Tag Archives: bizarre

“Viriconium” by M. John Harrison


First off, let me say that these are some weird stories.  The world of Viriconium might be our own… after millions of years and the rise and fall of countless civilizations.  The current population is at about the medieval level, but in the not too distant past (the “Afternoon Cultures”) they were even more advanced that we are today, to sci-fi-ish levels.  Kind of a fascinating scenario, ripe for incongruous things like knights re-discovering ancient ruins of spaceports and such.

But then, the actual stories are … pretty weird.  Kind of cheesy horror stories almost, but wrapped up in a great setting and with some very high-falutin’ language.  (Kind of reminiscent of Mervyn Peake.)  The edition I read is actually a collection of (I think) 4 different short novels and other short stories, but I was only able to make it through the first two before losing steam.  (I have a completionist personality so since starting this blog I have forced myself to slog through to the end for almost every book I start; but I dunno.  Life is short, and no one is going to read this anyway.  I do think what I read here was worth writing about though.)

“The Pastel City” – the first story is pretty straightforward, kind of a “get the gang back together again” to fight off a new threat.  It’s kind of cool that we know nothing about the characters at the beginning (as goes for any book … duh!), but there is such an incredible implied backstory hinted at for each that the reunions really have some force.  The main guy is the brooding warrior poet, tegus-Cromis; one main buddy is Tomb the dwarf, a treasure hunter with a wearable robotic exoskeleton warmachine.  They were buddies of the old king, now dead, gathering together to protect the throne of his daughter from rebellion.  The war soon moves to something bigger – oh dear, turns out the enemy has unearthed ancient technological golems which kill and steal brains.  In the end, we find out that they were actually not monsters, but simply following programs which called for harvesting the brains of fallen soldiers so that bodies could be regenerated.  (Not sure why their programming included killing the victims first; maybe a bug induced by something many millenia ago?)  Tomb is able to regenerate some long-dead soldiers from the Afternoon Cultures; they start to be called Reborn Men.

“A Storm of Wings” – the second story is quite weird.  Really.  Giant insects come from the moon causing a weird merging of dimensions and general insanity and other bizarre effects.  On both sides actually — people go crazy morphing into insects and the insects go crazy (presumably) whilst morphing into humans.  (The morphing never goes so well, so we have a bunch of pathetic yet dangerous monsters, basically.)  For whatever reason, the Reborn Men are the first to go crazy.  There’s also the ghost of an airship astronaut trying to communicate a warning throughout; in the end he crashes his ship into the queen insect (I think?) and saves the day.

I told you it was weird.

“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick

Short book, more of a short story than a novel really.  But it quickly paints a picture of a bizarre but believable (mostly….not sure about “Mercer”), and very interesting future.  This is the story the movie “Blade Runner” was based on (I can see why they changed the title…); I’ve never seen it so don’t know how close the story is to the book’s.

Anyhow, I liked the future setting.  Post-holocaust; animals are scarce and owning one is a sign of prestige.  There are androids, but they are only meant for the colonies, not for Earth (I don’t think there is ever a reason given for why, come to think of it.)  Deckard is a bounty hunter who goes after androids who kill or otherwise escape their masters and find their was to Earth.  The androids are very life-like; just a subtle psychological test is the only way to tell an android from a human.  And the android manufacturers keep getting better and better, so the line between artificial and real grows thinner and thinner.

There is definitely a psychological bent to this book that I don’t really claim to understand fully.  Maybe something on our perception of reality – are androids just as good as humans because they look and think the same?  How about “chickenheads” (people with radiation induced mental disabilities)?  What about artificial animals?  What about Mercer, a prophet of sorts who turns out to be a sham (but people don’t care much and still follow him with their empathy boxes)?

Kind of bizarre, really….