The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

M. John Harrison repeatedly has stated that he did not intend the Viriconium novels to form a trilogy but, rather, a sequence. The books support Harrison’s assertion, as the Viriconium sequence displays little of the cohesion present in most trilogies. The style, structure, and characters, with a few exceptions, change from novel to novel, and the thrust of the works gradually veers away from any semblance of science fiction toward a synthesis more properly described as science fantasy.

If the Viriconium sequence has a main character, that character is the city itself. An artifact of incomparable glamour, decadence, and cruelty, Viriconium dominates a world of comparative barbarism mitigated by leftover technologies of the Afternoon Cultures. The citizens of Viriconium understand these technologies no better than the scavengers outside their walls, but as poets, painters, sculptors, tarot readers, dancers, and astronomers, they put these gifts to more elegant uses. Often, especially in A Storm of Wings and In Viriconium, the city shapes the fortunes of its inhabitants by literally reshaping itself.

The Pastel City follows classic quest structure, with Viriconium threatened by Northmen who have discovered and reanimated the long-dormant geteit chemosit, or “brain stealers.” The geteit chemosit scoop out the brains of their victims; eventually, they will kill not only the defenders of Viriconium but all humankind.

Tegeus Cromis, a gaunt poet-warrior, is a knight of sorts for the Queen of Viriconium, Nian Methvet. He must gather his old comrades to defeat both Northmen and geteit chemosit. His principal companion is Tomb the Dwarf, who has a genius for energy weapons and all items mechanical. A garrulous, bloodthirsty, and enduring character, Tomb also appears in A Storm of Wings.

Cellur, an immortal man who commands a flock of mechanical raptors, helps Tegeus Cromis and Tomb the Dwarf in their quest by...

(The entire section is 816 words.)