(urth) The Book of the New Sun vs. A Song of Ice and Fire

David Stockhoff dstockhoff at verizon.net
Wed Aug 1 05:36:14 PDT 2012

On 8/1/2012 5:56 AM, Daniel Petersen wrote:
> And where Martin’s books are driven by action and intrigue, Wolfe’s 
> are driven by unraveling a complex narrative arc with incredibly 
> tricksy literary elements.

That's a fine observation in 25 words or fewer, although my initial 
impulse was to object to it as an oversimplification.

BNS has plenty of action and intrigue, but it is in a way a set piece. 
If there is a "game" in BNS it is between characters barely, if at all, 
on the stage. Severian appears to make decisions but even on the surface 
is overtly constrained in his choices in the same way any fairy tale 
hero is. This is one of the broad authorial winks Wolfe throws our way, 
and on catching it the reader begins to sense the many literary strata 
that hold Severian as fast as any fossil. From there, the reader 
eventually proceeds to full-blown detective mode.

But there is a another way Wolfe handles action differently. Not only 
does Severian always surprise us, but he downplays his actions as though 
they come naturally to him---which of course they do, by definition. 
Raised in the Citadel as he was, action and intrigue are /literally 
/nothing to him. Where other narrators might directly remind us or boast 
of this background, Severian reminds us indirectly (e.g., how others 
perceive him) and by sudden, expert displays of violence. His utterly 
blase, matter-of-fact view of such things almost makes him Methuselan.

As for Martin's books---does anyone more familiar with them than I think 
there is anything /but /a surface level to them?

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