Category Archives: Books

I randomly bumped on this old Erikson interview. A couple of quotes:

The dialogue that I have written that I remain pleased about is generally the tersest kind. The massive understatement. The line with a hundred volumes hiding under it, pages ready to explode but all, somehow, held back, contained. Exchanges where all parties skirt around what’s really going on. Evasions and the like.

Well, that’s what I like reading indeed :)

1: Finish what you start.

2: When a scene drags, when it gets brutally hard to get out the next line, the next word; when blood starts beading on your forehead, don’t switch scenes, don’t shift characters, don’t do any of the running-away things you might be inclined to. Push through. Everything up to that point was the lead-up to this moment, and this moment is when you learn – you learn how to write, what it is to be a writer, and all the reasons you possess for being one. That tight, claustrophobic place, is your call to courage. Don’t evade, don’t back away, don’t shift laterally. Keep going, until it hurts.

3: Finish what you start.

I was looking at Subterranean Press limited editions of the Malazan books and being quite disappointed at the art there. But then I always am with that sort of stuff.

For fun I decided to describe what I’d instead put on the covers. I’m not an artist, but this is the sort of stuff I see in my mind and that I think would look great. Obviously just the first five books, because I’ve still to read the rest.

1- Gardens of the Moon. Well, Pale. Camera at the ground level, bottom up. You see at a distance Pale’s high walls, enough to give the walls some details and impressive scale. The cover should have a sense of verticalness to it. So the eye is drawn right at Pale’s walls, imposing, going upward. But then the impressive vista should escalate in scope as hovering above Pale you have Moon’s Spawn, maybe very slightly askew. So no characters on the cover, just a wide view of the scene, to focus on scale and scope. It should give a sense of disproportion, as if you cannot give a proper size to the elements in respect to each other. Sense of wonder.

2- Deadhouse Gates. Chain of Dogs. I’d go with top down, a look at a valley far below from an high point, the Chain of Dogs going through it. Not close enough to really detail people, just again giving a sense of scale at the long trail going through the dry land. Capemoths and stuff. Warm colors along with a sense of bleakness in the environment. Could even play with dust forming up a skull-like shape, in the background, but very subtle.

3- Memories of Ice. Just Kallor on his throne of bones, right in the center of the cover, arms open wide, hands too, but relaxed, as in welcoming. The layout should have a sort of curve to it. So that Kallor is almost facing the center of the cover, while the bottom part of the cover is through a top down angle. In this part, the three gods. K’rul in the center (bony, accusing finger pointed at Kallor), Draconus on left (I can’t remember if he has the sword already, if he does, let it drag behind, like a sack barely held by one hand), Nightchill on the right. All facing away, toward Kallor, from this slightly top down perspective to give the image some depth. The cover should be black & white (I’d love a strict ink style, no shading), with some slight/faint bluish highlights.

4- House of Chains. Oh, think of Hamlet holding the skull in his hand. Only that Hamlet is Karsa, and the skull is a poor Malazan soldier (looking like a child compared to Karsa’s bulk). The cover should be almost like a silhouette in black. On the right you see Karsa’s impressive sword thrust on the ground. No detail, just a black shape, slightly tilted and about as high as Karsa. It should dominate the view even if aside. Karsa should be with a knee down on the ground, a massive hand completely wrapping up the Malazan soldier’s head, helm still on (and the whole body still attacked, not just a head). The scale of the hand should be massive, dominating the comparably small head, as if about to completely crush it in his hand. The guy is dead, but Karsa is lifting him, so he’s as if upward, hanging from Karsa’s hold, just the feet and lower part of the legs dragging slightly aside on the ground. The height of the guy should be almost level with Karsa, who’s kneeling down though, so bringing the height ALMOST on the same level. Exception to the silhouette style is: the scene has some depth to it, Karsa slightly on the back, the soldier slightly on the front. One trick is: Karsa isn’t looking at the skull, but right through the cover, right at the camera. The scene should also have a sort of dichotomy that fits well as a theme. In the back you see a forest at dawn, mountains in the background, or some T’lan construction (as in the book). But a peaceful, warm colored scene. Then there’s a sharp cut, with Karsa and the soldier almost like a dark silhouette, so much darker, but enough to give them a lot of detail. Just lack of color. So you have these two different levels, the warm background, and the very dark foreground. With Karsa frowning at the camera.

