In The Shadow of The Torturer by Gene Wolf, the tower the torturers live in is made from metal.

I found the silent lips and pale, closed eyes more terrible than the agonized masks painted on the metal of our own tower.

I seem to remember other metal towers being mentioned and someone saying that all the oldest towers are metal.

Is it ever implied or stated in any of the books of the The Book of the New Sun series that these old metal towers are spaceships from an ancient, more technologically advanced civilisation?

I do recall people travelling in spaceships in one or more of the later books in the series, but I don't think they were made on Urth.

  • 2
    Gene Wolfe was one of the best and most skillfully challenging sf and f writers ever. His works are so full of puzzles that there are entire books helping to unlock them. Rarely should anything in any of his books or short stories be taken at face value.
    – tgrignon
    Mar 28 at 12:56
  • That the Citadel was originally a spaceport is one of relatively easy, hidden things in the series.
    – Mithoron
    Mar 28 at 15:41
  • 2
    @tgrignon: One of the finest moments of my career as an SF fan was asking Wolfe a question about a reference in The Book of the New Sun, and him not knowing why it was there. Mar 29 at 17:45

1 Answer 1



This is strongly implied in the beginning of Chapter III: The Autarch's Face:

It was midmorning of the next day before I thought to look at the coin Vodalus had given me. After serving the journeymen in the refectory we had breakfast as usual, met Master Palaemon in our classroom, and after a brief preparatory lecture followed him to the lower levels to view the work of the preceding night. But perhaps before I write further I should explain something more of the nature of our Matachin Tower. It is situated toward the back of the Citadel, upon the western side. At ground level are the studies of our masters, where consultations with the officers of justice and the heads of other guilds are conducted. Our common room is above them, with its back to the kitchen. Above that is the refectory, which serves us as an assembly hall as well as an eating place. Above it are the private cabins of the masters, in better days much more numerous. Above these are the journeymen’s cabins, and above them the apprentices’ dormitory and classroom, and a series of attics and abandoned cubicles. Near the very top is the gun room, whose remaining pieces we of the guild are charged with serving should the Citadel suffer attack. The real work of our guild is carried out below all this. Just underground lies the examination room; beneath it, and thus outside the tower proper (for the examination room was the propulsion chamber of the original structure) stretches the labyrinth of the oubliette. There are three usable levels, reached by a central stairwell. The cells are plain, dry, and clean, equipped with a small table, a chair, and narrow bed fixed in the center of the floor.

and confirmed in the quotes later on provided by @Valorum

Thecla looked about her before answering. The examination room—our workroom—is not divided into cells, but is a unified space, pillared with the tubes of the ancient engines and cluttered with the tools of our mystery. “The one to which I will be subjected—is that old too?”

There were cables to be wound from one part of the examination room to another, rheostats and magnetic amplifiers to be adjusted. Antique lights like blood-red eyes gleamed on the control panel, and a droning like the song of some huge insect filled the entire chamber. For a few moments, the ancient engine of the tower lived again. One cable was loose, and sparks as blue as burning brandy played about its bronze fittings.

  • I don't think you mean implied. I think you mean 'stated'
    – Valorum
    Mar 29 at 16:27
  • @Valorum: “strongly implied” seems right — the quotes mention engines and a propulsion chamber, but leave the reader to infer what kind of structure would originally possess those things.
    – PLL
    Mar 30 at 13:56
  • 1
    @PLL - I guess it could be an upright train ;-)
    – Valorum
    Mar 30 at 14:03

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