Christopher Priest

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by cloudXXI, Apr 29, 2005.

  1. cloudXXI

    cloudXXI New Member

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    I´ve read five books of this author, The separation, Inverted World, The afirmation, The prestige and Dream Archipielago. This man is really incredible, I think is the most intelligent writter of sci-fi I´ve ever read. He doesn´t write typical sci-fi (Are The afirmation and The separation sci-fi?), but he´s so good, I don´t matter.

    What´s your opinion?
     
  2. Lowlander

    Lowlander Registered User

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    I must admit I have only read one book by him. The Dream Machine, which is a Victorian romance and a hommage to H.G. Wells. This is a good old fashioned pulp story about two Victorians who by circumstances land on Mars where they are witness to the forthcoming invasion of Earth by the "evil Martians". Sounds rather clichéd but it's a real good story. It's really a mix of War of the Worlds and Time Machine.

    Since then I always intented to read something else by him but never had the chance. I'am really interested in the Dream Archipelago. Seems to be a great story collection.
     
  3. cloudXXI

    cloudXXI New Member

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    IMO the best books of Priest are Inverted World, The prestige and The afirmation. I´d read this books before The dream Archipielago, mainly Inverted World, my favourite sci-fi book.
     
  4. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    Yes, I think Chris is a very underrated writer. The Separation was one of my favourite books of last year, though I'm not sure I understood it all. His books are often uncategorisable - rather like a British Jonathan Carroll, I think.

    He always reads well, though I often find his endings are a little odd/disappointing. Perhaps that's another point - there shouldn't be an ending... :)

    But my favourites are The Separation, The Dream Archipelago and The Time Machine. I haven't read The Affirmation though.

    Hobbit
     
  5. Mugwump

    Mugwump New Member

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    I've seen Christopher Priest's SF works on the shelves for years, but for reasons that elude me, I haven't bought any.

    I did, however, buy The Glamour (non-SF) on the strength of a Dave Langford recommendation. I haven't read it yet, though.
     
  6. Mugwump

    Mugwump New Member

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    Finished ... nay devoured (!) The Glamour, The Dream Archipelago, The Prestige and The Affirmation just. The latter (within the context of the haunting DA short stories) is a work of genius. The ending took my breath away completely. I didn't see it coming at all - and yet it's as obvious as the sun rising from the horizon.

    Priest is every bit the magician of The Prestige. I don’t think I’ve learned as much about the art of writing, the complexities and sophistication of narrative structuring and the nature of memory from any other author … and yet – paradoxically - every Priest book also leaves me thinking I’ve understood nothing at all.

    Where do you start with The Affirmation? It’s like some weird and wonderful mix of The Machinist, Solaris (Soderbergh) and Primer. The moment you think you’ve got the ‘plot’ nailed down it dances away from you with mischief.

    Such a heartbreaking tale of loneliness and despair.

    Any other Priest fans here to start a discussion?
     
  7. Mugwump

    Mugwump New Member

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    I forgot to add: I've no idea how Chris Nolan is going to turn The Prestige into an accurate representation of the book. It strikes me the central device of the novel - Borden's book, and the hidden yet obvious misdirection - cannot be re-worked into cinematic equivalence.
     
  8. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    Not quite :D I have a recently bought copy of Inverted World which I am yet to start. I have just started Red Mars which I am enjoying and at approx. 650 pages I may be some time... I bought Inverted World on the strength of some glowing comments on this forum so I am expecting good things. I did suggest it as a long-shot book club choice after the rules on availability were relaxed, but it was overlooked. Out of interest, I've just finished Grass which I bought after reading your forum comments on it and it has definitely become a top 10 SF book for me - thanks!
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2006
  9. Mugwump

    Mugwump New Member

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    Is it the #2 Omnibus that comes with Fugue For a Darkening Island? I picked up a copy myself. Had to go through Amazon Marketplace to get it, tho. I'm going to attack it in the next few weeks. I'm doing my best to resist the urge to go on some mad Chris Priest binge - reading every work of his without interruption. There's a huge gulf between his easily-identifiable early SF works and his later stuff starting with The Affirmation, which have only tangential connection with common perceptions of the SF genre. I know a lot of SF fans threw their toys out of the cot when he moved outside of traditional SF boundaries, but I really don't understand their complaints. Great fiction is great fiction, regardless of whether you play by the 'rules'.

