the course of 10 earlier volumes. Not the least of these mysteries is why Horn has begun to look like Silk, so much so that he is consistently mistaken for the legendary hero by people who know both men. For all its many beauties, Wolfe's latest novel is likely to remain opaque to any reader unfamiliar with at least the previous two volumes in the series. Still, longtime fans of Wolfe's complex plotting and ornate literary style will find much to cheer. (Feb. 6)