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Viriconium Nights Hardcover – 8 Aug 1985


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Science Fiction

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Amazon.com: 5 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
An evening's read, and at least a fortnight's dreams 13 Jun 1998
By Mr. D. N. Sumption - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
M.John Harrison is often lumped together with fantasy/sci-fi writers. However, he draws together many genres, particularly in these short stories. While reading this book I drifted in and out of stories which, as in real life itself, have no conclusion, but have the most exquisite way imaginable of reaching their non-conclusion. He tells tales of a city Viriconium (sometimes Uroconium, somtimes Vriko) which doesn't seem to exist in any discernable time or place. The names of streets sound vaguely familiar - smatterings of French and German, the inhabitants perform bizarre and meaningless rituals that show traces of the English countryside traditions of Harrison's own youth. For the most part, you feel that you are in a fantasy setting - characters include warriors, a dwarf, and the Mammy Vooley - the thousand-year old queen of Viriconium, a living mummy who dribbles into her dust-filled lap as her bearers carry her in procession through the streets, but then someone goes into their house and switches on an electric light and you think "hey?". The book ends with a story of two old men in present day England, who have heard and read much of Viriconium, and who spend their time visiting the bookshops of Huddersfield, because they have heard a rumor the at the back of a cafe in one of these bookshops is a toilet whose mirror is the gateway to Uroconium. Some of the stories also have an aspect of horror, the same sense of urgency and terror as a good H.P.Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe.
As the reviewer from Time Out said "An evening's read, and at least a fortnight's dreams". I never return to books after reading them - I have far too many unread books to make time for that, but this is a book which I have gone back to again and again just to drink in the atmosphere of Viriconium.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Subtle, allusive, endlessly entertaining 19 Jan 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
M John Harrison cut his teeth on these haunting pieces, travelogue of a city which is never the same place twice. The ultimate fantasy and the end of fantasy, for me. After walking these strange, shifting streets and eavesdropping on their hyper-realistic but completely unreal denizens, I could never take Tolkien or Tad Williams seriously again. I read it in the UK edition "Viriconium", which also contains "In Viriconium", a novel set in the same world, with an introduction by Iain Banks. Brilliant stuff--but Harrison's last two novels, "Signs of Life" and "The Course of the Heart" are even better. How a writer of this stature could have remained "unknown" for so long amazes me.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.5 stars audio omnibus edition 22 Mar 2012
By Kat Hooper - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I was in Viriconium once. I was a much younger woman then. What a place that is for lovers! The Locust Winter carpets its streets with broken insects; at the corners they sweep them into strange-smelling drifts which glow for the space of a morning like heaps of gold before they fade away.

Viriconium Nights is the last book in M. John Harrison's VIRICONIUM epic. It's a collection of these seven short stories set in and around the city of Viriconium:

-- "The Lamia and Lord Cromis" -- tegeus-Cromis, a dwarf, and a man named Dissolution Kahn travel to a poisonous bog to destroy a dangerous Lamia.

-- "Viriconium Knights" -- Ignace Retz, a young swordsman and treasure seeker, discovers an old man who has a tapestry which shows Retz at different times in Viriconium's history.

-- "The Luck in the Head" -- In the Artists' Quarter, the poet Ardwick Crome has been having a recurring dream about a ceremony called "the Luck in the Head." He wants these disturbing dreams to stop, so he goes looking for one of the women in the dream. (BTW, there's a graphic novel based on this story.)

-- "Strange Great Sins" -- A man from the country goes to Viriconium, falls in love with the ballerina Vera Ghillera, and wastes away. This story looks at the city of Viriconium from the perspective of outsiders who know that those who go there either are, or will become, decadent and self-absorbed.

-- "Lords of Misrule" -- tegeus-Cromis visits an estate outside the city of Viriconium which is under threat of invasion and won't survive if Viriconium won't help.

-- "The Dancer From the Dance" -- The ballerina Vera Ghillera from "Strange Great Sins" visits Allman's Heath where strange things are afoot.

-- "A Young Man's Journey to Viriconium" -- This final story, set in our world, explains that Viriconium is a real place and tells you exactly how to get there, in case you want to go. The doorway is a mirror in a bathroom in a café in England.

