Sunday, August 26, 2012

30 Days of Genre - What Novel Has the Best Writing Style, or the Style That Resonates Most With You?

So, even though I wanted to get this post up on Saturday, it ended up being a day late. Oh well, that is the way things go sometimes. On to the Day 10 question of the 30 Days of Genre, which is what novel has the best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you? In this case, I'm not going to pick a single novel, or rather I'm going to pick a single novel that is broken up into four parts. My answer is:

Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun

Gene Wolfe's series about Severian, an ex-torturer disgraced by his act of granting mercy, is one of the most beautifully and most densely written set of books in genre fiction. Although the world Severian lives in seems at first to be an odd fantasy realm, it soon becomes apparent that it is actually our own world, but far in the distant future. So far, in fact that history almost has no meaning, and the worlds resources have been exhausted. Not only that, the sun is slowly dying and fading away, so that the stars are visible during the day.

The story in The Book of the New Sun is magnificent, but the language that Wolfe uses to tell his tale is even more so. He never makes compromises for the reader - the story is told by Severian, using terms with which Severian is familiar. He wears a fuligin cloak, there are powerful men who hold the positions of optimate or hipparch, Severian deals with the odd creatures called Hierodules, a flower called an avern is used as a dueling weapon. The novels are simply loaded with a rich, otherworldly language that is alien and yet evokes something familiar but slightly askew. For the most part, Wolfe doesn't pause the story to explain to the reader what the various terms he uses in the book mean. Sometimes a good Latin dictionary would help, but most of the time the reader has to figure it out from context. One might wonder why a book full of confusing archaic and made-up terms would be singled out as having the "best" writing style, but by giving us the view through Severian's eyes and telling his story as Severian himself might, Wolfe allows his readers to become immersed in the telling, and strongly identify with the protagonist in a way they might not had he told the story in a more conventional way.

At the same time, this use of language allows Wolfe to convey the very alien nature of the world that Severian lives in while providing just enough that is familiar to remind the reader that as weird a world as he lives in, Severian's world is descended from our own. Even the strangest use of language - the Ascians who are only able to speak using sentences and phrases from the books of "Correct Thought" provided by their governing "Group of Seventeen" - serves to show the world to to be this odd mixture of the familiar and the strange without slowing down the story or intruding upon the characters. So, for creating one of the most beautiful, uncompromisingly bleak, alien, and yet oddly familiar visions of the future, Wolfe's Book of the New Sun is my pick for the best writing style of any genre novel.

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