Gene Wolfe's four-volume epic The Book of the New Sun appears to be set in a far-future version of our world's South America. This is a fact that I only noticed by using my knowledge of fauna, as some of the animals mentioned in the story are only found in South America. I don't remember now which animals these were exactly - maned wolves? brown tapirs? rheas? - but they were distinctive enough and clearly enough described to make me certain of the setting.

Is this geographical setting made clear in any other way in the story text? Other clues set it clearly in the southern hemisphere (I seem to remember the sun is described as being in the north?) but the fauna is the only clue I spotted that specified a continent. Are there other textual clues indicating South America which I missed?

Please clearly mark spoilers from books beyond the first. I read the first book a couple of years ago and didn't get around to continuing the series yet. I'm led to understand that later books will somehow make many things more clear about the setting, but I'm still wondering when and how readers are first meant to realise that the story is set in future South America.

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    If you read the book carefully, it's clear that the action is taking place in South America and that the invading Ascians are actually North Americans. What I didn't anticipate was that nine tenths of my readers and reviewers would look at the word "Ascian" and say, "Oh, these guys are Asians!" This confusion got me accused of being an anti Asian racist—which I'm not. Actually, the word "ascian" literally means "people without shadows." It was a word used in the Classical world for people who lived near the Equator, where the Sun is dead overhead at noon and thus produces no shadow."
    – Valorum
    Oct 9, 2021 at 17:27
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    I felt it would be an interesting touch to show that the ordinary man in the street in the Southern Hemisphere wasn't even conscious that their attackers are coming down from the Northern Hemisphere (they aren't even aware that there is another hemisphere). - Gene Wolfe (in interview)
    – Valorum
    Oct 9, 2021 at 17:29
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    I didn't notice South American fauna AT ALL when I read it, but the "narrow lands" are in the north, and I think he refers to them as a hot place at least once, so I thought that sounded kind of like Panama or something. Oct 9, 2021 at 19:57
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    It's actually possible to tell that it's not our world's South America. (What it means exactly is a bit of a spoiler, and you need fifth book to tell that).
    – Mithoron
    Oct 9, 2021 at 22:13
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    I remember recognizing that the story took place in South America, but it wasn't because of the fauna. Sadly, I don't recall what it was, apart from it being related to geography. Oct 11, 2021 at 9:39

1 Answer 1


I thought there were some general hints that the city of "Nessus" was in South America, including the jungles and mountains described and the "Asciians" invading from the north. I also thought that "Nessus" was a degenerate far-future condensation of "Buenos Aires." This thought also appeals to me because I bet Wolfe was a big fan of Jorge Luis Borges, the enigmatic short story genius from Buenos Aires. I am very intrigued by an old comment that "Asciian" means somebody with no shadow/from the equator. Brilliant! Had no clue on that. Rather, I thought Asciian might be a Wolfe joking reference to American Standard Code; Gene WAS an engineer, after all.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Do you have any evidence for your theories?
    – DavidW
    Nov 20, 2023 at 1:01

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