The stories in Viriconium Nights contain some of the characters we've met in the previous VIRICONIUM books (e.g., tegeus-Cromis, Ansel Verdigris, Audsley King, Paulinus Rack, Ashlyme) and include many allusions to recurring events and motifs: mechanical metal birds, tarot cards, locusts, the fish mask, big lizards, the Mari Lwyd, etc. Each story stands alone but focuses on the city of Viriconium and particularly the bohemian residents of the Artists' Quarter. All of Viriconium is decaying, but this part of the city feels especially bleak, probably because it's peopled with brooding artistic types whose desperation results in freakish hedonistic behavior.

Though there are recurring characters in the VIRICONIUM works, we never get to know any of them very well. The haunting, weird, incomprehensible city is the main character. M. John Harrison has explained that he didn't want Viriconium to be "tamed" or "controlled," so he has confused and disoriented the reader by making it impossible to understand what it would be like to live in his world: "I made that world increasingly shifting and complex. You can not learn its rules. More importantly, Viriconium is never the same place twice." I think this is more successful in the last three parts of VIRICONIUM -- the first novel, The Pastel City, is almost a traditional quest fantasy.

VIRICONIUM is one of those works that I feel like I should give 5 stars just because it's original and M. John Harrison's prose is brilliant. Harrison is a master of style and his writing is superior to most of what's offered on the SFF shelves.

However, the truth is that though I recognize Harrison's genius, I can't say that I enjoyed every moment of VIRICONIUM, which may be a reflection on me more than on the work itself. Spending so much time in a city that's unknowable and decaying resulted, for me, in an overwhelming feeling of disorientation and hopelessness. The characters and the plot, which feel like they are there only to support the role of the city, don't make up for this. A month from now, I probably won't remember any of the plots in Viriconium Nights. But I will remember Viriconium.

If you decide to read VIRICONIUM, I highly recommend the audio version produced by Neil Gaiman Presents. Simon Vance's performance is excellent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Come and dream again in the ancient city of Viriconium 15 Nov 2005
By Schtinky - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This wonderful 1985 collection is again available in a newer publication called Viriconium, released in 2005. 'Viricomium Nights' is more of an addition to Harrison's 'The Pastel City' and 'A Storm Of Wings' than a continuation. There are two stories in this earlier edition that are not available in the new publication, 'Lamia Mutable' and 'Events Witnessed From A City'. There are eight stories in all.

'The Lamia And Lord Cromis'. teagus-Cromis takes his swordsmanship into the wastelands, in search of the Lamia of the Sixth House.

'Lamia Mutable' is a strange tale of Birkin Grif and his skinless Lamia who travel with the odd Dr. Grishkin to the edge of Wisdom.

'Viriconium Nights'. A young Ignace Retz learns what its like to defend Mammy Vooley's honor.

'Events Witnessed From A City' is another tale of teagus-Cromis, but nicely portrays his tower as sentient, a rather cool idea.

'The Luck In The Head'. A man named Crome is subject to dreams of a lamb, prompting a strange visit by a strange woman who promises to ease his malaise.

'Lords Of Misrule' is an intriguing tale told in first person by teagus-Cromis in his younger years, about a visit to one of the city's old Defenders.

'In Viriconium' is a beautiful tale of two artists in Viriconium, Audsley King who is dying of plague in the Low City and Ashlyme, a portrait painter living in the High City. Vying for police power over the spreading plague-areas is the dwarf called the Grand Cairo, and The Barley Brothers, strange godlike-men who romp and play rudely through the streets. Ashlyme wants nothing more than to save Audsley King from her illness by bringing her to the High City, but somehow never manages to help her. Note: The ending is slightly different in this version than the 2005 version.

'Strange Great Sins' is a tale told by a Sin-Eater about his uncle's stay in Viriconium.

If you are a diehard fan, then this older version is worth a hunt through the used book stores for the two stories missing from the newer version. Otherwise, you are much better off with the 2005 edition that includes The Pastel City and A Storm Of Wings.

Harrison's prose is as rich and lush as tropical sunshine, but will leave you shuddering in the depths of the chilly winds that cross his bleak deserts and wastelands. He really paints a vivid landscape for Viriconium, one you can taste and smell and almost touch. If you like being absorbed into strange worlds, then you will love M. John Harrison. Enjoy!
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
brilliant 23 July 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I don't have much to say about this collection that the previous two reviewers haven't said, but I'd like to recommend a book from the same author if you enjoyed Viriconium Nights: A Storm of Wings. It's out of print but you should be able to find a used copy from amazon or elsewhere.
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