A full compendium of M. John Harrison’s Viriconium stories, originally published separately (as three short novels and a short story collection) between 1971 and 1985. I’ve previously written about how superb Harrison is as a stylist, and while that’s clearly evident here, I also suspect that reading all these stories together like this didn’t really do them many favours.
Individually, they’re wonderful. En masse, they’re a little too rich. Harrison, of course, is the writer who gave us the “clomping foot of nerdism”, and what’s truly amazing about these stories is that how they’re clear attempts to deconstruct a genre which, at the time of their writing, was barely in the early stages of its original construction. Any attempts to fathom a unified timeline, say, is, quite deliberately one feels, doomed to failure. These books are driven not by setting but by ambience, not by plot but by language. Viriconium was clearly never intended to be viewed as something as prosaic as a “project”, but through being grouped together like this, that’s what the reader is implicitly encouraged to do. In one sense that does let you better see how all the facets join together (or, more accurately, how they don’t), but at the same time it also slightly overwhelms the precision and beauty at the sentences level; it encourages recourse to the very clomping foot they were written to dispute. Read them, dear reader, you absolutely must read them, but perhaps not all at once.