Free Reading Soldier of Sidon (Latro, #3) By Gene Wolfe –

If I were Gene Wolfe I would never get any writing done, because I would be stopping every two paragraphs to high five myself and punch the sky and yell HOLY CRAP I AM SO AWESOME HOW DO I EVEN DO ITFour stars because it was easier to read than the first two Is this guy going soft in his old age? I did not feel challenged; in fact I felt kinda spoonfed Good thing i was being spoonfed FUCKING AWESOME Latro forgets everything when he sleeps Writing down his experiences every day and reading his journal anew each morning gives him a poignantly tenuous hold on himself, but his story's hold on readers is powerful indeed The two previous novels, combined in Latro in the Mist Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete are generally considered classics of contemporary fantasy Latro now finds himself in Egypt, a land of singing girls, of spiteful and conniving deities Without his memory, his is unsure of everything, except for his desire to be free of the curse that causes him to forget The visions Gene Wolfe conjures, of the wonders of Egypt, and of the adventures of Latro as he and his companions journey up the great Nile south into unknown or legendary territory, are unique and compelling Soldier of Sidon is a thrilling and magical fantasy novel, and yet another masterpiece from Gene Wolfe 3.5 stars rounded down because while the novel is polished and entertaining, it’s slower and less involving than its predecessors.This is not the conclusion of Latro’s journey, it’slike a standaloneish addition to the series than a proper continuation since the second book providedof an ending; anyway I couldn’t pass up the chance and I’m happy I spenttime in Latro’s world This time, the tale is set down the Nile and I really appreciated the philosophy, the mythology and the dream scenes.Latro’s prowess is undisputed, he's godstouched but he’s also at the mercy of others' words and vulnerable; his record is pervaded throughout with his weariness at the reality of his predicament and with his constant, almost compulsive need to write and reread in order to remember his reality The writing style is poised and perfunctory; I think it efficiently conveys Latro’s struggles and possibly Wolfe's evolution as a writer, too, since there is a sizable time gap with the previous novelYet this detached Latro is never without hope or humanity (or humour) and that makes his tale very enjoyable He is still the quintessential unreliable narrator, but not because he tries to deceive himself or the reader; he strives to pursue the truth and retain a semblance of control, to find the strength to make a decision for himself and stay focused even if he has amnesia.As usual, the interactions between the characters, their mutual dependencies or conflicting desires and the historical/geographical background are impressive.Definitely not my last Gene Wolfe!Soldiers fight, and kings take the spoil What does a soldier get? A few coins, perhaps, a ring from a dead man's finger, and many scars What does a horse get? Only death We ride them, and theyour kingsride us.\i The past is a foreign country They do things differently there, was L.P Hartley's nostalgiafraught opening line in the novel, The GoBetween That quality of foreignness, when well captured and faithfully presented, is what ensorcels the devoted reader of historical novels Its noticeable absence as when some medieval captain of archers orders his men to ready, aim, fire! jars the aficionado's anachronism detector, and harshly cancels the spell.In Soldier of Sidon, Gene Wolfe's longawaited resumption of the travels of a braindamaged Roman of the fifth century BCE, the enchantment never falters In this episode we reconnect with the centurion Lucius (or Latro, as he was known in the first two books, Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete), some years after he made it home from Greece after the Hellenes had fought off the last invasion by Persia Lucius had served on the losing side, a mercenary in King Xerxes's army that was slaughtered by Spartan and Athenian hoplites at the Battle of Plataea There he suffered a catastrophic head wound that left him with a great scar on his scalp and a brain that can only remember the last twelve hours As Soldier of Sidon opens, Lucius's Phoenician friend, Masluk, a sea captain he freed from slavery, has come to see if the Roman has recovered from his peculiar affliction He finds him no better, but Lucius has written the name Riverland above his door, as a reminder that he must go to Egypt to discover what has happened to him Why Egypt? We don't know Unlike the straightflowing Nile, where much of this novel is set, a Wolfe novel is not made for easy navigation Masluk, motivated to help his benefactor, has brought Lucius along on a trading voyage to the Nile delta After selling his cargo of fine leather, the Phoenician hires out his ship to the local Persian satrap (Egypt then being under Persian rule); he is to take an expedition upriver to learn what he can about the sources of the Nile Along the way, they will try to do what they can for the Roman.Wolfe then assembles an interesting collation of voyagers: a Persian magus to be in charge of the expedition; two Egyptian priests, devoted to two different gods and not on the best of terms with each other; two riverwives, dancing girls hired to be Lucius's and Masluk's comforts for the voyage; a handful of Persian and Egyptian soldiers for Lucius to command; an Athenian wine merchant acting for an Egyptian whose son has been captured by a Nubian king who would prefer to keep secret the location of his gold mines.There are also some less visible passengers and