5- Midnight Tides. That scene at the sea, where the massive thing comes out out the water. Something inspired to the third picture you see here. Scene again based on wide scale, slightly tilted for dynamism. Camera from the land looking out at the sea. Looking like something straight out of the apocalypse.

Okay, to hell with boundaries. I make a sport of this blog confusing everything with everything else.

Reading Malazan book 6 I found a quote that is basically the Malazan formulation of the Kabbalah quote:

The gods, old or new, did not belong to her. Nor did she belong to them. They played their ascendancy games as if the outcome mattered, as if they could change the hue of the sun, the voice of the wind, as if they could make forests grow in deserts and mothers love their children enough to keep them. The rules of mortal flesh were all that mattered, the need to breathe, to eat, drink, to find warmth in the cold of night. And, beyond these struggles, when the last breath had been taken inside, well, she would be in no condition to care about anything, about what happened next, who died, who was born, the cries of starving children and the vicious tyrants who starved them – these were, she understood, the simple legacies of indifference, the consequences of the expedient, and this would go on in the mortal realm until the last spark winked out, gods or no gods.

Here’s again the quote from Kabbalah:

(about the question “What is the meaning of my life?”)

“It is indeed true that historians have grown weary contemplating it, and particularly in our generation. No one ever wishes to consider it. Yet the question stands as bitterly and vehemently as ever. Sometimes it meets us uninvited, pecks at our minds and humiliates us to the ground before we find the famous ploy of flowing mindlessly in the currents of life, as always.”

Then I happened on this page (with some interesting nice pictures), and I found this quote that metaphorically matches the previous posts on Free Will and being bound to a point of view:

The descent of the divine emanations concretized in cosmic creation is occurring at this moment, and the fact that the world is such or such a thing, for the modern mentality, or that in accord with our viewpoint we perceive this or that, is completely indifferent to the process of the universal creation, which is ongoing, even visualized from the horizontal viewpoint, and simultaneous, from the vertical projection.

The interesting part is the formulation of the system as “simultaneous, from the vertical projection”. Meaning deterministic. There’s no time scaling. Yet experience from within, our viewpoint, is bound to time and seen as becoming.

So this aspects of Kabbalah seems to retain (and explain away) the problem of compatibilism.

Related, but only if you are a particular type of crazy like I am, here’s a page of David Foster Wallace’s personal copy of Joyce’s Ulysses. Showing how a text with bi-dimensional perspective is given three-dimensionality because of 2nd level (recursive) observations:

How could you possibly look ten women in the face and ask why they had gotten you drunk and made a game of taking your clothes off and putting you to bed?

Every long series has its fan favorite volume and for The Wheel of Time it’s book four, The Shadow Rising, coinciding also with the longest, at almost 400k words and 980 pages in the edition I read. Up to this point and including this one, each book, while relatively slow paced in itself, represented a different stage in the story. So where I expected formula I instead found a well defined arc with clear development. In this fourth book Jordan tends his garden.

There. I don’t think I could summarize what I’m going to write any better. I think it’s telling that this book, peculiarly since they were always there, lacks a Prologue. The way I see it there’s no prologue here because it’s the part of the book that usually teases the point of view of the bad guys (and girls, especially) before handing over the scene to the principal viewpoints (though it’s not a so strict structure and sometime you get other viewpoints as necessary). But book four mainly represents Team Good reforming and reorganizing. I knew already before reading the book that in this one the story opened up and laid the basis for what comes after, that it was essentially a foundation of the larger arc, but it takes quite a lot of pages to get the plot moving. In general, this where Team Good is on the move and plays its hand. So it’s not the bad guys who come forth, but Team Good taking the initiative to shake things up. It’s refreshingly “proactive”, instead of falling back in the norm of defending and confronting an imminent or latent threat. Despite this, Jordan still needs the imminent threat, even a number of them, so in the first part of the book a number of plot contrivances are tossed in just to keeps things supposedly tense, but in truth it’s all silly fakery. A pretense, smoke and mirrors whose purpose is linked to a bigger and more pervasive one I’ll explain later.

