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In Green's Jungles

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In Green's Jungles

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Author: Gene Wolfe
Publisher: Tor, 2000
Series: The Book of the Short Sun: Book 2

1. On Blue's Waters
2. In Green's Jungles
3. Return to the Whorl

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction / Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Colonization
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Gene Wolfe's In Green's Jungles is the second volume, after On Blue's Waters, of his ambitious SF trilogy, The Book of the Short Sun.

It is again narrated by Horn, who has embarked on a quest from his home on the planet Blue in search of the heroic leader Patera Silk. Now Horn's identity has become ambiguous, a complex question embedded in the story, whose telling is itself complex, shifting from place to place, present to past. Horn recalls visiting the Whorl, the enormous spacecraft in orbit that brought the settlers from Urth, and going thence to the planet Green, home of the blood-drinking alien inhumi. There, he led a band of mercenary soldiers, answered to the name of Rajan, and later became the ruler of a city state. He has also encountered the mysterious aliens, the Neighbors, who once inhabited both Blue and Green. He remembers a visit to Nessus, on Urth. At some point, he died. His personality now seemingly inhabits a different body, so that even his sons do not recognize him. And people mistake him for Silk, to whom he now bears a remarkable resemblance.

In Green's Jungles is Wolfe's major new fiction, The Book of the Short Sun, building toward a strange and seductive climax.



A New Beginning

I have paper again, and there is still a lot of ink in the little bottle. Besides, the man who owns the shop would give me more ink if I asked for it, I feel certain. Strange how much a quire of writing paper can mean to a man who has made such quantities of it.

This town is walled. I have never seen a whole town with a wall before. It is not a big wall; I have seen others much higher; but it goes all the way around, except where the river comes in and goes out.

I do not think this is the same river we had in the south. This one flows fast but silently. Or perhaps it is simply that the noises of the town keep me from hearing the river. Its water is dark. It seems angry.

Our lazy southern river always smiled, and sometimes laughed aloud, showing a froth of white lace underskirt where it tumbled over rocks. There were crocodiles in it, or at least what we called crocodiles, sleek and shining emerald lizards with eight legs and jaws like traps. They seemed indolent as Nadi herself when they basked on the banks in the sunlight, but their doubly forked blue tongues flicked in and out like flames. I do not think they are really the same as the crocodiles on the Whorl, although it may be that every animal of the kind is entitled to the name, like "bird."

Which reminds me that I ought to write that Oreb is with me still, perching on my shoulder or the head of my staff, which he likes even better.

I washed my clothes in this river before we reached the town. I saw a few fish, but no crocodiles of either sort.

A woodcutter cut my staff for me. I still remember his name, which was Cugino. I don't believe I ever met a better-intentioned man, or found a stranger more friendly. He was the first human being I had seen in days, so I was very glad to see him. I helped him load his donkey, and asked to borrow his axe long enough to cut myself a staff. (I had already tried using the azoth, although I did not tell him so; it shattered the wood to kindling.)

He would not hear of it. He, Cugino, was the ultimate authority when it came to staffs, and to sticks of every kind. Everybody in the village came to him—and to him alone—whenever they wanted a staff. He would cut me a staff himself. He, personally, would select the wood and trim it in the right way.

"Everything for you! The wood, how high, where you hold it. Everything! You stand up straight for me."

He measured me with his eyes, with his hands, and at last with his axe, so that I know now that I am twice the height of Cugino's axe, and an axe-head over.

"Tall! Tall!" (Although I am not, or at least I am not unusually tall.) He stood with his head to the left, the tip of one big, callused forefinger at the corner of his mouth. I feel certain that my friend in the south never looked a tenth so impressive when he was planning a battle.

"I got it!" He clapped his hands, the sound of a plank slapped against another.

We tied his donkey (still loaded, poor beast) and walked some distance into the forest, to a huge tree embraced by a vine thicker than my wrist. Two mighty blows from the axe severed its stem twice, and a third a thick branch at the top of the severed portion.

"Big vine," Cugino told me with as much pride as if he had planted it. "Strong like me." He displayed the muscle in his arm, which was indeed impressive. "Not stiff."

He tore the section that he had cut off the tree (which must have been thanking him with all its heartwood) and tried to snap it over his knee, muscles bulging. "He's a bender, see? He's a unbreakable."

I ventured that it looked awfully big.

"I'm not through." His powerful fingers ripped away the corky bark, and in something less than half a minute I had a staff whose right-angled top came to my chin, a staff that was nearly straight and as smooth as glass.

I still have it. The staff itself belongs to me, but its angled top is Oreb's, who chides me now. "Fish heads? Fish heads?"

Pointing to the river, I tell him to fish for himself, as I know he can. I would not object to eating, but I can eat after shadelow, assuming that I can find food. This sunlight is nicely slanted for writing, which is to say that the sun is halfway down the sky. Here beside the river, the air is cool and moves not quite enough to be called a breeze. Not enough to stir a sail, in other words, but enough to dry my ink. What could be better?