wayside encounters demons, familiars, gods and a wax effigy of a woman that can be brought to life if her cheeks are smeared with fresh blood Each of these characters has his or her own agenda They may tell the truth or they may lie and dissemble and intrigue against each other as their various interests dictate And all of their doings and sayings are presented to us through the diary of the braininjured stranger, who tries to write down everything he needs to remember on a scroll that he carries with him.It makes for a remarkable taletelling, because Lucius is a perpetual innocent, struggling to make sense of the new world that is offered to him over every morning's breakfast Sometimes he is able to consult his scroll and match his intuitive liking or distrust of the individuals around him to his own record of their past behaviors; sometimes he is fooled, as when the woman of wax works her wiles upon him Yet his instincts are usually reliable, and his essential character is noble, for all the blood that stains his hands.This book, the two that went before, and the one to follow (for Lucius is not yet done with his quest), are offered to us as fantasies I think they are not fantasies, but wellwrought historical novels; they are faithful recreations of a longvanished world from the viewpoint of a person who might well have existed True, Lucius seesgods and demons than most of his contemporaries, and some of them areinterested in him than in his companions, but those deities and spirits are part of the normal intellectual furniture of the ancient mind Ancient Egypt is doubly foreign country, and Gene Wolfe has got the differently part of Hartley's famous line just right.After waiting fifteen years for Latro to continue, I am once again looking forward to what happens next. I actually debated a bit whether to give this book three stars or four, because while it's very good in a lot of ways, it's also very frustrating in some First, the good bits Gene Wolfe provides a fascinating depiction of the ancient world (primarily Egypt and Nubia), and a very interesting narrator: Latro, because of an old head wound and/or a god's curse, has no long term memory He forgets everything while he sleeps, and so he keeps a scroll with him in which he jots down accounts of events His periodic rereading of this scroll has to serve him in place of a memory The novel takes the form of the text of his scroll This makes for a fascinating and challenging read We, as readers, have memories of things that Latro doesn't It's often up to us to make connections between events If something prevents Latro from writing in the scroll, there's no record of it, and we have to puzzle things out from any available clues There are several such small gaps in the story, and one quite substantial gap, where I'm still not sure I've put everything together correctly Not an easy read, but if you've got any taste for solving puzzles, you'll probably enjoy it Now, on to the frustrating parts To a reader who has read a lot of Wolfe, some aspects of the book start to seem familiar With his interesting memory problem set aside, here is Latro's story in a nutshell: a somewhat directionless but basically goodhearted man goes on a long journey He becomes the protector of a prostitute with a heart of gold, meets an old man with mysterious powers who pretends to be his friend but seems to have ulterior motives, and receives messages and instructions from a bunch of gods, most of whom can only be seen by him I get the feeling that I've read this one before Was it The Knight? Or maybe The Book of the Long Sun? Or maybe The Book of the New Sun? Or maybe all of them? Second frustration this is the third book in Latro's story (after Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete) Fans of the earlier books had to wait over a decade for this installment Personally, I was hoping for some resolution, but at the end of the book, we don't seem much closer to finding the key to Latro's memory loss than we were before Despite these frustrations, I gave it four stars because I had a hard time putting it down, and I'll buy the sequel in a heartbeat when/if it comes out. It's been a long, long time since Wolfe's wonderful pair of novelsSoldier in the Mist and Soldier of Aretecame out and dazzled me to no end Wolfe's tremendous knowledge of ancient lands, his unique take on a most unreliable narrator, Latro the soldier with no long term memory (the complete opposite from Severian in the Book of the New Sun who cannot forget), and a unique take on ancient mythology I simply LOVED those books.20 or so years later, along comes a continuation of the Latro series, Soldier of Sidon I avoided the book for over a year, because I knew there was no way it could measure up to the expectations I held Well, I was wrong Sure, this 3rd novel is muchaccessible than the previous two, as the earlier works, particularly the second, were dense and often hard to navigate, to say the least But accessible is certainly not a bad thing I Latro's latest adventures, now in Egypt, quite enjoyable He continues to drift through a series of adventures, yearning to cure his curse of forgetting, hoping to no longer need to write down his life in scrolls in order to create a written memory The gods are still visible to Latro, and little touches such as Latro admiring the beauty of the sun god's boat carrying the sun still give this reader pleasure.I must admit, the book was somewhat frustrating Occasionally I recall thinking that Latro has done this sort of thing before, whether it's encounter an odd mythological creature no one else can see, or get propositioned by an inhumanly beautiful woman, and so forth So the newness has worn off