From a general outlook for the first 300 pages we mainly have characters looking around themselves to figure out what happened and where they stand, and decide (and argue muchly between them) what to do next. Then another 50 or so to actually get things moving. Past that point the book is split into three main branches, where each relies on a completely separate subplot, as if you get to follow three separate stories happening in different parts of the world to different characters. One follows Rand and his “initiative”, one Perrin and his woes, and another the girls and their affairs. And a fourth, minor page-wise, that deals with stuff elsewhere. They actually never converge, or get unified as the story goes, although some of the characters cross over. So for the first time, maybe, there’s an attempt to shape a world that has its own personality, in the sense that even if everything thematically pivots around Rand, stuff starts tumbling outward and the world outside claims its role. We see the ripples. It’s about the various parts of the world taking autonomy, instead of being empty stages waiting their turn as some main character passes through and experiences adventure. This happens timidly, but at least it happens, it is set as a goal. So while the first third of the book is rather shallow and not exactly matching the expectations for “best in the series”, overall the story is well sustained and interesting.

I imagine that for the fans the highest point is about getting to know more of the mythology and events from the past. There are scenes here that are meant to shape up things in a coherent whole, unify a number of different aspects and deliver more than a few revelations (especially those who enjoy to play with puzzle pieces). That part of the book could be considered fairly generous, and Jordan’s successful attempt to give some specific flavor to his world. But again, I can’t avoid thinking this is a giant fake, and that the true heart of the book is instead that shallow first third where characters bicker and fuss over petty things, and each other. That’s where the recipe is hidden in plain sight. The MUNDANE. Boys liking girls, girls liking boys. Tea times, sleepovers. Romantic love letters. Lots of pretty dresses and cleavages, or transparent silks and implied sauciness. This is it. The actual revelation here is the inverse of what you’d expect: the “fantasy” is meant to spice up the “romantic”, not the opposite. The fantasy is context, not subject. It is flavor, detail. Some window dressing so that the love story is more passionate and epic. Truly romantic and ideal. The fantasy is meant to add the required pathos that elevates a love story to its most idealistic extreme. Made wondrous. The shepherd isn’t a shepherd, but the predestined king in shiny armor that knows how to use a sword. But not just, because the love must be cursed, impossible. Never actually consumed. The longing dominates, because love stories need to be like that, always suspended, always slipping away. The boy wants the girl (or, actually, an harem), but he has more pressing matters because he has to be manly and save the world, first. Basically: adolescence. It’s adolescence stirred up in a mythical world. Essentially poison, in a way. In the sense that it’s super-effective. And that’s how I have (perhaps disrespectfully) reduced its popularity.

“Rand al’Thor,” Moiraine told the air in a low, tight voice, “is a mule-headed, stone-willed fool of a…a… a man!”

Elayne lifted her chin angrily. Her childhood nurse, Lini, used to say you could weave silk from pig bristles before you could make a man anything but a man. But that was no excuse for Rand.

“We breed them that way in the Two Rivers.” Nynaeve was suddenly all half-suppressed smiles and satisfaction. She seldom hid her dislike of the Aes Sedai half as well as she thought she did. “Two Rivers women never have any trouble with them.” From the startled look Egwene gave her, that was a lie big enough to warrant having her mouth washed out.

Moiraine’s brows drew down as if she were about to reply to Nynaeve in harder kind. Elayne stirred, but she could not find anything to say that would head off argument. Rand kept dancing through her head. He had no right! But what right did she have?

