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A few words from Neil on Viriconium: "Viriconium is three novles and a short story collection, spanning much of M. John Harrison’s illustrious career - what an ambitious task to imagine an alternate version of someplace that may be London, albeit a punk-sensibility London in a post-apocalyptic future. It's as if Mike Harrison remembered a place that will never exist, or at least not for millennia, and fleshed it out with art and legends and glorious gods hiding amidst the population…. the first novel, The Pastel City, introduces Lord tegeus-Cromis, called upon to be the reluctant defender of Virconium from a barbarian onslaught. Eighty years later, in the novel A Storm of Wings, a race of demi-gods rises to threaten Viriconium. The short stories In Viriconium are glorious and terrifying by turns, but they are always incredibly human and incredibly real, and you get the joy of M. John Harrison’s prose, which is crystalline and sharp and uplifting…. Viriconium Nights is my favorite novel of the sequence.... Simon Vance is the gold-standard of narrators, and I’m thrilled and proud to have him. He’s brilliant, and he's brought entire worlds to life before in the Millennium Trilogy and in Anthony Powell’s twelve-book cycle Dance to the Music of Time. He is the man of a hundred voices, a thousand voices, and as soon as Mike and I heard him, we knew we’d found the man to carry us there and back again."
This landmark collection gathers four groundbreaking fantasy classics from the acclaimed author of Light. Set in the imagined city of Viriconium, here are the masterworks that revolutionized a genre and enthralled a generation of readers: The Pastel City, A Storm of Wings, In Viriconium, and Viriconium Nights. Back after a long absence, these singular tales of a timeless realm and its enigmatic inhabitants are now reborn and compiled to captivate a whole new generation."
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.
22 of 22 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 have been to Viriconium once before – and appropriately – I find that the landscape of the city seems to have shifted since the last time I was here. Sometimes, it’s a bit difficult to find your way around, because as author M. John Harrison once stated, Viriconium is a place that cannot be mapped. It is its own mythology.
Viriconium is three novels and a collection of short stories. The first book – The Pastel City was my favorite last time, and might still be. It’s a tale of technological wastelands millennia in the future, filled with heroes, villains, princesses, and magic. It had lightsabers – baans, or energy swords, years before Star Wars came out. It has teagus-Cromis, the finest swordsman in the land, who was an even better poet. It’s a straightforward epic fantasy that isn’t a doorstop, and it’s the epitome of cool.
A Storm of Wings is the second novel, and Harrison makes some incredibly interesting choices, working very hard to do something radically different than he did the last time he brought us here. It’s a difficult listen at times because instead of fighting monsters, the heroes of the story are fighting something that ends up being much more abstract. It’s the longest of the stories, and it feels the longest. That said, it might also be the one I’m most eager to revisit.
The third novel is In Viriconium. Again, very different from the two that went before it, but this time the experiment is a glorious one – like watching the Coen Brothers make an urban fantasy farce riffing on epic fantasy tropes. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious at one moment, then deeply disturbing in the next.
Then we get to Viriconium Nights, the short story collection, which is really interesting. Occasionally, characters from the previous books appear, but not always, and almost never quite how we remember them. Here is where Viriconium truly becomes an unmapped city – where all the contradictions of what’s come before in its history and characters are put on display.
Simon Vance is our tour guide through all this, showing off the different existences of a world, and tying them all together. He does a fantastic job reading Harrison’s stories.
It’s challenging, yes. It might even be frustrating. But I’ll be damned if I’m not already fantasizing about a return trip.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
Viriconium sits on the ruins of an ancient civilization that nobody remembers. The society that was technologically advanced enough to create crystal airships and lethal energy weapons is dead. These Afternoon Cultures depleted the world???s metal ores, leaving mounds of inscrutable rusted infrastructure with only a few odds and ends that still work. The current citizens of Viriconium are baffled by what they???ve dug up, but they have no idea what any of it is for.
The Pastel City, published in 1971, is the first part of M. John Harrison???s science fantasy epic VIRICONIUM which, according to sources, was inspired by Jack Vance???s DYING EARTH and the poetry of T.S. Eliot. Characterization and pacing are sometimes a bit weak, but the scenery in The Pastel City is grand, and I enjoyed the story. In many ways it reminded me of THE LORD OF THE RINGS ??? a group of comrades (including a dwarf) travel through beautiful and desolate landscapes (across rivers and marshes, through mountain tunnels, etc.) on a quest to destroy something so they can save the world. A major difference, and what saves the book from being simply another quest fantasy, is the post-apocalyptic vision of an unknown advanced civilization which died out mysteriously, leaving samples of their devastating handiwork behind. Thus, the dwarf arms himself with an 11-foot tall mechanical skeleton and carries some sort of laser. Cromis and his friends ride into one battle on horseback, but leave in a glass blimp. Cool.
