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It is the Time of the Locust. The attackers are insect-like aliens who threaten to turn the inhabitants of the Pastel City into hideous, mindless insects: the story is told through both human and alien points of view and perceptions. The main characters are a resurrected man, an assassin, a magician, a madwoman, and Tomb, the Iron Dwarf.

It is a desperate, misconceived enterprise which draw Ashlyme into unwilling alliance with the sinister dwarf The Grand Cairo, and which goes bizarrely wrong. Yet out of the shambles comes the clue to lifting the plague which symbolises a paralysis of will. The stories in this omnibus are in the same running order as in the first edition.

I think Viriconium is a great book and everyone should read it at least once, but having fought my way through the thing over the course of a month I can see how some might detest the book.

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That said, if you can roll with the fact that the haziness of the plot, the deeply strange cast and the borderline hallucinogenic writing are all deliberate and by all means succeeding in keeping you off balance, then you might very well love this book. Viriconium operates in far murkier waters than much of fantasy and science fiction, even the very best of it. The first part of the book is a relatively conventional, but unusually downbeat, take on sword and sorcery science fantasy.

What follows spirals further and further down into surreality, beginning with one of the strangest and most memorable takes on an alien invasion story I've seen and ending with a story collection, presumably depicting the death throes of a fantastic city spinning its own tale into obsolescence. Characters reappear or do they? There is a sense that the cast of Viriconium are lost in a grand tapestry whose significance they know nothing of, wandering between events of grand significance that they at times actively avoid.

This would be very frustrating if Harrison wasn't already playing a deeper game here, telling stories of flawed, mundane people whose lives are insignificant and petty but also weirdly meaningful. Interleaving all of this is a terrific sense of bleakness that sets in from the very first story, and only intensifies throughout the collection. The first story in the collection has relatively clearly defined heroes and villains, but from the second story on there are no heroes and no villains, only victims.

Everyone is simply trying to get by, whether they be men, women, dwarfs or terrors from beyond, and conflict isn't so much resolved by "saving Viriconium" as it is by resetting its equilibrium. It's worth noting that in every case, the city changes with each telling despite the efforts of the cast to keep their lives and home intact.

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Everything in Viriconium is constantly changing or disintegrating, from the characters to the history of the city to the city's name, to the very premise of the stories themselves. It's very much like our own world in that way, although some might find it too close to our own world for comfort. It comes down to this: if you read fantasy to catch a glimpse of something that lies outside the bonds of the familiar, then you should read Viriconium.

It's sad, frustrating, beautifully written, bitterly human and probably without peer in what it sets out to do. It's not an easy read, but if you're up for the challenge I'd recommend taking a crack at it. It's not easy to love, but it's a book I respect quite a bit.

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Sep 23, Bryan Alexander rated it it was amazing Shelves: new-weird , sf , gothic. It's hard to write about Viriconium without being infected by its style. This is a collection of three short novels and some short stories about Harrison's imagined city of Viriconium. The first two novels, Pastel City and Storm of Wings , are recognizable as fantasies. They offer heroes, monsters, queens, epic battles.

Pastel City might be the most traditional, with an Elric vibe.

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  • The third novel, In Viriconium , changes course, presenting the lives of artists and criminals without much fantastic It's hard to write about Viriconium without being infected by its style. The third novel, In Viriconium , changes course, presenting the lives of artists and criminals without much fantastic or epic content. The short stories follow the third novel in theme and content, except for the last one.

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    • Harrison presents a fairly consistent world with this city. Characters, locations, and some history recur from story to story. Lord Cromis, for example, appears frequently, as do certain cafes. Images and themes persist, like horseheads, dwarves, mirrors, locusts, paintings. Viriconium occurs in a dying Earth setting. Early on we're told things take place following the "Afternoon cultures".

      Entropy rules Viriconium , ravaging buildings and people with decay. Melancholy and futility seep from nearly every page, despite the occasional energies of some rare, manic characters. Villains bad guys, alien insects, a robot plague fade from view over the course of the book. Technology is a thing of the past, either present as a background ruin quiet, useless machines as part of the landscape or available as bad archaeology weapons of the past dug up to ill effect, usually working poorly.

      Harrison loves addressing the physical, tactile details of this saddening everyday life: old clothes, malfunctioning weapons, abandoned buildings, sour smells. Most of these details are non-fantastic, easily recognizable, especially in the book's second half. I'm reminded of Phil Dick's love of kibble and junk, or maybe Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun without its energetic, explanatory protagonist.

      The effect is hypnotic, elegiac. Plots are quiet, incremental, allusive after Pastel City. I slowed down my reading to dwell in each paragraph, listening hard to the often cryptic dialog, poetry, and songs. I admired the linguistic precision in descriptions, the way each sentence densely and quickly sketches settings and backgrounds, gesturing to plots that probably don't progress.

      The earlier stories read a bit like Clark Ashton Smith with impressive, sonorous vocabulary, while the later ones return to the 20th century. Ultimately all of Viriconium but the last story feels like a text escaped from that other world, lacking any interface with or concessions to our own.

      Like Delany's Dhalgren it refuses our familiarity. And naturally draws us back to savor, reread, and read aloud. A tower once stood here in the shadow of the estuarine cliffs, made too long ago for anyone to remember, in a way no one left can understand, from a single obsidian monolith fully two hundred feet in length. For ten thousand years wind and water scoured its southern face, finding no weakness; and at night a yellow light might be discerned in its topmost window, coming and going as if someone there passed before a flame. Who brought it to this rainy country, where in winter the gales drive the white water up the Minch and fishermen from Lendalfoot shun the inshore ground, and for what purpose, is unclear.

      Now it lies in five pieces. The effect can be alienating and distancing, unsettling and, famously, weird. It takes place in our world specifically the British city of York , and concerns several people obsessed with Viriconium. They seek clues in this world, and some apparently travel to the other through a cafe bathroom's mirror.

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      Our world is even more decrepit and sad than Viriconium at its most entropic, which helps explain the desire to escape. Where does Viriconium sit in a reader's mind? You can see the full span of the New Weird movement in this book, from dark adventure stories to the surrealism of Ambergris. The second half of the volume fits Bruce Sterling's "slipstream" idea very well. There are connections to magical realism, and naturally to surrealism. Read this book. It's urgent to do so if you're in America, since we barely see any traces of M.


      John Harrison here. Viriconium is an alternative view to most of current sf and mainstream fiction, an alien artifact you need to install within your mental armature. Consider it an upgrade, a book of dreams you don't remember upon wakening, but which Harrison has returned to you. View all 4 comments. May 19, Loren rated it it was ok.

      Viriconium by M. John Harrison: | Books

      From ISawLightningFall. If so, you may understand my response to M. Consistently praised in the speculative-fiction community, it is a compendium spanning three novels and seven short stories, all of which center on a city of the same name. Sounds simple, yet describing what Viriconium is and what happens around, in and to it is challenging.