Soldier of the Mist (all books, Latro series)
February 18, 2020 9:51 AM - by Gene Wolfe - Subscribe

BOOK ONE: (Soldier of the Mist, 1986. Wikipedia.) Latro, a mercenary soldier from the north, has suffered a head wound in battle resulting in an inability to retain short term memories, but has developed the ability to see and converse with all of the invisible gods, goddesses, ghosts, demons, and werewolves that inhabit the land. Gene Wolfe’s followup to the Book of the New Sun, set in Classical Greece.

BOOK TWO: (Soldier of Arete, 1989. Wikipedia.): Latro and his companions journey to Thought and then on to Rope, where Latro achieves some semblance of respectability by being made a resident of Rope. Along the way they make contact with Amazons, various gods and goddesses, and the legendary King Sisyphus as Latro endeavors to surmount deadly challenges in pursuit of recovering his lost past.

BOOK THREE: (Soldier of Sidon, 2006. Wikipedia.): Latro continues his journeys, traveling now up the Nile through Egypt in search of a cure for his affliction, and encountering the supernatural panoply of that ancient land.

I have linked to the initial single-volume Amazon ISBN pages for these three books, because that is the easiest way to find the Kindle editions. The first two books are more commonly sold in hardcopy as a single volume, Latro in the Mist.

Prompted by a post in the blue and by an upcoming reread thread on FB. My thought here is to collect resources related to these somewhat lesser known works, both Wolfean and Classical.
posted by mwhybark (20 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Some resources.

Urth, discussion lists from 1997 to 2004. Primarily focused on the Sun Cycle. Urth from 2004-on.

This list is where a great deal of informal initial research, analysis, and speculation took place on Wolfe's work. Several of the contributors and writers in the list have moved on to academic careers, often featuring Wolfe as a central element in their academic lives.

Currently the most-active location for online discussion on Wolfe appears to be the Facebook group Gene Wolfe Appreciation Society. As is par for the course, the group more commonly discusses New Sun material.

The discussion both on FB and in the older Urth list can feature highly obsessive posters and is rather informal, with occasional outbreaks of contention. The majority of active posters present as male and on FB within the past year a notable female scholar of Wolfe chose to leave the group due to what she characterized, roughly, as a 'too manly' environment. However there are female-presenting participants.

I think it's incumbent on me to note this as Wolfe's authorial viewpoint has been characterized as increasingly misogynist as he ages, and this critique will reliably generate friction in the FB group.
posted by mwhybark at 10:57 AM on February 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Previously on Metafilter.

A Great Sun Has Set. Memorial thread, April, 2019.

Gene Wolfe: The Reliably Unreliable Author. May, 2015. Overview thread.

Latro, Cerberus*, Suns New, Long and Short - Gene Wolfe. January, 2004. Long y2karl post with many older links. *N.B., unfixed typo in thread title, fixed here. It's a hard word and in fact I misspelled it here in my initial attempt to address it. Perhaps karl will flag his initial post if he is so inclined.

Help me get Wolfe. December, 2011. AskMe thread.

Reading Gene Wolfe, October 2015 attempt at a book club in FanFare, apparently DOA.

There is no FF thread for any of the Sun Cycle that I could find. There are scattered other posts on Wolfean topics in AskMe and on the Blue.
posted by mwhybark at 11:12 AM on February 18, 2020

Gene Wolfe Bibliography at Wikipedia.

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Gene Wolfe. Brief critical biography.

Ultan's Library. "A web resource for the study of Gene Wolfe", UK-based collection of essays and information on Wolfe's work.

From Ultan's Library's Latro category:

Place Names in Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist. Very important for a read through of the Latro books.

Some Greek Themes in Gene Wolfe’s Latro novels.

The Book of Gold… returns to Ultan’s Library. An older zine on the Latro books, hosted in PDF format.
posted by mwhybark at 11:26 AM on February 18, 2020

I am a little surprised to find no apparent reference to a critical bibliography of works about Wolfe's writing, and apologize for the brevity of the list here.

Contemporary writers still working on Wolfe include Urth and FB group contributor Marc Aramini and Urth contributor Michael Andre-Driussi.

In general, as one might expect, critical work that focuses on the Sun Cycle is easier to come by.

I will link here to Amazon ISBN pages when possible.

