I’m reading Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun—ashamedly for the first time. It’s a great book! So inventive and different and new despite being 30 years old. And it makes me marvel at how sad my own attempts at literary work seem in comparison.
One of Mr. Wolfe’s real strengths is balancing a base adventure novel with an attempt to express some deep truths about the human condition that lie beyond simple didactic presentation’s ability to properly convey. I struggle with that quite a lot in my own books, and most especially in the Bodhi Trilogy.
Most readers of the firs two books in my trilogy are reading adventure romps. And that’s great. I want the books to be able to stand-alone from that perspective. On their most basic level, they should function from cover to cover as a rousing tale about a dragon and a pixie fighting the forces of evil.
I think that any reader, though, will at least pierce through that level and deal with the fact that Bodhi is an emotional cripple and Kama’s a manipulative sociopath. That second layer of the onion is often the more interesting layer for me to explore as I try to craft these two into three dimensional, rich characters who go far beyond being simply “the good guys.”
Then there’s the other final layer—the mystic layer. I’m not all that metaphysical in my actual beliefs about how the universe operates on a mechanical level. But I have studied most of the major systems of metaphysics and mysticism of the modern Western world and many of the Eastern world as well. And each book in this trilogy is meant to be a spell of sorts. Like the films of Kenneth Anger, I intentionally commit an alchemical working with each book and douse them with very specific, if very occult, references to the Western magick tradition.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I do all that at once nearly as well as Wolfe does in The Book of the New Sun with his own three layers of narrative. I truly marvel at what he was able to accomplish.