Two books of Viriconium.

by waxbanks

The Pastel City

The first. The youngest, though old before its time, and bloodily wise. A gorgeous Dying Earth tale, crushingly somber in tone, conventional in structure but not in satisfaction. This one’s 45 years old(!!) but even then Harrison wrote better prose than almost everyone else, and he’s improved by leaps and bounds. I’m taking my Viriconium collection to Florida; I have to know.

(I did. We went to Disney World; I’d wake up before everyone else, pad barefoot across to the hotel lobby, and listen to weird early computer music while reading.)

A Storm of Wings

The second book of Viriconium essentially rewrites the first in a language of unbearable density and dark surreal evocation. In its imaginative reach and vivid precision of language, thoroughly embarrasses nearly everything else now called ‘fantasy.’ Harrison is a better writer, sentence to sentence, than almost everyone else I can think of. A Storm of Wings is as intimately weird as Spirited Away or a Bosch painting; its verbal invention seems to come only after a private act of comprehensive imagination, so that the story’s impossible scenes seem described, clearly seen, rather than conjured into being. The Sign of the Locust is one of the most complexly terrifying images I’ve encountered in fiction; the monstrous body of the airboat pilot Paucemanly makes Akira seem a polite half-measure (and makes Neil Gaiman’s introduction to this omnibus edition look childish).

Dark perfection. Slow going, after the comparatively primitive Pastel City, but not a word is wasted. I’ve now read four of Harrison’s novels. He is one of the great terrible masters.