    RM is an odd book. I've had a bash at it twice and never finished. This is despite never thinking it's a bad book.

    Yeah, that's a fine piece of work. It features one of the most beautiful, evocative, well-thought-out and plain ol' memorable worlds I've come across. The only rivals I can think of are Aldiss's Helliconia and Arrakis (maybe).
     
  10. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    No, it's an old, well read copy from ebay. I like old, well-used books. If you want to go on a mad Priest binge (that sounds odd) then why not? Let us know what you think of it, I'll do likewise when I read IW, hopefully before the end of this month. The only trouble is I foolishly fished around for some reviews of it to read a few days ago, one of which is on Christopher Priest's own website, which gives away the supposedly fantastic plot-twist at the end. It's by Martin Amis, the swine!

    It's certainly all of those things. I was also impressed by the life-forms and particularly the way they were cunningly introduced as being something they were not. I'm a Dune-sceptic, though it was a memorable world. I've never read any Aldiss but have been intrigued by the plot for Hothouse.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2006
  11. Mugwump

    Mugwump New Member

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    I wonder if this is one of the reasons Priest holds Amis in low regard. ;)

    Hothouse is another great piece of world building. Aldiss is a bit of an acquired taste. I love the guy's stuff, but many I know can't bear more than a few pages. There's a streak of ugliness throughout his work. Not the kind of ugliness you'd associate with Donaldson, Richard Morgan or, perhaps, Alastair Reynolds (all of which brush, to a lesser or greater extent, with crudity and sadism). Aldiss deals more with the inherent brutality of Nature and the struggle for life (in this respect Helliconia differs from similar offerings by other authors). His 'heroes' are very often morally ambiguous, even downright dislikeable. This is especially the case in Hothouse, which features arguably one of the most dislikeable central characters in SF. What saves it is the pitch-black humour. Aldiss is very funny in the subtlest ways.
     
  12. odo

    odo Registered User

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    Yeah, exactly the same happened to me. It was an unexpected ending (in more than one sense ;) ) yet, once you think about it, the only one that makes sense. "The affirmation" is a book that I appreciate more and more with time. I agree it is a masterpiece.
     
  13. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    This is the mark of a really good book in my opinion, when it's still playing on your mind a year after you read it. Often it's a book you don't expect.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2006
  14. Mugwump

    Mugwump New Member

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    The genius of The Affirmation is that it functions on so many levels. At its heart is an exploration of memory. What is memory other than a fantasy? We never remember anything how it truly it was. All our memories are distortions of reality. Where Priest works his magic is in making the book itself a permanent and evolving reminder of this fact. The book changes with every subsequent read. When you finish reading TA you realise it's not the same book you started. It's meaning - it's function has metamorphosed. Suggestions that the book can be read as its own sequel are absolutely correct. I should also say the same can be said of other Priest works (especially The Prestige).
     
  15. odo

    odo Registered User

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    Another great "feature" of TA is its title (in fact, it happens with most Priest's stories). The main character tries to affirmate himself by negating a big part of himself and his own history. I find it really interesting. Especially since Priest has wrote a short story titled "The negation" which is about a writer (if I remember correctly). I haven't read it yet but I think it should be a good complement to TA.
     
  16. Mugwump

    Mugwump New Member

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    Good point, odo.

    What do you think about Lotterie-Collago/the stone shoes? A metaphor for author’s ego and narcissism – a desire to live forever through your work?

    I loved the re-drawings of the two central characters in Sinclair's life – Gracia and Felicity. The latter is certainly both Kalia and Lareen. The former – Seri, but I can’t quite figure out Mathilde (on the boat) – is she some kind of abortive first attempt at Gracia?

    The final paragraph of chapter five is puzzling me ... '... I dreamed about her that night ... something ... something and then I found that my understand/interpretation/perception of her had changed ... something'.

    Is she the 'real' Gracia, with the Gracia of London merely a metaphor created by Sinclair who really is living in the Dream Archipelago (looking at the book from the inside out)? Mathilde is certainly a puzzle.