Then you may not agree with the extent of what I described, but it’s undeniable that it’s still there. If you think about it Martin’s ASOIAF isn’t all that different. It does the same thing but for more grown-up readers. Those hooks have similar shapes, in similar places. In both cases what’s familiar is used as a breach in the heart of the reader, grasp those familiar emotions and trappings that work so well in all forms of fiction, fantasy or not. The fantasy adds spice, elevates potentials. Inscribes into epic and memorable. Gives the writer unprecedented control (and responsibility). Characterization follows suit. Jordan does go after realism, but goes after iconic. I’d say characterization is extremely detailed and always well defined. Those characters need to stand apart, become familiar in the least amount of time. On top of this Jordan has a style of writing that is very expressive and “outward”, so you don’t find ambiguity and subtlety, but familiarity is the key to understand the characters perfectly and get absorbed in their story and personal woes and cravings. It is also an aspect where a formula shows. The smoothing of skirts and tugging of braids is now legendary and much sneered at, but I kind of respect it and find it as an actual strength that adds to characterization instead of subtracting. Why? Because this bundle of gestures and other small acts are used as a kind of characterization toolkit. So much redundant, but each expressive and carrying a very specific meaning. Each character has its own dedicated package, and each is used to convey a particular mood or sentiment. It makes characterization plain and, if I haven’t repeated it enough, hence familiar. Characters immediately recognizable, near to you so that you want to share. It works and it’s never overwrought because it always serves a point. Since the gesture conveys the state of mind, it is precisely necessary and efficient.

For someone who isn’t a Jordan fan, “best of Jordan” isn’t any better, but this book at least is more consistent and interesting compared to the duller and perfunctory 3rd. Characters step out of their lull on both sides, the evil foes start getting a personality and being more defined between each other, becoming characters and so giving more actual substance to a story that up to this point was merely against the usual abstract threat of some metaphysical evil. This also gets better nailed to the ground, more tangible and familiar. The story actually gains from having more of it revealed instead of shrouded into mystery. But then when you let character make the story it can also happen that they can unmake it. Perrin’s chapters would be at least nice but the way the character behaves makes them quite obnoxious. His relationship with Zarine is jarring because of how forced it is. It’s one of the cases where characters’ stereotypes are way more powerful than any realism. It reads like the most naive fairy tale and loses all its impact. And I actually like Zarine, compared to what I perceived as widespread hostility in the fandom. Thankfully there’s always a little bit of plot movement, myth development or mystery going on with obnoxious characters’ interactions. The book is readable even if slow paced, and overall a good experience comparable to the second volume, the one I liked the most up to this point.

Despite some plot moving parts and a general decent satisfaction in wrapping up the book, it’s not like what happened is so pivotal. Most of it is set-up, and some characters that are newly introduced absolutely go nowhere. They are basically entirely superfluous and it’s very clear they represent a part of the story that will play a role later on. It is a book that builds and moves, but only to load material on the rest of the series. Very little in this book happens for the sake of the book itself, and it’s maybe a success that it still feels satisfactory despite being mostly transition.

As I’m wont to do I started reading the 5th right as I finished this one. The end of the 4th is abrupt and really one big setup. You are meant to wonder: what now? And again it’s also a success that finishing the book made me enjoy a lot reading the prologue of the 5th. If I didn’t have a substantial reading queue I’d really like to just go on. As I said, this present book feeds the rest of the story, so that not only you may had a good experience reading it, but interest is sparked about what happens next. In a way, I could say that the very best part of book 4 is the prologue of book 5. And, less successfully, the more the book stays away from the main characters, the more it actually gets interesting and fun to read.

If one isn’t at peace with what I wrote in the first part, the mundane and the adolescent context, then it’s not going to be a series that can be digested. One would just bounce back on the irrelevant fluff and characters’ contrivances. You can’t even attempt to separate all that from worthwhile myth and worldbuilding. It does feel shallow and artificial. But if one is indeed an adolescent, or at least willing to impersonate one (!), then it’s really an enjoyable, epic story that carries on one’s dreams. It is generous and welcoming, and for this reason more “aware” and extrovert compared to the archaic Tolkien. Yet, while it is built to capture a large audience and remain as a classic, I believe its naive idealism won’t survive the times. Even younger readers now are jaded and cynical, as shaped by the world we live in, and maybe there’s not so much space left for the colorful, larger than life epic tales. It’s Jordan that appears archaic compared to Tolkien.

