- Author: M. John Harrison
- Release: December 18, 2007
- Genre: Steampunk | Cyberpunk | Fantasy | Dark Fantasy | Sci-Fi
- Edition: Kindle
- Publisher: Random House LLC
A magnificent city existing on the ringes of the past, and on the brink of destruction, Viriconium • With a foreword by Neil Gaiman
Available to American readers for the first time, 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 in print 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.
Review (Spoiler Free)
I would like to start with the recommendation, which I usually place at the end of the review. I enjoy this work, which is actually a collection of novels and short stories, and would recommend it for anyone who enjoys steampunk, cyberpunk, fantasy, sci-fi, and dark fantasy blended together in a unique genre of its own. Viriconium collects Harrison’s stories about the great city Viriconium, the empire that rose to prominence after the fall of the Afternoon Cultures. In the Kindle edition, Neil Gaiman writes the forward, which is a selling-point all on its own.
This is not a typical series. In fact, the only element that binds the stories together is the city/empire. The collection starts with two queens, Methvet Nian and Canna Moidart, battling to rule the empire; Lord Tegeus-Cromis and the last survivors of his order fight for Methvet Nian against the rapacious Northerners and the frightening Geteit Chemosit, leftovers from the Afternoon Empires. Airman Benedict Paucemanly returns from the moon followed by an invasion of locust-like creatures who come from the stars and threaten to destroy humanity. And finally, Viriconium connects to our world through mirrors. These portals allow people to travel between the realms and their adventures are told through a collection of loosely related short stories.
The writing style is vivid. For example, near the start of the collection Harrison describes the crash of an airship:
When it came close enough to make out detail, Cromis saw that its faceted crystal hull had been blackened by fire, and that a great rift ran the full length of its starboard side. Its power plant (the secret of which, like many other things, had been lost a thousand years before the rise of Viriconium, so that Cromis and his contemporaries lived on the corpse of an ancient science, dependent on the enduring relics of a dead race) ran with a dreary insectile humming where it should have been silent. A pale halo of St. Elmo’s fire crackled from its bow to its stern, coruscating. Behind the shattered glass of its canopy, Cromis could see no pilot, and its flight was erratic: it yawed and pitched aimlessly, like a waterbird on a quiet current.
Cromis’s knuckles stood out white against the sweat-darkened leather of his sword hilt as the vehicle dived, spun wildly, and lost a hundred feet in less than a second. It scraped the tops of the rowans, shuddered like a dying animal, gained a few precious, hopeless feet. It ploughed into the wood, discharging enormous sparks, its motors wailing. A smell of ozone was in the air.
The air ships, as well as many of the other inventions, fall under the genre of steampunk. The people who live in the current era, though, have little understanding of how the inventions work. Their society is more feudal, or high fantasy, in nature like the worlds created by George R.R. Martin. There are blends of sci fi, reminiscent of H.G. Wells, fairy-tale tropes, and so much more. This collection really seems determined to invent its own genre!
I found it very helpful to read Gaiman’s forward. Please do not skip this if you pick up the collection. Otherwise a person could get lost looking for a common thread or repeating characters in the novels. But the connection is not through the characters, or even in the style of writing. The relationship is with the world that Harrison creates. And the world is as vivid as other fantasy creations, like Discworld, Middle-Earth, or Pern. Again–I highly recommend it as long as you are not looking for “pure” steampunk but are willing to go along for the ride.