    I can’t quite get to grips with Sinclair's relationship with Lareen/Felicity, which is written with greater subtlety by Priest. It’s every bit as important as his relationship with Gracia/Mathilde – but it’s far tougher to break into. I suppose this is a metaphor for the book, which has a habit of becoming more complex when you think you’ve worked it out …

    TA is certainly tragic, but it’s the terrible loneliness that affected me. If you’re looking to warn people about running away from problems and the dangers of escapism this is the book to begin with. “You’ll never leave the Archipelago” takes on an entirely different – and very sinister – meaning as you hit the final chapters.

    I'm interested in the relationship between the Dream Archipelago of Peter Sinclair and the superb Dream Archipelago short stories. The first tells the tale of a young solider who gets to meet the author of his favourite book (which - interesingly - is called … The Affirmation). A book (and an author) that no one else seems to have heard of.
     
  17. odo

    odo Registered User

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    Err, I think I'd have to re-read some parts of the book since I read quite a while ago and I don't remember the details (especially the names of the characters which I always tend to forget). But I do remember the impression that everything (everyone) in London is strongly related to something (someone) in the Dream Archipielago. The Seri/Gracia relationship was the most striking one (and the one I remember more clearly). At first, it seems that Seri is a "rewriting" of Gracia but with all the things that were annoying to Sinclair cleared away. It is an invention of Sinclair and she is completely dominated by him (that was my impression, at least). But soon she "takes control of herself" and diverges from what Sinclair intended her to be. And every moment she resembles Gracia more and more. That was a kind of revelation to me: is Priest saying that we can't control our own lifes? That we are only metaphores of ourselves? I find this idea certainly frightening, but deeply interesting. We can try to reinvent ourselves, but maybe there are forces (the destiny?) which is far beyond our control.
     
  18. cloudXXI

    cloudXXI New Member

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    "I don’t think I’ve learned as much about the art of writing, the complexities and sophistication of narrative structuring and the nature of memory from any other author … and yet – paradoxically - every Priest book also leaves me thinking I’ve understood nothing at all."

    You MUST read The separation. It´s just another level of "the complexities and sophistication of narrative structuring and the nature of memory".

    Priest is working in his next book called "The Dual", a book about islands nobody can see, it could be great.

    I´m sorry but I read The affirmation some time ago and I can´t say too much about it. I remember being shocked with the last sentence of the book and searching for its meaning..when I found everything fits perfectly I felt something few times I have felt with a book. A feeling of joy for reading (and understanding) a truly masterpiece, a book written for an inteligent writter, for inteligent readers, a challenge. I think Priest only reach such a level with the short story "The negation".

    Anyway, in order to understand the way Priest thinks, I´m going to quote a conversation with the author, there are spoilers of The separation, The affirmation, The glamour and The prestige:

    Question:

    >Ok, I have to recognize that at the end of the book (talking about The separation)I felt totally lost. I have read The prestige, Inverted
    >World, The affirmation, The glamour, The separation
    >and The Dream Archipielago. I thought that all your
    >stories had a "clear" and "true" end, a definitive
    >"version", I think I have discovered the "true" end of
    >The affirmation (the "real" story is the London story
    >and the Jethra part is something Peter imagine in his
    >madness), The glamour (they aren´t invisible, they are
    >just people nobody pay attention at, and practically
    >all the story is the book Niall wrotte in his madness)
    >and The prestige (Borden has a twin. Is correct? So I
    >was trying hard to discover the true version of The
    >separation; and when I read the interview (made to Priest about the book)I realise that, maybe, the version I had found in that books is
    >just nothing but one among many versions.
    >
    >Am I right?, There are "true" versions of that books
    >or "The story is there, but there is not a single
    >"true" or definitive" version"
    >as happens in The separation?

    Answer from Priest:

    No, I would disagree that there is
    always a definitive version. That would suggest
    that each book is a puzzle that has to be solved,
    a challenge to the reader ... something that
    makes you feel clever when you find the answer
    (or foolish when you don't). I think of them as
    merely stories, books written to entertain, while
    giving the reader something to wonder about.

    I always like to leave DOUBT in my
    books. Doubt is the story of my life -- I have
    difficulty believing in anything that is said to
    be true. So, if anyone is in any doubt about one
    of my books, I say that's a good thing.