A Storm of Wings is the second part of M. John Harrison???s VIRICONIUM sequence. Viriconium has been at peace for eighty years after the threat from the north was eliminated, but now there are new threats to the city. Something has detached from the moon and fallen to earth. A huge insect head has been discovered in one of the towns of the Reborn. The Reborn are starting to go mad. Also, a new rapidly growing cult is teaching that there is no objective reality. Are the strange events linked with the cult???s nihilistic philosophy? And what will this do to Viriconium???s peace? Tomb the dwarf and Cellur the Birdlord, whom we met in The Pastel City, set out to discover the truth.
A Storm of Wings was published in 1980 ??? nine years after The Pastel City ??? and M. John Harrison???s writing style has evolved. In some ways it???s better ??? characterization is deeper and the imagery is more evocative. This world feels fragile and moribund and the reader gets the sense that, as the cult proclaims, it???s hard to tell what???s real and what???s just a warped perception. Or perhaps Viriconium is slipping from reality into a dream. Or into a different reality altogether. The story is strange, outlandish, and blurry.
In the third part of the VIRICONIUM omnibus, The Floating Gods (aka In Viriconium), we visit the old artists??? quarter of Viriconium ??? a lazy decaying place where gardens bloom and the smell of black currant gin exudes from the taverns where the increasingly lackadaisical citizens used to sit and talk about art and philosophy. This part of the city used to be vibrant and innovative, but it has been deteriorating as a psychological plague has been creeping in from the high city. The artists??? patrons, infected by this plague of mediocrity, have become dreamy and only want to purchase uninspired sentimental watercolor landscapes. And all they want to talk about is the debauched antics of the Barley Brothers, a couple of twins who act like buffoons but are rumored to be demi-gods.
This part is funny, witty, and brilliantly written with sharp humorous insights into disagreeable human behavior. As the plague crept closer, I could feel the beloved city of Viriconium decaying ??? its fountains drying up and its gardens becoming unkempt and shabby. Like the previous book, A Storm of Wings, The Floating Gods is intensely atmospheric. This is a better book, though, because the atmosphere is balanced by humor and plot.
Viriconium Nights is the last book in M. John Harrison???s VIRICONIUM epic. It???s a collection of seven short stories set in and around the city of Viriconium which contain some of the characters we???ve met in the previous VIRICONIUM books and include many allusions to recurring events and motifs: mechanical metal birds, tarot cards, locusts, the fish mask, big lizards, the Mari Lwyd, etc. Each story stands alone but focuses on the city of Viriconium and particularly the bohemian residents of the Artists??? Quarter. All of Viriconium is decaying, but this part of the city feels especially bleak, probably because it???s peopled with brooding artistic types whose desperation results in freakish hedonistic behavior.
Though there are recurring characters in the VIRICONIUM works, we never get to know any of them very well. The haunting, weird, incomprehensible city is the main character. M. John Harrison has explained at his blog that he didn???t want Viriconium to be ???tamed??? or ???controlled,??? so he has confused and disoriented the reader by making it impossible to understand what it would be like to live in his world: ???I made that world increasingly shifting and complex. You can not learn its rules. More importantly, Viriconium is never the same place twice.??? I think this is more successful in the last three parts of VIRICONIUM ??? the first novel, The Pastel City, is almost a traditional quest fantasy.
VIRICONIUM is one of those works that I feel like I should give 5 stars just because it???s original and M. John Harrison???s prose is brilliant. Harrison is a master of style and his writing is superior to most of what???s offered on the SFF shelves. However, the truth is that though I recognize Harrison???s genius, I can???t say that I enjoyed every moment of VIRICONIUM, which may be a reflection on me more than on the work itself. Spending so much time in a city that???s unknowable and decaying resulted, for me, in an overwhelming feeling of disorientation and hopelessness. The characters and the plot, which feel like they are there only to support the role of the city, don???t make up for this. A month from now, I probably won???t remember any of the plots in Viriconium Nights. But I will remember Viriconium.