Michael André-Driussi:
Lexicon Urthus - a reference tool for the Book of the New Sun.
Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun: A Chapter Guide - self explanatory title, one would think.
Gene Wolfe: 14 Articles on His Fiction
The Wizard Knight Companion
Gate of Horn, Book of Silk: A Guide to Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Long Sun and The Book of the Short Sun.

I was somewhat surprised to note no apparent work by Driussi on the Latro books.

Marc Aramini
Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986. This is Aramini's first published book on Wolfe but there will be more to come. A prolific participant on Urth and FB, Marc has written extremely detailed critical analyses of, I believe, every piece of fiction that Wolfe wrote, and will make them available on request. However, the work does not have a persistent home on the web or in published form as yet. His critical position is idiosyncratic and based on the viewpoint that Wolfe intended his work to be read in a specific way, and that that specific way is the correct and intended reading of the work.
posted by mwhybark at 11:49 AM on February 18, 2020

Peter Wright
Attending Daedalus: Gene Wolfe, Artifice and the Reader - out of print, absurdly overpriced at Amazon. 2003 critical work on The Book of the New Sun and the Urth of the New Sun.

Robert Borski
Solar Labyrinth: Exploring Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun". 2004 work on BoTNS.
THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT: More Essays on the Fiction of Gene Wolfe. 2006. Appears to include at least one piece on the Latro books.
posted by mwhybark at 11:58 AM on February 18, 2020

Joan Gordon
Gene Wolfe (Starmont Reader's Guide, 29) . "An annotated bibliography and criticism of Gene Wolfe's science fiction and non-fiction writing." I am unfamiliar with this work and this series.
posted by mwhybark at 12:01 PM on February 18, 2020

That's a start. Latro-oriented critical work is pretty thin on the ground. The section on the Soldier books at Ultan's Library was immensely helpful to me the last time I read the series, in winter 2018-2019.

I have posted to the FB group asking about a critical bibliography, we'll see what shakes out. I was asked in-group to post the initial synopsis for the first Latro book for a proposed read through over there and I felt, heck, if I am going to be gathering these resources anyway, why not chuck it all up over here too.

Happy reading, hope this is of service to you.
posted by mwhybark at 12:04 PM on February 18, 2020

There are also a few podcasts focusing on Wolfe, but I am not a podcast consumer, so that resource will lay mostly fallow here. I did find a link to an interview with Joan Gordon, the author cited in my 12:01pm post above.

BONUS: Joan Gordon talks about Gene Wolfe, and 1.6 “The Master of the Curators” from The Shadow of the Torturer, The Book of the New Sun
posted by mwhybark at 12:17 PM on February 18, 2020

Opps, totally forgot the non-Wolfean links. Here's one to start.

Herodotus, The Histories. Herodotus at Wikipedia. Wolfe is said to have relied upon the Histories as an inspiration for much of the Latro books. I have seen some fairly well-sourced-seeming analyses of other works he appears to have engaged with but I cannot put my cursor to a link at this moment. I want so say that possibly he cites Robert Graves in an interview, but there were other scholastic and primary sources I have seen mentioned as well.
posted by mwhybark at 12:27 PM on February 18, 2020

Loved the first two Soldier books, but somehow missed Sidon - thanks for the reminder, I'll pop it in a shopping cart shortly.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 6:07 PM on February 18, 2020

In my personal estimation, Sidon is not up to the standards of the prior material.

I am not an admirer of most of Wolfe’s post Short Sun material, and Sidon, in my view, belongs to this period. Disappointingly. I did enjoy reading it, though.
posted by mwhybark at 11:19 PM on February 18, 2020

Have there been many authors who successfully returned to a series after that kind of gap?
posted by Chrysostom at 6:03 AM on February 19, 2020

I'm not sure if I can really count Wolfe among my problematic faves anymore -- I still have the New Sun books and Starwater Strains on my bookshelf, but I haven't really felt compelled to read any of them in years.

An anecdote: I was introduced to Sword and Citadel by an guy who sublet a room in my college house while one of my housemates was at her co-op. His defining characteristic was that he had wild hair, wore sweat-stained screen-print t-shirts, and liked to complain to my housemates and I about how he only wanted to date girls who wore Abercrombie, but none of them wanted to give him the time of day. At the time, I thought his recommendation of a cool book was sort of the exception to his icky schtick, but.. on further reflection, yeowch. Some of the writing remains beautiful and effective (I'll avoid spoilers for a book that isn't even the subject of this post) but, yeowch.
posted by Alterscape at 8:27 AM on February 19, 2020

> "Have there been many authors who successfully returned to a series after that kind of gap?"

