Harrison’s Viriconium is a fantasy setting in the Dying Earth subgenre, realized in a decidedly postmodern style. I suspect it of being a reinvention to some degree of Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique, although Jack Vance’s Dying Earth could have been an influence as well. But the flavor is all original here. Viriconium is the last capital of humanity’s last empire: a paragon of the city that has been. The “evening” culture of Viriconium has lost its understanding of the “afternoon” technologies, which now serve as sorcery and magical artifacts. Throughout there is the sense that humanity has lost its dignity and possibly even its will to survive in a poisoned world.
This volume collects three novels and a set of related short stories. The novels are offered in publication order, which does not appear to be the chronological narrative sequence. (I think the third precedes the first two.) To posit a chronology that would include the short stories is a more daunting task. Some of these appear to move sideways in time: the same characters have different histories; the name of the city itself changes (Urconium, Vira Co, Virko); and the last is actually set in contemporary England among characters who dream of Viriconium. These stories particularly allow a more thorough deployment of metafictional devices to reflect on the nature of fantasy and the purpose of art (although these are also evident in the novels).
Recurring motifs include rascal dwarfs, queens, warriors who don’t believe in themselves, former humans who think they are still human, non-humans who think they have become human, mutilations, giant insects, sicknesses, and outsized reputations. The psychic tone all through the book is desperate and exhausted, and yet the material is so beautifully written that it is still a shadowed pleasure to read. to read. [via]
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