This audiobook was produced by Neil Gaiman Presents and is narrated by Simon Vance who is one of the absolute best in the business. This is a high-quality production and highly recommended for anyone who wants to read one of M. John Harrison???s best-loved works.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
I guess that one cannot expect the books Neil Gaiman likes to resemble the books Neil Gaiman writes. I learned that listening to Viriconium. Where Neil Gaiman's work is intellectually stimulating and deeply engaging, making me care about the characters, as a good story should, Viriconium seems like an objet d'art: beautiful in its way, poetic, but not gripping. Because none of the characters knew what was going on in their world, the reader doesn't know what is going on, and the resolutions that occur shed only a little light on the situation. Everything seems to happen in a kind of a dream or a fog both within the story and to the reader as well. Some may find that a virtue; I found it a bore.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Neil Gaiman Presents, so you know it's quality. I feel I'm indebted to Gaiman for uncovering these lost treasures. This one is 3 books and a short story, the entirety of Harrison's Viriconium collection. While they're connected through a common world, they're also different enough to push the boundaries of that world. The world building is truly the star of the show here as there's enough here to show you how things work, but the edges are murky so as to suggest a lot more. It's kind of like Narnia in that respect, only post-apocalyptic fantasy.
As Gaiman points out up front, Simon Vance is the gold standard for narrators. I can't agree enough.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Would you try another book from M. John Harrison and/or Simon Vance?
simon vance of course - John Harrison - not anytime soon
Would you ever listen to anything by M. John Harrison again?
Would you be willing to try another one of Simon Vance’s performances?
What character would you cut from Viriconium?
Any additional comments?
I wonder if maybe Neil Gamans taste and mine are just too different to reconcile - I found this slow and ponderous - the characters intriguing and the writing flowery.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
What was most disappointing about M. John Harrison’s story?
There are many books that work well on audio - this is not one of them. The whole point of the narrative is to surprise, complicate, and challenge the reader and I prefer my audiobooks (although not my printed books) to keep it fairly simple. It might be a great novel in print, but the audio version lost me on so many occasions I could not follow its many threads to the end.
You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?
There are some fascinating fantasy/sci-fi ideas woven into the story and the first story did conclude in somewhat of a surprise. I should also add that as English is my second language, it might be the the novel's linguistic intricacies that made it difficult for me to follow in audio. Perhaps those intricacies might even appeal to a native English speaker.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I will admit at the start that I have not finished listening to this book. I haven't been able to finish the third novella, In Viriconium, because I see no point to the story. In the second novella, A Storm of Wings, I don't think I can tell you what actually happened or why. The language is beautiful and haunting but it smothers a story that may or may not make any sense. I only listened to the second and third novellas because I did enjoy the first story, The Pastel City. It made sense, something actually happened, and plot took precedents over language.
Simon Vance is wonderful. He is one of the reasons I selected this book. The main reason, however, was because Neil Gaiman recommended it. I really don't understand why.There is a difference between writing beautiful evocative language that takes the reader no where and a story that takes the reader into beautifully drawn places.
4 of 7 people found this review helpful
Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
The first novel "The Pastel City" is wonderful. It flows, and you can follow it. And then you enter a never ending bog. I am not sure if it's the story, the character names, or some other factor, but I was not able to reasonably focus on the next two novels - nor most of the short stories. The language in the writing was wonderful, but it loses something by being read aloud.
Would you recommend Viriconium to your friends? Why or why not?
In text form, perhaps.
What do you think the narrator could have done better?
Simon Vance was fine.
If this book were a movie would you go see it?
What did you like best about Viriconium? What did you like least?
The post post apocalypse setting was interesting but as I have mentioned in the headline it gets very metaphysical.
Has Viriconium put you off other books in this genre?
No I have read many sci-fi books and will continue to do so.
What about Simon Vance’s performance did you like?
Like his work in the Dune series he puts in a good performance here.
I listened to all four stories in this compendium. The first is quite good but the later ones I found less compelling. Overall I think my time could have been spent on something more interesting, but still there are a few times when the stories are almost haunting and some of the concepts are excellent.
Spoiler alert - read no further
I particularly liked the immortal man who had forgotten who he was or that he was immortal because the mind cannot hold 900+ years of history and the refrain regarding Tegius Chromis (sp?) the warrior who thought he was a poet.
0 of 1 people found this review helpful