    HOWEVER ... I do understand that doubt
    can make readers feel a little cheated, or make
    them feel they have missed the point, and I
    really don't want to do that. For instance, I
    would say that your interpretation of the other
    books is accurate. But take The Glamour for
    example. You say: "they aren´t invisible, they
    are just people nobody pay attention at, and
    practically all the story is the book Niall
    wrotte in his madness." That's all correct. BUT,
    at the same time, isn't there something uncannily
    "true" about the idea that some people are so
    "ordinary" looking that no one notices them? It's
    a feeling I certainly have, when I'm trying to
    call a waiter in a restaurant, etc. So I would
    claim that this "truth" is as important as the
    literal truth of whatever the story might say.
    Yes, these people are not invisible, in the usual
    sense they are transparent (and so on), but they
    are psychologically invisible. Everything that
    Niall writes might be literally "true", but it might also be in
    metaphor.

    Yes, Borden is two people, identical twins.

    Yes, London is more real than Jethra.

    And so on. None of this is a game: it's
    my way of trying to make people think enjoyably.
    In fact, intelligent dispute (such as you display
    in your e-mail to me) is exactly the BEST response I could hope for.

    In The Separation there is no definitive
    truth. Just one: the real world in which we live,
    in which I wrote the book and in which people
    live who read the book. There is no changing
    history: right or wrong, WW2 worked out the way
    it did. But I saw The Separation as a series of
    questions about the way history treats the war. I
    ask: what would have happened if [something had
    happened differently]? Or: did [some incident in
    the war] really happen the way they told us it
    did? Or: why did they try to make a secret of
    [something that happened]? Or: where does the
    truth lie? The one thing I know for certain about
    WW2, and all wars, is that no one ever tells the
    whole truth about what went on, because war is an
    inherent evil. People who fight wars always feel
    guilty afterwards, and they try to blame others
    for what went wrong, or they make excuses for
    what they actually did. All we have to go on is
    history ... but history is always written by the side who won the war!

    At the end of the novel, afflicted by
    hallucinations, Joe is confronted with the
    possibility that all his efforts to bring an
    early end to the war (that is, the peace deal
    between Hess and Churchill in Stockholm) might in
    fact have been another hallucination. He fears he
    is dying, and he believes that if he dies then
    the Stockholm peace will die too. So he tries to
    cling to life to preserve that peace, even though
    his own life is full of confusion: his wife seems
    to be building a relationship with another man
    (Harry Gratton), his own twin brother (JL) might
    or might not be the father of the child she has
    just given birth to, he might have been driven
    insane by the injuries he has suffered in the
    bombing. But ... suppose the peace deal in
    Stockholm actually was real -- why would the
    death of one man affect that? (Surely, only if he had in fact imagined
    it?!)

    The reader has only one solid knowledge:
    the peace deal in Stockholm did NOT take place
    ... because we know that iin reality in 1941 the
    war suddenly grew much worse. Germany invaded
    Russia, Japan attacked the USA, Britain began
    systematically bombing the German cities into
    ruin. The idea I was trying to convey was: maybe
    the peace I described might have been better than
    that? Britain and Germany not fighting any more,
    the European Countries released from German
    occupation, a deal worked out about moving the
    Jews out of Germany, so avoiding the worst
    excesses of the Holocaust ... and several other
    things that never happened in reality, but which
    might have been better if they had! (I didn't
    have any suggestions about what might have
    happened to Franco. There are limits to how much
    any one writer can tackle in a novel.)

    Sorry, I am probably answering you in
    too much detail. Your English is excellent, but I
    do not want to take advantage of your good nature
    and intelligent curiosity. The main thing I want
    to convey to you is that if YOU feel you have
    missed something about the end of the novel, that is not true.


    P.D.: Odo, Dios los cria y ellos se juntan ;) . Y es que al final somos cuatro gatos en esto de las novelas de "marcianitos" :D
     
  19. Mugwump

    Mugwump New Member

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    Thanks for that post, Cloud. It's confirmed a few ideas I've had running through my mind. In the Dream Archipelago story "The Negation" Priest pretty much lays his cards on the table with respect to intepretations of his work i.e. it's pretty much up to the individual. There is no right and wrong answer. Moylita Kaine is the obvious Priest mouthpiece and Dik must symbolise every fan that's ever queried Priest on his works.

    The Glamour is a fantastic piece of work. I love the bit where Susan attempts to convince Richard she's invisible by walking naked in front of a family watching a football game on the TV and saying 'Look - they can't see me!'
     
  20. Mugwump

    Mugwump New Member

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    40 pages into The Extremes.

    Man, this author is some piece of work!