I’m 35 pages from the end of The Shadow Rising and tomorrow I start right away with another “epic”: The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil.

I’ll read it on the sidelines, the same as I’m reading Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas (another “hefty” 560k volume), so it probably won’t be put on my reading progress tab. I’m also reading the Italian version since I trust more the translation and I know it to be very good.

The Man Without Qualities is unfinished, though. One English version in two volumes out there is 1770 pages, but that includes a bunch of rough sketches and drafts at the end. If counting only the finished to almost-finished part (so including the galley chapters) then it’s around 520k words.

Reading the preface, I was reminded of George R. R. Martin. See if it doesn’t fit perfectly:

The extent to which Musil regarded this novel as experimental was extraordinary. He had begun work on it in earnest in 1924 and was most reluctant when the urging of publishers and worsening external conditions forced him to publish parts of it in 1931 and 1933 (pages 1-1130 in this edition). From his point of view, the entire text ought to have remained “open” from the beginning until it had all been written and he could then revise the text as a whole. He complained that partial publication removed those parts of the novel from the possibility of further alteration, as well as distorting the shape (again, a never defined, “open” shape) he had in mind for the whole work. As it was, in 1938, in less than robust health and apparently apprehensive that he would again be forced into premature publication, he withdrew the first twenty chapters that appear in “From the Posthumous Papers” when they were already set in galleys, in order to rework them still further. These chapters were intended not to conclude the novel but to continue “Into the Millennium.” Like Goethe, Musil had a strange sense of having infinite time stretching out before him in which to complete his task. One is tempted to see in his solitary and stubborn pursuit of his ideal more than a little of Kafka’s Hunger Artist.

Stubborn writers with artistic ideals bigger than life.

HA! I’ve got this one in Italy one day BEFORE official US release. Take that, and blame Amazon Europe that didn’t respect the date (and if you are in Germany they got a really low price). Usually it takes me at least one week past release to get a book.

Anyway, while I’m not a big Sanderson fan and this isn’t exactly my preferred reading, I’m still very glad of getting this book and happy to start reading it right away (at my pace). It’s been three years and a few months after The Way of Kings. Maybe I could have planned my reading queue better since right now I was focusing mostly on The Shadow Rising and I consider Sanderson and Jordan relatively similar, in that both are fairly light and leisure kind of reading, but I’ll stick with it.

This Stormlight Archive series is a big investment for Tor, in this age post-Jordan, and you could have seen it concretely in the first book. It wasn’t just a way to deliver words on a page to you, but a rather nice package that had been very carefully built to draw attention and do the best service possible to the words it contained. They wanted this book not a book, but an event.

First, it got Sanderson’s favorite artist for the cover, Michael Whelan, who actually made a really good cover, with warm and strong basic colors and an evocative scene that let transpire the book’s aspired breadth and epic range. It celebrated the scenery more than it celebrated some chosen hero. It then had a bluish hard cover with a sword-like symbol impressed on the front, and a nice texture. Then you flipped the page and there were two gorgeously colored illustrations, one with a map of the regions of the world, the other with a Tree of Life wannabe diagram with fancy symbols. Again the two full-color illustrations mirrored on the back cover, one showing some spiritual equivalent of the map, the other a variation on the Tree of Life theme (and my disappointment was that absolutely none of this was introduced or even glimpsed in the actual text). Than a two-pages acknowledgements by Sanderson telling you how this wasn’t just another book he wrote, but actually the apex of his ambition, the one true project he was really investing himself into. So up the hype.

