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In The Book of the New Sun there are many variations of humans and other life forms. There are regular humans, ape-men and Zoanthrops, and probably some other variations. However while the autochthons are vaguely described as tribal and primitive, they are not necessarily described as human or sub-human. I believe at one point in the novel its alluded to that the autochthons are cacogens (extra-solar aliens).

What or who are they exactly?

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    If they're autocthonous, they should be indigenous to their place of residence, not aliens....
    – Adamant
    Jan 16, 2019 at 5:24
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    @Adamant Yeah, I guess that's what the word means in latin (?). But the book seems to contrast them with humans, saying that they would rob but not kill people. They are also contrasted with subhumans, saying that they are not those either. Perhaps they are aliens that have become indigenous? Jan 16, 2019 at 5:30
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    Autochthons? You mean guys living near Thrax? There were just some man...
    – Mithoron
    Jan 16, 2019 at 15:40

2 Answers 2

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The autochthons appear to be aliens, although this raises the question of why they are called "Autochthons," since that word means "indigenous inhabitants." If you accept that The Book of the New Sun takes place on Earth (and there is plenty of evidence that it does), the most logical conclusion is that the autochthons were first encountered on another world (their home world, where they were truly autochthonous), and the aliens we're later brought back to Earth, with the meaning of their name being forgotten in the meantime.

There are other possibilities though, I suppose. Maybe the story does not take place on Earth after all. The setting (and really, any discrepancy in the narrative) can always be explained away as Severian simply not understanding what is going on around him.

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    It may be that the most literal translation from the alien tongue to English (or whatever language Severian speaks and writes in) would be "human". I believe there are multiple tribes of native Americans whose name for themselves was "the people". Using another language's term for "indigenous inhabitants" may be the simplest way to handle the translation, since we wouldn't call them "human".
    – RDFozz
    Jan 16, 2019 at 16:22
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At one point in the story, Severian frees an apparently human woman slave, Pia, from the shore people, and refers to her as an "autochthon". He goes into detail, comparing her to the human woman, Agia, whom he describes as only moderately different. This would lead one to believe that the "autochthons" are human. However, he contrasts them with the "autochtons" of the south, so it's not totally clear if all "autochthons" are necessarily human.

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