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Back when fantasy and science fiction were one eclectic genre, and most writers were re-interpreting Tolkein or Wells, Viriconium was born. In short it is an occasionally psychedelic, sometimes challenging, imagined remembering of a place that never existed, or perhaps did and does exist in many places and times. It undermines the concept of Tokein-esque "world building" as the setting constantly morphs and changes. There is no logical chronology, characters change from story to story and become twisted analogues of themselves. Places change, cultures change, main themes become obtuse metaphors, metaphors become realities. It is an extremely difficult collection of stories to read.
However, there is much to be gained -- many ideas explored. There is often an emphasis on the nature of Time and its effect on society. Also discussed are madness, art, religion and human destruction of the environment; a theme even more poignant now, than when many of these stories were written. Harrison's use of language is extraordinary and vaguely reminiscent of T.S Eliot in the first few novellas.
Simon Vance was an excellent choice. At first I was worried his often skeptical tone would miss the tone of writing. I was wrong. It makes a haunting counterpoint to the events of the book, and suites the style of writing almost perfectly.
If you are looking for an easy read -- something to entertain you on a summer holiday, a throwaway read -- then you will be disappointed. This is a book for the well-read, and a book for those willing to think. It is literary fiction that happens to be within the milieu of Fantasy and science fiction. If this is what you are looking for, then I highly suggest Viriconium in all its many guises.
23 of 23 people found this review helpful
What was this experience that just warped my sense of reality, fantasy, beauty, and story? Viriconium. How can words describe the city? ???I???m a dwarf, not a philosopher!??? And the past of Viriconium is so vast that it ???made of the air a sort of amber, an entrapment.??? As the caf?? philosophers say, ???The world is so old that the substance of reality no longer knows quite what it ought to be.???
The first novel, The Pastel City (1971), in which a morose poet-swordsman named tegeus-Cromis leads a raggedy bunch of legends in an attempt to save Viriconium from Northern barbarians, reminds me of Michael Moorcock???s Elric or Corum wandering Jack Vance???s Dying Earth. If you like dark epic science fantasy, you???d love this.
In A Storm of Wings (1980), Galen Hornwrack, a bitter aristocratic assassin, becomes caught up in a quest to protect Viriconium from an alien insect reality invasion. Recalling Lewis Carroll and Philip K. Dick, this novel was the most densely and richly written Viriconium and hence the most challenging to listen to. Superficial skimmers of pages steer clear!
Evoking Laurel and Hardy, Oscar Wilde, and Kafka, In Viriconium (1980) depicts the milquetoast portrait artist Ashlyme trying to complete a commission and to save his subject as a plague of attenuation spreads through the city. This is the most funny and disturbing novel of the three, as well as the most difficult to understand, as the reality of Viriconium warps and ramifies.
The collection of seven short stories called Viriconium Nights (1985) nightmarishly develops the mirroring of alternate Viriconiums until characters reappear with similar or different names, careers, lives, and deaths, the city accrues overlapping names, rulers, and histories, and finally we are left in our real world desperately seeking Viriconium, which is, after all, only a fiction (isn???t it?).
M. John Harrison???s sad beauty and humorous grotesquery, his painterly, poetic, and pregnant descriptions of landscapes, buildings, and people, his explorations of time, memory, reality, art, and love, his flawed and moving characters and the overwhelming city they live in, leave from, or long for, provide a deep and altering dream. He makes new his ancient Evening Earth and our real world.
Simon Vance???s urbane and warm voice relishes Viriconium and makes listening to it an affecting and absorbing experience. Just hearing him talk like a lamia or croon ???Ou lou loo lou loo??? is worth the price of admission.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
I came here after reading 'Climbers'. I loved that book so much. Not because I climb a bit, but because the gritty landscape writing and wonderful character portraits and the sense of loss and confusion and humanity had me re-reading it quite soon after I finished. 'Climbers' is a book that gives more, the more you dig.
A pity, I then thought, that this guy, Harrison, turns out to be mostly a science fiction writer. Not usually my thing. But such was my appetite for more that I took this collection of three novels to a month-long job down south.
There are three quite different novels here and yet the same sense of thoughtful confusion suffuses the unlikely heroes and strange enemies of the 'afternoon cultures'. Nothing is certain. The flawed heroes, the dwarf, the last space pilot, the insect aliens and everything else that is in here comes from a kind of polluted fog of deep time. The writing is great and from the confusion comes a rather touching and yet indefinable coherence.
Its not 'Climbers', but it is still Great.
What would have made Viriconium better?
I really needed characters I could care about a bit more, or a faster paced story. It's a shame, it's an interesting world and the book was well read, but I just found my concentration drifting so that I needed to go back 10 minutes to see what was going on. I got about half way though but gave up, and it's a long time since I last gave up on an audiobook