Then you got an index. And you could see that Sanderson was using every single permutation that he had available. Fantasy books indulge with structure-related artifices, like quotes or poetry to start a chapter, frontispieces, prologues and epilogues, maps. Sanderson took everything (almost, he’s missing family trees and Dramatis Personae). He had a Prelude, sub-division into Five Parts, Prologue, three Interludes (which I enjoyed the most out of everything else in the book), an Epilogue, Endnotes and even a quick & dirty Appendix. And then he took also quotes at the beginning of each chapter, and illustrated chapter headers. But not like WoT chapters headers, with a symbol to represent the chapter. Nope, he had an arc-like thing whose sculpted faces changes as the chapters change AND an illustration within a circle to better represent the theme. And then he got illustrations. Actually good and sometimes useful illustrations. Nineteen of them. Some of which artsy, inspiring maps of cities or other regions.

So the book was overflowing with presentation-driven aids and embellishments. It wanted to make this book more than a book, an experience. It wanted to seduce you with words and colors and art. Because that’s the point: ten of these 1000 pages volumes are planned by Sanderson for this series (without even considering a wider structure to which this series is supposed to belong to). He wants you with him for the long haul. This is his, and Tor, contemporary Wheel of Time, and this time, instead of being found by success, they are planning for it. Planning big, all in.

I can at least enjoy and empathize a little bit with this hype. It doesn’t hurt and I always admire and appreciate ambition. So if I can breath some of that hype it just adds to the experience and makes me actually excited to read the book without overthinking that in the end it’s average fantasy, really. At that point the writing itself is alone to prove itself, but up to that point the presentation made sure to put the writing in the best position possible.

So the point now is: has Tor weakened its effort and marketing push in regards to this second volume? The answer: it’s about the same.

I was worried that after the big splash we’d instead get far less commitment for this second volume, but instead Tor at least made the fist volume into a canon. So this second volume is a very precise copy of what we got with the first, with maybe slightly less love overall. The new cover is rather underwhelming, and nowhere comparable with the one used for the first volume. The chosen hero is now featured prominently on the cover, in a rather cheesy pose/act. The environment is dull, the colors a sickly and drab yellow palette. It seems more like a cover for Peter Pan. The scene has none of the depth of the one in the first volume, and the lance that the character is holding could have at least given the cover some dynamism, but it’s completely obscured by the title. So a mediocre cover overall (if you told me it was made by some dude imitating Whelan’s style I’d believe it). But it retains the style and artist, so it’s the artist in this case who failed to deliver. The book itself is instead red, with a nice silk-like texture to it and another symbol/glyph engraved in the front, different but in the same style of the one in the first volume. You flip the page, but the illustrations with map+Tree of Life are gone. We get instead a two-page illustration by Whelan again with Shallan on a rock, and it’s actually far, far better than the illustration on the cover, whoever chose that one over this is a total fool. On the back cover instead we get a two pages color illustration of the map. Which is basically the same map that you get in black and white within the book. So overall the four gorgeous illustrations in The Way of Kings don’t have an equivalent parallel in Words of Radiance, sadly. A bit of slack.

The inside instead follows closely the first volume. We’ve got again Acknowledgements by Sanderson, this time two pages and half, but only because they greatly embiggened the font. Sanderson again pushes on the hype with this book that is not just a book, and also explains that writing a book is becoming a thing of teamwork, with various “consultants” to help with specific aspects of the writing, like continuity, character psychology and horse behaviors. Then the usual Index listing the exact number of illustrations that were in the first volume, and a similar smattering of Prologue/Interludes/Epilogue. Interestingly, The Way of Kings played with part two and four subtitles: “The Illuminating Storms” and “Storm’s Illumination”. Words of Radiance does something similar with parts two and five: Winds’ Approach” and “Winds Alight”, but where ‘approach’ and ‘alight’ are titles of respective parts. The illustrations appear on a individual basis less cared for compared to the first book, somewhat more perfunctory. Everything else follows the model of the first book. Thankfully We get the exact same font, size, lines on each page. The official wordcount for The Way of Kings was 387k for 1001 pages. Words of Radiance has 1080 pages, and even if I didn’t manage to get a wordcount from Sanderson & assistant, we’re likely around 405-410k since everything is the same, including the wide margins on the page. In the end 400k make for a REALLY long book, but conventionally so. There’s nothing extraordinary about that.

