What's the suggested reading order for the Solar Cycle by Gene Wolfe?

Usually I read series by publication order, but I'm confused about the various collections and omnibuses. I see that Tor.com is giving away Shadow & Claw right now, which is a collection of the first two novels in the series, but Book of the New Sun is itself the name of the collection of the first four (of 12) novels in the series sometimes called by the same name, but often called the Solar Cycle.

Can someone clear it up?

  • 1
    This seems opinion based unfortunately. My opinion is: read the first 4 books in publication order, and do not read any of the others. Mar 11, 2017 at 19:52
  • 1
  • 1
  • @OrganicMarble And by "the first 4 books" you mean Shadow & Claw and Sword & Citadel? In other words, the entirety of The Book of the New Sun (which I guess is just the first omnibus/volume in the "Solar Cycle")? Or do you mean the four "books"/omnibuses of the Solar Cycle: The Book of the New Sun, The Urth of the New Sun, The Book Of The Long Sun and The Book of the Short Sun?
    – tobiasvl
    Mar 11, 2017 at 21:09
  • @tobiasvl I am old enough to remember when the books came out separately, in fact eagerly waiting for the next one. I mean Shadow, Claw, Sword, and Citadel. Mar 11, 2017 at 21:21

2 Answers 2


(Comments indicated this question was opinion-based, but as it hasn't been closed, I'll self-answer with the results of my research (thanks to commentators for also providing some information) and invite comments or alternative answers if I'm wrong – I haven't read the books, after all.)

First of all, what I called The Book of the New Sun is a series consisting of four books, usually published in two volumes of two books each. It is itself a sub-series of the larger series/cycle called the Solar Cycle, Urth or the Briah Cycle, which is probably what my question should've asked about from the beginning.

The consensus for the best order to read these novels in seems to be in this publication order. However, according to some people you can also start with The Book of the Long Sun; the first quadrilogy The Book of the New Sun can really be read whenever you want, but The Book of the Long Sun must be read before The Book of the Short Sun.

The Urth of the New Sun is a coda/sequel to The Book of the New Sun and should probably be read after that, although some suggest to read it at the very end of the cycle, and others say it's considered optional reading.

There are also several short stories in the cycle, which take place at different points in the chronology. Although these probably could also be read whenever, some of them reference past events and foreshadow future events, so it seems good to read them when they take place in the chronology.

So! Since the consensus for the main novels seems to be to read them in publication order (although I've mentioned some other suggestions above), here's the suggested reading order I've put together, with short stories interspersed chronologically:

  • The Book of the New Sun
    A tetralogy published as an omnibus called either The Book of the New Sun or Severian of the Guild (UK), separately or in two volumes:
    • Shadow & Claw
      • The Shadow of the Torturer (1980)
      • The Claw of the Conciliator (1980)
    • Sword & Citadel
      • The Sword of the Lictor (1981)
      • The Citadel of the Autarch (1982)
  • "The Cat" (1983)
    Short story which takes place here chronologically
  • "The Map" (1984)
    Short story which seems to be an interquel to The Citadel of the Autarch
  • The Urth of the New Sun (1987)
    A coda/sequel to The Book of the New Sun
  • The Book Of The Long Sun
    Also sometimes known as Starcrosser's Landfall (early title) or The Book of Silk (in-universe). Another tetralogy, apparently not published as an omnibus, but separately or in two volumes:
    • Litany of the Long Sun
      • Nightside the Long Sun (1993)
      • Lake of the Long Sun (1993)
    • Epiphany of the Long Sun
      • Caldé of the Long Sun (1994)
      • Exodus from the Long Sun (1996)
  • The Book of the Short Sun
    A trilogy published as an omnibus or separately:
    • On Blue's Waters (1999)
    • In Green's Jungles (2000)
    • Return to the Whorl (2001)
  • "The Night Chough" (1998)
    A short story set here chronologically.

There are also several other short stories in the cycle that in-universe are fables collected in The book of the Wonders of Urth and Sky, which colloquially is known as the "the brown book". Some are told within the main novels, but others were published later as supplemental material. Since they're not part of the actual cycle, but are meta-fictional, they can probably be read whenever:

  • "Empires of Foliage and Flower" (1987)
  • "The Boy Who Hooked the Sun" (1985)
  • "Folia's Story: The Armiger's Daughter" (1982)

It's also suggested to newcomers to the Solar Cycle that they read Neil Gaiman's How To Read Gene Wolf.

  • 1
    Sees Gaiman's name -> I have to read this! Mar 13, 2017 at 12:52
  • I would add that the reason to recommend reading The Book Of The Long Sun before The Book of the New Sun, in spite of its later publication (and their uncertain chronological order), is accessibility. By analogy with Tolkien, The Silmarillion chronologically precedes The Lord of the Rings (and was partially written earlier, though published later), but The Silmarillion tends to baffle a lot of readers.
    – Steve
    Feb 19, 2018 at 10:59
  • I like this answer because it includes the short stories with the books but I prefer the advice provided in the answer by ForeverMasterless below. Wolfe is, imho, the Shakespeare of Speculative Fiction and should not be avoided on any account especially considering that you can always read his impressive work just for fun as well as go deep with a Latin or Greek dictionary or, even better, Michael Andre-Druissi's Lexicon Urthus.
    – tgrignon
    Jul 27, 2022 at 12:34

Boring answer, but just read them in publication order. It's simplest, and I think most would agree that's the best experience.

Literally the only reason anyone suggest otherwise is that Long Sun is more accessible and straightforward than New Sun, so if you're super intimidated by Wolfe and think there's a good chance you'll just nope out of New Sun after one or two books, there's merit in starting with Long Sun, or so the theory goes.

Personally I think that's terrible advice, and here's why. Book of the Short Sun is a direct sequel series to Book of the Long Sun, and is just as complex and confusing as New Sun is. So at best you're putting off something for four books you're going to have to confront anyway, and not training yourself to read Wolfe how Wolfe really needs to be read. Long Sun is kind of an outlier, most of his other stuff isn't that straightforward, and I think it kinda sets false expectations. Not to mention you'll be missing some fun references to New Sun in Long/Short Sun for kinda no reason.

If you're so intimidated by Wolfe you don't feel like you can commit to plowing through all of New Sun no matter what, a much better solution is to just start with one of his standalone novels instead, like Fifth Head of Cerberus or Peace. Much less commitment, no order to worry about, and you'll get a feel for his style and how to read him, so that new sun won't be as scary and then this whole debate becomes pointless.

  • You've given a lot of nice information here but a lot of it is related to Wolfe in general rather than the suggested order for Solar Cycle. It might be a nice idea to trim some of that down, for example, the last paragraph seems mostly unnecessary in my opinion.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Jan 16, 2020 at 11:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.