Before I forget, I ought to say that what my very good friend Cugino called a vine was what we called a liana on Green. Green is a whorl made for trees, and Green's trees have solved every problem but that one.

One might almost call it a whorl made by trees, which cover every part of it except the bare rock of its mountaintops and cliffs, and its poles (or whatever the regions of ice should be called). And the trees are working on them.

In the Whorl, we had the East Pole and the West Pole, pylons with the Long Sun stretched between them. Thus we speak here (and on Green too) of a fictional West Pole to which the Short Sun travels, and an equally fictitious East Pole where it is imagined to originate. From a lander, one sees that none of this is true. There are no such places. Instead of being cylindrical, as we like to think of them, the colored whorls are spherical; and each might be said to have an equally imaginary "pole" at the top and bottom. That is to say that if some scholar were to build models to illustrate them, he would find it necessary to run little axles up through them so that they would turn properly, and if these axles were permitted to protrude at the top as well as at the bottom they would have the appearance of poles to the people whose whorls they held up.

* * *

A man named Inclito sat down next to me while I was writing that last. We fell to talking, as two men will who have nothing better to do than sun themselves like crocodiles of a sunny autumn afternoon, our tongues flicking in our mouths fast enough, if not quite so spectacularly.

He began our conversation, naturally enough, by asking what I was writing; and I confessed that it was foolishness, which this certainly is.

"Wisdom," he corrected me. "You are a wise man. Everyone sees it. Such a wise man would not write foolishness."

"Would a wise man write at all?" I asked him. To tell the truth, I simply wanted to ask him an inoffensive question to keep him talking, and hit upon that one.

Without batting an eye, he returned it to me. "Would one, Master?"

I had not expected to be addressed in such a fashion, but it seems to be the custom here. At home it usually meant a teacher such as Master Xiphias, the owner of a dog, or the leader of a band of musicians. I said, "A wise man might write, but he wouldn't write as I do. That is to say, he wouldn't record the events of his life. He would consider that they might be read by some innocent person who would laugh himself into fits. A wise man never harms another unless he intends to harm."

"That is well said." Inclito drew himself up. "I am an old trooper myself."

I told him respectfully that it was a most honorable occupation, but had never been mine.

"You have a wound."

I glanced down, afraid that the wound in my side was bleeding again and staining my robe.

"There too? I meant your eye." (I must get a rag to wear over that, as Pig did.) Seeing my expression, Inclito continued, "I'm sorry. It's not good to be reminded."

His own wide, square face is disfigured too, but by some skin disorder. It is not the sort of face that appeals to women; but courage, honesty, strength, and intelligence show in it very plainly. As I sit here waiting for him to take me to dinner, I know very little about him; but from what I saw and heard I think it likely that he is a man who has borne heavy responsibilities for a long time, and has driven himself harder than he drives others.

We talked for an hour or more, each of us trying to draw the other out. I doubt that there is any point in giving all of that here. I said as little as possible about myself because I did not want him to know what a hash I have made of my task. Inclito was at least as reticent, I would guess because he has a horror of boasting.

"As long as you're here," he told me smiling, "you got to think about me when you pass water. Our sewers? They're mine."

"You designed them?"

"I made some sketches. We built them, but they didn't work." He chuckled. "So we tore up my sketches and did them over."

He seems to have been a military officer as well.

"You walked here." (I had told him that I had.) "Where you going to have dinner tonight?"

"I doubt that I will—Oreb, be quiet!—I certainly hadn't planned on eating anywhere."

"You think I want you to eat in my sewers." He chuckled again. "In my house. All right? Seven. You can come at seven?"

I said that I would come at seven gladly, if he would tell me where it was.

"It's a long way. I bring you myself. Where you staying?"

Staying was vague enough for me to stretch its meaning a trifle, and I told him that I was "staying" at the shop where I was given this paper, and supplied the name of the little street.

"I know the place. Atteno, he's putting you up?"

"I hope, at least, that he won't drive me away."

Inclito laughed; he has a good, loud, booming laugh. "I show you my sewers if he does. One I got never gets wet. Would make a good place to sleep. I pick you up at six, all right? Where you're staying."

So here I am. It is not six yet; but I have nothing better to do, and the shopkeeper, who is very obliging, lets me sit in his window and scribble away. I suppose I am a sort of living advertisement. I have swept his floors again, as I did for my quire of paper, dusted off everything, and rearranged a few little items on his shelves that were in some disorder—the tasks of my boyhood. I would like to tie his bundles of quills for him, as I did for my father; but he has already tied them all himself.

I wish I could charge as much for our paper as he charges for his. Nettle and I would be rich.

Copyright © 2000 by Gene Wolfe


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