So overall the quality of Words of Radiance, when it comes to the package & presentation, is slightly below the level of the first book, but thankfully Tor maintained the exact same, already lofty, standard. I’m very glad they are sticking to the format, and I roll my eyes thinking that most surely at some point in the life of this series will come an overzealous editor that will start playing with font sizes, pagination and overall layout just to ruin the consistence you expect. Because it always happens.

But for now the two books are a perfect match, and look great side by side.

As she danced she reduced the distinction between heath and sky. The horizon, never convinced of itself, melted. Vera was left crossing and recrossing a space steadily less definable.

This isn’t a review attempt, it is instead an admission of total surrender. I read this post on Harrison’s blog and that’s the perfect thing to catch my curiosity. I’m always for the epic: “this is my last stand, right on the edge of literature”. The idea that this story wouldn’t let go, and haunt its writer is a romantic ideal that has influence on me. So I decided to go read it. In the complete Viriconium paperback I already own this story is only eighteen pages, so it would be quick and I’d get right to the point.

I’ve read already a bit of Viriconium, the first book. I probably made past its middle point, or some sixty page of The Pastel City. I know it isn’t very much representative of what the Viriconium or Harrison’s writing actually is, but I enjoyed and grasped enough the dreamlike quality of setting, story and characters. It certainly has an unique flavor and charm, and it stands apart from everything else. At some point I’ll go back and read all the rest. This story instead, deep into “Viriconium Nights”, the fourth volume made by a collection of short stories, is what I could as well name “unreadable drivel”.

It’s not that I don’t try, but I have to admit failure when it happens. This short story seems to me as if someone took a novel, cut lines and paragraphs all through it, then reassembled them at random, and took every sentence to twist and turn it upside down. But this is not quite. The dreamlike substance that makes Viriconium is present here. This story, and its fictional world, is unstable, as unstable is the fabric of dreams. The instability itself is not perceived, because the fabric of a world defines perception itself. So the sense of wrongness (or weirdness) is perceived by the readers, but the characters go their way without awareness (or sight). Characters, and places, that seem culled from different stories, different worlds. Viriconium, the city, is the improbable intersection where these all meet. An amalgam of different cities, different places. But again it’s even more, because it’s as if the only trace left by all this is only a sort of radiation, a vague imprint. A ghost trace that is reshaped every seconds and receives afterimages from the outside. It’s like an archaeology dig site, a city that was here with its inhabitants, so long ago. Only crumbled walls, pot shards and dust are left. But instead of having the remains of one city, we have countless of them, and from different times.

So this is the structure: different places, different times, coexisting as a backdrop for a story. How would it be living in such a place? The few characters mirror that. As if characters that do not belong together, coming from the most disparate stories. It’s like an earlier movie by Werner Herzog with the actors acting under hypnosis. Characters suddenly standing up and shouting nonsense, then running off in a random direction. The prose, that I know is much praised, has no sense of flow and is actually a deliberate attempt at being clunky, broken, breaking any sense of pacing. Crooked sentences that do not belong to the paragraph they are in. The story is like an assembled puzzle where most pieces aren’t even there, only fragments forced to fit together. It flows and fades in and out, as if only very vaguely leaving behind a trail of coherence. A very weak, and always fading, link with reality.

These regions are full of old cities which differ from Vriko only in the completeness of their deterioration. The traveller in them may be baked to death, or, discovered with his eyelids frozen together, leave behind only a journal which ends in the middle of a sentence.

I guess as an art form it is quite good. It has that link of reality, it has the deliberate creation, it has consistence between style, structure and theme. I kept reading with the fading hope that it would eventually make sense. It obviously didn’t (or maybe it did, an imaginative watchman watching, seeing a story with Viriconium its theater). I can imagine the writer writing this all the while thinking about that. But I couldn’t follow, and in the end this is way more esoteric than Gene Wolfe. I have an intellectual appreciation for the aesthetic, and a respect for the writer and what he attempted. But reading this story was for me quite frustrating and ultimately annoying.