Works of Speculative Fiction -PART 3-

Please see PART 1 and PART 2 for the purpose of not being confused.

5. Viriconium by M. John Harrison

‘Viriconium’ is an omnibus of stories concerning the titular city of Viriconium, in a far-future setting superficially similar to Wolfe’s or Vance’s. The plot of the Viriconium cycle, spanning numerous stories over several decades, can be summed up like this: Viriconium is a fantastic, unreal city threatened by brigands with ancient technology. Viriconium is a fantastic, unreal city threatened by clockwork insects from the moon. Viriconium does not exist, and is a story in the head of a British writer. Viriconium does not exist, or maybe it does.

M. John Harrison’s real gift is his masterful writing and highly accomplished descriptive ability. Not often is the bizarre made to seem so poignant as when M. John Harrison describes it. I liken Harrison’s writing to Hardy’s, in that they both have an ability to unfold an image with expert naturalism, considering a place setting and developing it organically and with great vividness until it is as real and palpable in the reader’s mind as if it were experienced visually.

A Good, Non-Literary Alternative Might Be:

‘Perdido Street Station’ by China Mieville. Mieville is a contemporary science fiction writer and one who has played a great role in championing M. John Harrison’s work. Like Harrison, Mieville has the ability to bring a living reality to strange and unusual set pieces, and he does so with great frequency. All strangeness in Mieville’s work is dialed up to eleven, so to speak, and sometimes this has the tendency to diminish relatability. Still, as with all writers who work to develop their sense of the bizarre, his work is readable and compelling, and unmistakably unique.

6. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Many of my entries on this list could do double-duty as both science fiction and post-modernist literature, and, in its own gentle way, ‘The Last Unicorn’ is no exception. A slight novel, ‘The Last Unicorn’ follows the unicorn Amalthea as she seeks her lost kin in an ambiguous fairy-tale world. The thing that makes this work special, besides the expert storytelling, almost real characters and evocative sense of lost innocence, is the constant deconstruction of fantasy literature taking place within the story. At one point Robin Hood is summoned to a bandit camp, only to realize he does not exist. Unicorns do exist in the story, but we are reminded time to time that they are not real in our world.  Characters will occasionally break the fourth wall and conspicuously out-of-place objects (like tacos) are regarded without significance. The constantly-observed message of the story is that the world of the fantastic is not real, nor does it need to be in order for it to be able to act upon our lives.  Read this book three times: the first to enjoy the beauty and charm of the story and its characters, the second to look at the underlying subtlety of the work and what it says about our attitude and expectations towards myth and fantasy– and the third time to kick-start your own journey into the unknown search for completion.

A Good, Non-Literary Alternative Might Be:

‘Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold!’ by Terry Brooks. In this novel and its sequels, average American, Ben Holiday, purchases an authentic fairy-tale kingdom and has a continuing series of adventures therein. Though the series is never terribly original, I think Brooks has a talent for putting a new spin on old and familiar tropes, and he wins points in my mind for his constant ability to write stories that are substantial yet readable. ‘Magic Kingdom’ scratches the itch of anyone who wonders, even if only in passing, what it would be like to lord over a kingdom of dragons, fairies, elves and other improbable beings.





See you back here next week for another installment!


Filed under Curious Lists

2 responses to “Works of Speculative Fiction -PART 3-

  1. Julie von Zerneck

    Thank you Kevin. That is great! ‘Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold!’ by Terry Brooks looks like it just has to be read.

  2. Lilly

    Kevin, I never got around to reading Harrison’s Viriconium, and now see the error of my ways! I can’t wait to dive in, thanks to your excellent review. — Lilly

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