slightly What was surprising to me was the fact Wolfedoesn't tie up the sequence, but appears to leave room for another novel Oh well I can wait I waited 20 years for this one. Unfortunately I failed to see the point of this book Gene Wolfe is my favorite writer and the first book of the Latro series is a masterpiece but this one was mediocre Still, mediocre Wolfe is very good Only for the completist. Plots to Gene Wolfe books always strike me as secondary Yes there's a goal of sorts but the real pleasure is in the journey and the beautiful language Wolfe employs to get you there Here, mercenary Latro finds himself in Egypt floating southward up the Nile on a mission from Xerxes to learn and document the lands to the south (i.e Africa) As with his adventures in Greece, Latro can't remember things from day to day and must write them down in a scroll His head wound also has the effect of his being able to see physical manifestations of gods and goddesses It makes for some surreal scenes that are captivating There are so many wonderful lines in this book, here are few I noted (and they all appear within 5 pages of each other!):No one can be good unless he is brave; and any man who is brave is good in that, if it no other way If he is brave enough, there must always be some good in him.Any wife who is loved has been good enough.I have said I am free; but surely no man is free who does not know how he came to be so.Seriously? It's just not fair. This is clearly later stage Wolfe he's moved from being subtle to so sharp that he could cut himself, and sometimes does The book is good, but it lacks the sweep and grandeur of the prior Latro tales, instead being very much like his other 21st century books such as Pirate Freedom, where the action is in most scenes confined and the there are mysteries of time and place to be sussed out from incomplete conversations and unreliable narrators Yes, Wolfe has always used unreliable narrators, but it'spronounced in his 21st century works Taking Latro and moving him to the Egypt of his time produces many interesting places to visit and cultures to explore, so it's worth reading for that alone The nature of the storytelling serves to hide the And then Latro and company go here, and got on this short adventure, in which inexplicable and magical things happen that makes up the surface level of the story When you add in Wolfe's skill with language and the challenges he poses it gets even better it's just not as exceptional as the first two in part because there isn't as much going on under the surface as there is in Mist and Arete. Latro, somewhat surprisingly and years after his last appearance (in publishing terms, at least), is back, this time in Egypt and Nubia, nominally on a reconnaissance mission for the Persian satrap, but essentially still on his quest to reclaim the memory he lost (or the goddess Gaia took from him) at the battle of Clay (Platea) A unique figure in literature, Latro has no memory, yet retains all objective knowledge He can still recall his languages, the names and purposes of things, his skills as a soldier, his instinct for quality and the difference between right and wrong, both in the people he meets as well as the objects he handles In this way, he is in many ways the purest of all Wolfe's characters, and his opinions often have the unadorned ring of truth and wisdom about them , i.e 'Women are ever affectionate where there is danger, and there would be less danger if it were not so', or: 'All gods are very great, I think, when their priests speak of them'.He can also see the gods, and the local deities are once again visible to him and involved in his fortune, with the goddess Hathor apparently looking out for him from the start, and the ancient desert god, Set, keen to seduce him and utilise him as a tool for his earthly agent, the enigmatic Egyptian priest Sahuset The Egyptians were an entirely conquered people by the middle of the fifth century BC, their mighty line of pharaohs ended by the Persians fifty years previously, so this belated continuation of Latro's story missed the momentous historical and mythical backdrop of the GrecoPersian wars.Instead Wolfe delves into the ancient and traditional Egyptian tensions between their upper, northern kingdom and the lower, southern kingdom; the fertile, 'black' soil of the Nile and the arid 'red' sand of the desert The cowheaded goddess Hathor symbolizes theyouthful and joyous north, whilst the serpentine Set symbolizes the older and crumbling south, a contrast which Wolfe delineates through the very distinct structures and tones of his two part tale.I can't tell you how glad I was that Wolfe resurrected this character and placed him in a new setting, but I found that my enjoyment, even after a second reading (which Wolfe demands and deserves), still left me with some major reservations Firstly, the novel simply does not have a satisfying ending It seems certain that this novel was intended, as with Soldier in the Mist, to be the first part of a two book story, the second of which would involve a journey back up the Nile, and perhaps onto Babylonia But nearly a decade later, where is the concluding part?Also, latterday Wolfe never attempts to recreate thelyrical prose of his earlier work, which included the first two Soldier books This may help with narrative clarity, but this restraint can itself border on excess, a slavish asceticism that makes me long for him to indulge himself in his old age a little!Latro is something of a Conan character, albeit a much superior figure to the barbarian in a literary sense Maybe Wolfe intends to leave Latro on the field, a perfect, indestructible character for others to cast into future adventures?