Hmm ... only considering ones where I liked the eventual result, I can at least think of --

Jack Vance: The Eyes of the Overworld (1966) and Cugel's Saga (1983) - 17 years.

That's the only one leaping to mind that equals Wolfe's gap. But there's also --

P. C. Hodgell: Seeker's Mask (1994) and To Ride a Rathorn (2006) - 12 years
Laurie J. Marks: Water Logic (2007) and Air Logic (2019) - 12 years
Rosemary Kirstein: The Outskirter's Secret (1992) and The Lost Steersman (2003) - 11 years

I might be able to think of some others, given time.
posted by kyrademon at 8:29 AM on February 19, 2020

Unsourced scuttlebutt in my head (probably from random hits in searching Urth and chatter in FB) regarding the Latro books sort of boils down to:

- Wolfe had intended to move on from the Severian material entirely
- His publisher was dissappointed in the lack of sales (and possibly the lack of critical engagement with) the Latro books
- He was pressured into writing the coda to the BotNS, Urth of the New Sun, and reportedly was unhappy about doing this
- He then moved on to extending the Severian-universe material with Long Sun and Short Sun, although it was far from immediately apparent that the three suites of books are in a common setting, and to this day there is a great deal of inherent ambiguity in precisely how that setting is shared in-narrative
- His final period emphasized a change in linguistic tone and a shift to the use of juvenilia-themed settings (Wizard Knight and later)
- Sidon seems to have been a wrap up for a book previously plotted but left aside in the machinations that led to Long Sun and Short Sun.

Again, I am not citing sources here, this is just my general impression from essentially idle curiosity and online social expression, so YMMV and corrections welcomed.
posted by mwhybark at 1:26 PM on February 19, 2020

Soldier of the Mist is basically very high quality Herodotus fanfic and, if you're familiar with The Histories, it's a total delight.
It also lets Wolfe play one of his mirror games - Severian cannot forget (or so he says) and Latro cannot remember. Severian becomes almost divine, Latro may actually be a god (the only member of the Greek pantheon he doesn't meet is Ares).
Soldier of Arête still has a lot of Herodotus but also a fair amount of Xenophon.
Sidon is pretty disappointing and not really a book anyone needed.

although it was far from immediately apparent that the three suites of books are in a common setting,

At one point there were separate mailing lists for New Sun and Long Sun - Urth and Whorl.
When the third Long Sun book came out, someone noticed a particular capitalisation of a name mentioned in the dramatis personae and the two lists quietly merged.
It was a very Wolfean thing.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 4:40 PM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Apologies for neglecting the Whorl list - is there an online archive for it such as Urth?

I believe (but won’t swear I am correct) that a prominent contributor to the various above fora has proposed a reason for Latro’s failure to encounter Ares. I’ll not cite here for the time being.
posted by mwhybark at 9:53 PM on February 19, 2020

Xenophon, wikipedia.

Anabasis, wikipedia. Anabasis, Gutenberg.
posted by mwhybark at 9:59 PM on February 19, 2020

I pretty much assumed that Latro was Ares as well. Even if he isn’t literally the god of war, he embodies that office symbolically, and in this world, what’s the difference, really? One moment he’s advising the Athenians on siege engines, the next charging at them with Persians, his favour changes with the winds and he’s a slave to men’s ambitions (literally and figuratively).

I do have to say I was quite confused about what was going on with the Spartan manumission ceremony until I read up on the history. I would probably have had a hard time with these books if I had read them closer to when they were originally published without the benefit of the internet. There’s a lot that’s outside the text.

Haven’t read Sidon yet. Given the consensus I haven’t been in a hurry to, though I did enjoy The Land Across so I’m not sure I share the popular disdain for Wolfe’s post-solar work.
posted by rodlymight at 9:01 PM on February 21, 2020

I pretty much assumed that Latro was Ares as well. Even if he isn’t literally the god of war, he embodies that office symbolically, and in this world, what’s the difference, really? One moment he’s advising the Athenians on siege engines, the next charging at them with Persians, his favour changes with the winds and he’s a slave to men’s ambitions (literally and figuratively).

Also, of course the god of war has no memory.
posted by Rinku at 9:59 AM on February 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

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