On Blue's Waters
by Gene Wolfe
Tor, 1999, ISBN 0-312-86614-3
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This is the first volume of The Book of the Short Sun, and it's good to know that Wolfe has already turned in the other two volumes. We have to wait, but we don't have to wonder if he'll be able finish them.
Some twenty years after the Whorl reached the Short Sun system, Horn, the young boy from Patera Silk's manteion in Viron, is a successful papermaker on the island of Lizard, part of the polity of New Viron, on Blue, the more pleasant of the habitable worlds in this system. He is married to Nettle, and they have three sons, Sinew (the eldest), and Hide and Hoof, who are twins. His one claim to fame in this new world is The Book of Silk, an account of the career of Patera, later Caldé, Silk. One day a delegation arrives from the city--a delegation of the wealthiest and most powerful men in New Viron, Marrow, Remora, Gyrfalcon, Eschar, and Blazingstar. They have a simple proposition for Horn. They have received a letter from a town which claims to have a working lander, and wants to send it back to the Whorl carrying one person from each town on Blue. The worthies of New Viron want Horn to join the expedition, find Caldé Silk, and bring him to New Viron. Horn agrees, in large part because he believes that if he doesn't they'll ask Nettle, the next most likely person to be able to persuade Silk to come, and she would go. After parting instructions to his son Sinew (with whom he is on impressively terrible terms), gathering supplies, and a visit with Maytera Marble and Mucor, he sets out on his journey to the town of Pajarocu, whose precise location no one knows, to join their lander expedition to the Whorl. With him he brings Babbie, a half-grown hus, a somewhat bearlike native species of Blue, which was Mucor's pet and which she gave to Horn. Along the way he meets up a very unusual young woman, and an inhumu--one of the blood-sucking sapients native to Green, the other habitable world in this system.
We know, or begin to guess, something about how his journey ended, because Horn is writing down the story, in the hope that Nettle and their sons will someday read it, while living in palace in a foreign city, where he is both ruler and prisoner. This is the beginning of a complex and fascinating story, in Wolfe's usual compelling prose. Highly recommended.