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In Viriconium by M. John Harrison
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In Viriconium (1982)

by M. John Harrison

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Series: Viriconium (3)

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ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

In this third volume of the VIRICONIUM omnibus, we visit the old artists?? quarter of Viriconium ƒ?? 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 artistsƒ?? 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.

Ashlyme is a renowned artist whose cruel portraits are known for their ability to capture and emphasize his subjectsƒ?? unflattering personality traits. Heƒ??s concerned about Audsley King, another famous painter who is succumbing to the plague. With the help of his scientifically minded friend and a cruel dwarf who calls himself the Grand Cairo, Ashlyme plans to transport Audsley to a part of the city where the plague has not yet reached, thinking that she may recover. Their plans go awry and end up like an episode of The Three Stooges.

The Floating Gods (aka In Viriconium) 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 ƒ?? 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. This is my favorite VIRICONIUM book so far. Now Iƒ??m moving on to the last part, a collection of stories called Viriconium Nights.

Iƒ??m listening to the wonderful audiobook version of the entire VIRICONIUM saga which is produced by Neil Gaiman Presents and narrated by Simon Vance. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
Holy bejeezus. In the early 70s, M John Harrison invented Steampunk and everything else. This book is all the more brilliant for no one's knowing what on earth it is. If you like China Miéville, Jeff Noon, etc. Harrison did it 30 years ago. ( )
  gmehn | Sep 6, 2011 |
This book was curiously hard to engage with. The main characters, ranging from merely eccentric to seriously dysfunctional, are a collection of ageing artists and their patrons and masters. The privileged watch, with barely sustained interest, from the upper city as the lower quarters succumb to some sort of plague. This is manifested as a kind of enervation or decay, but it affects the surroundings as much as the inhabitants, who, but for the key characters, are scarcely glimpsed during the novel. The cityscape is never really described (a reviewer quoted on the cover perceptively says that it appears as though viewed through a crystal ball); it exists only as a vague impression of streets, steps, and decrepit buildings. The upper city is such a threadbare place that the supposed plague almost seems to have overwhelmed it already. (Perhaps that is part of the author's intention.) The interaction of the characters feels as though it is supposed to carry some sort of metaphorical significance, but it never seems to be clearly enough set out to be interpretable. The main thread of the plot is the attempted rescue of a consumptive lower-city artist by the central character, but it is not entirely clear why he and his accomplices should don grotesque masks for this venture. There are one or two other striking scenes, such as that of the dead madman in his ruined observatory, but on the whole I found the book rather baffling. It reads rather as though a novel by Philip K. Dick or Stanislaw Lem has been edited to remove all the science fiction elements.

MB 2-xi-2009 ( )
  MyopicBookworm | Nov 2, 2009 |
A copy signed "for Martyn" by MJH. Presumably Martyn grew out of his enthusiasms for SF later in life.
  terrynova | Jun 29, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
M. John Harrisonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Garland, LindaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whelan, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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