Friday, July 25, 2008

Son of Lexicon Urthus (plus a reading TONIGHT)

When I am grown so old that I no longer feel the urge to write, I shall sit in an easy chair by the wood stove and annotate my copies of The Book of the New Sun.

So what a delight it was this morning to receive in the mail an advance copy of the second edition of Lexicon Urthus: A Dictionary for the Urth Cycle.  When Gene Wolfe wrote what will probably stand as his single greatest (multi-volume) work, he did something extraordinarily sly:  Where most science fiction writers invent strange-looking words to indicate exotic things, people, creatures, and concepts, he employed what looked like invented words but were actually legitimate terms taken from the dustier reaches of the dictionary.  Heptarchs, margays, naviscaputs, and other heteroclite beings abound.   I am surely not the only person who kept the OED handy for my second reading.  (The first time through, who would want to interrupt the story?)

Thirteen years ago, Michael Andre-Driussi addressed the need for a compact source-book for the names, gods, constellations, and more unusual terms populating the Urth of The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, the Sword of the Lictor, The Citadel of the Autarch, and several related shorter works.  It was a lovely book, and nominated for the World Fantasy Award, but just try to find a copy today.  Now there's a second edition, expanded to include every one of the 28 gods, 215 named characters, and 90 unnamed characters -- the latter ranging from "the algophilist" (a person who takes morbid pleasure in the pain of others or of himself) to "waitress."

Just to be explicit, here's the single entry to which I made a contribution:

fuligin:  a sooty color, powdered black (I, chap. 4, 39).
Commentary:  The descriptions of this color as being "blacker than black" (aside from the powerful sin aspect) indicate to Michael Swanwick that it is actually "selective black," a black that absorbs light beyond the visible spectrum and into the ultraviolet.  Selective coatings are used on solar collectors to maximize absorption of radiation.  It is a notion that engineer Wolfe would definitely be familiar with, and the seeming paradox having a practical explanation would fit his sense of humor.  Presumably a fuligin cloak would be particularly warm.

The book comes out on August 1 from Sirius Fiction.  The hardcover -- for those who are building an enviable library -- costs forty bucks, and the paperback -- for those who, like me, do not so much collect as amass -- is a perfectly reasonable twenty dollars.

If you're the sort of person who needs this book, you've already clicked over to Sirius Fiction to buy a copy.

And TONIGHT . . .

At 7:30 p.m., I'll be doing a reading at Robin's Book Store (108 S. 13th Street, Philadelphia).  Actually, my reading will be short -- an excerpt from "The Skysailor's Tale," most likely, because the event is a celebration of Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best SF: 25th Annual Collection, and I'm only a third of the program.  Gardner will be his usual entertaining self, and the redoubtable Tom Purdom will give a talk on the British Navy's suppression of the slave trade.  

You want to hear this for Tom's talk alone.  (He told me the other day that while the British Navy didn't put an end to slavery, they saved hundreds of human beings from the slaver ships.  "It's like the people who smuggled Jews out of Nazi Germany," he said.  "They didn't prevent the Holocaust, but it was still an immensely good thing to do.")  Tom Purdom is one of the great raconteurs of science fiction.

The evening will be podcast.  Simply go to at 7:30 and click the button that says "Click to Hear Philadelphia Fantastic Authors and Editors Series."

And as always . . .

The Poem du Jour has been updated (twice!) since my last post here.



Bruce Chrumka said...

Hi Michael,

I checked out what my first of Lexicon Urthus might go for on abebooks. Great Bog! There's five copies that range from $180 to $400. There's one measly copy of his chapbook, 'Talk of Mandrakes', going for $200. The Man is getting pricier to collect and deservedly so.

Have a great time at your reading; loved that novelette.



Michael Swanwick said...

Consider what a copy of the original edition of THE CATLE OF THE OTTER would go for -- it was the first publication of Ziesing Books and came out in an edition of fifty copies! It sold out instantly.

I asked Mark Ziesing why he'd issued it in such a small edition and he growled, "Because I didn't know what I was doing." He got better, though.

Bruce Chrumka said...

Even more alarming are Gene Wolfe's Cheap Street publications! A first of 'Bibliomen' or 'Empires of Foliage and Flower' can set you back $450.00. Each!

And don't get me started on his five Solstice chapbooks. All exquisite.

I just received Wyrm's hc of 'Memorare' and after polishing that off, had to reread 'Strange Birds' and 'Christmas Inn'. And, yes, they get even better.

Michael Swanwick said...

That was, properly, THE CASTLE OF THE OTTER, not CATLE. Considering that Gene wrote the book after THE CASTLE OF THE AUTARCH was so incorrectly credited in (I think, but I could be wrong) Locus, I really should be at this point playing with the idea of writing a pastiche titled THE CATTLE OF THE OTTER.

Alas, I lack Gene's energy. Who can keep up with the man?

Fred Kiesche said...

I have the SFBC edition of "Castle of the Otter" (calling it "Catle" is a pretty amusing iteration of how the name came to be to begin with!) and a (legit, sold by the author) photocopy of "Lexicon Urthus". Couldn't afford a real copy!

I'm glad to see it reissued. It is invaluable.

As for your opening paragraph, it rings a bell. Is that a paraphrase of somebody else's statement?

Bruce Chrumka said...

Fred wrote: 'As for your opening paragraph, it rings a bell. Is that a paraphrase of somebody else's statement?'

Fred, that's somewhere in the text of 'The Castle of the Otter' though I misremember where. Gene Wolfe talks about the fourth book in TBOTNS as being referred to - in advertising copy - as 'The Castle of the Otter', then 'The Castle of the Autarch', then finally the proper name.

I loved his Kenneth Grahame quote that graces the beginning of the utterly proper.

Michael Swanwick said...

The reference to annotating my books was definitely a paraphrase,and I think from a work by a major writer, but I cannot remember which or who, alas.

Like so many other things I keep repeating, if I'd known how significant it was going to be to my mental ecology, I'd have jotted down a citation.

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