23:57 Thu 07 Aug 2008. Updated: 18:03 28 Jan 2009
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I read M. John Harrison’s Viriconium series recently, and was impressed on a number of levels. The atmosphere of completely pervasive decay that he creates is quite effective, and I suspect that the series was extremely influential. I think that Mieville’s New Crobuzon would have had a hard time struggling into existence without Viriconium preceding it, and I also suspect that Harrison had a big impact on Gene Wolfe.

Another aspect that impressed me about the books is that they don’t feel dated at all. The Pastel City was written in 1971, and prose (perhaps even especially speculative fiction prose) from that period often seems to have aged badly. Viriconium, in contrast, strikes me as a setting that could have been created by a contemporary author this year.

It appears to get classed as “fantasy”, even though it’s set far in the future and doesn’t have much in the way of overt magic. To me it seems like a cross between fantasy, postapocalyptic science fiction, and magical realism. I’d be shocked if Borges were not a major influence on Harrison.

All that being said, I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it. The first two novels, The Pastel City and A Storm of Wings, were more enjoyable, while In Viriconium and the short stories were noticeably less so. This feeling may be due to my excessive regard for plot as a central point in fiction.

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