Episodes – Christopher Priest

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Gollancz 2019

Some of my previous reviews of Christopher Priest:
https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/christopher-priest/
https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/09/24/the-lslanders-by-christopher-priest/
https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/life-on-mars/

When I read this collection, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

24 thoughts on “Episodes – Christopher Priest

  1. I am reading and reviewing all the pure stories before reading the FIRST essay or any of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ comments by the author … the latter being the author’s way of topping and tailing the textual bodies of fiction, I guess! Not chopping things off from them, but adding to them. Root and branch.

    THE HEAD AND THE HAND

    “There was only one piece of apparatus on the stage which was to be used this evening; the others were there for the effect.”

    A bit like writing fiction, the accoutrements of its radical core, And this horrific core of revenge and showmanship I will not spoil here, but I did admire the accoutrements – the icy lake in the late winter grounds, almost spring, of Racine House, from which lake the swans had gone missing. The wheelchair and its diminished maestro called for a last performance to please his mobs of fans, his wife Elizabeth, and his contemporary from age 18, a man, as narrator, who now pushes the wheelchair. The pit and the pendulum as a showman’s thwarted justice springing back upon himself alone amidst the hopefully thwarted uprisings of his clearly visible vulgar mobs thus released. Winter’s icy guillotine upon the lithe necks of swans hopefully thwarted, too, by sappy spring’s renewal of different uprisings.

    =======================

    “I embrace my rival, but only to strangle him.” — Jean Racine

    Embedded within the theatrical ‘three unities’ that Racine followed was, ironically, that violent events could only happen offstage. Vulgarity, too.

  2. F884C740-0D41-49B3-AAB7-C36F2D89F064DYING FALL

    “But respiratory illness now that was a possibility. […] He imagined himself dying in his own bed, struggling for breath, his heart labouring…”

    An inspirationally as well as respirationally prophetic co-vivid dream, a phenomenon that we all now suffer or even sometimes enjoy alongside the dire anxieties, with here a vision of the angst of inevitable death sooner or later, and the last fleeting thought that might pass through your mind before it happens amidst a panoply of possible methods that death may choose to kill you, involving being pushed in front of an underground train from which the only possible escape is finding sanctuary in one of the above slots alongside the tracks, the aforementioned respiratory illness, the training for free-fall parachuting and a traffic accident in Belgium, all or some of which are off-the-wall as a likely component during the course of your life. I already knew that ‘dying fall’ is a musical term but that does not prevent me thinking that a particular rondo from a Mozart Piano Concerto will now never sound the same to me! (Suicidal self-depletion depicted in the previous story as another in the above panoply of death’s methods to kill you was simply inferred as unnecessarily collusive, I guess.)

  3. I wrote the previous entry before reading the next story….

    I, HARUSPEX

    “There is no alternative, no end to the struggle.”

    Please forgive me for dealing with this utterly shocking novelette in a personal way. I suppose I must have already read it as I have long collected the magazine (and its sired haruspex) in which it first appeared, but it came up fresh and shocked me presumably anew and seemed to have been revisited by me at precisely the right time, at the ‘dying fall’ of my own life (this ‘dying fall’ expression here used again) when I need its powers of healing by not only fortune-reading its entrails but sin-eating them, too — stews cooked from pellets in those saving slots. The tumours of the PIT resisted. While with the pendulum of time above some new Slough of Beckoned Despond one can gauge the adjusted efficacy of the spells and visions and, by this measured pendulum, whether this magic is working. Suicidal self-depletion, from earlier, is trialled, too.
    On the surface, a ‘mad scientist’ yarn, one that is quite over the top in some eyes, no doubt, involving time travel by a Nazi aeroplane, and gratuitous sexual acts, and I suppose its most compelling raison d’être as ‘story’ is the tale of why or how any author would want to — or even could — write such a wild fiction. Yet, and this is important, it is fundamentally powerful as a reading experience even beyond its own instincts to be thus powerful. The power of literature is often autonomous but it needs special people to be its creative conduits of far-seeing squints.

    “‘But this is fantasy!’ I cried.”

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  5. It is as if the next novelette represents a completely contrastive Priestian self to the one represented by the previous novelette above!

    PALELY LOITERING

    “I had thought love would be so simple.”

    And indeed this story is, on the face of it, simply told, a limpidly crystalline, if hazy, form of the more textually tentacular ‘In Search of Lost Time’ version of Proust — and the male Romantic soul as tarnished by his later ‘Neuropean’ business heritage; also a resolution of unrequited love with a wonderful, unforgettable narration by one Proustian self (‘Proustian Selves’, if not Priestian ones, is a term discussed over the years, and not only by myself) … here we are told about a Time Bridge and the stoically waiting vigil of a lady who reminds me of French Lieutenants (but not the ones in Proust!), and the carving of a ham joint resonating in an inverse, oblique way with the physically piecemeal self-depletion story earlier in this book.
    I use the term ‘unforgettable’ above advisedly for this exquisite novelette even though it forms, at first, a tantalising blur in my mind (as in the quote from it below). You see, I remember reading this novelette, I think, in the 1970s, when I fell in ‘simple love’ with it as I also did with the Priestian ‘Inverted World’, ‘Dream of Wessex’ and ‘Infinite Summer’.

    “The outlines of their bodies were strangely diffused, an effect of the field on all who entered it. As they reached me, and thus came into the zone I was in, their shapes became sharply focused once more.”

  6. AN INFINITE SUMMER

    “A few minutes later, Waring detained Charlotte to show her a swan and some cygnets swimming by the reeds, and Thomas and Sarah walked slowly on ahead.”

    The Swann in Proust, or the missing swans in the first story above, whatever the case, this is a crucial moment, another tale of this book’s frozen ‘dying fall’.
    It is not the story I remember it to be, not a strict prefiguring of this author’s wonderful Dream Archipelago as I long remember it to have been, wrongly frozen, as it were, but it is, rather, a theme-and-variations on the previous novelette, a tale of “freezers” with black (photographic?) contraptions strung around their necks amidst a “half world, one where past, present and future co-existed uneasily.” (Please see my, by chance, simultaneous review of the novel “Time Present and Time Past” (here) which also, so far, seems to be, at least in part, featuring the taking of photographs as an element in its promising title’s theme). This Priestian work is another exquisite story of time travel and unrequited love, this one stretching from 1903 to the onset of the Second World War (and onward) upon the banks of the Thames near Richmond, even a crashing German warplane seen frozen in the sky…
    I cannot tell you whether Thomas’ love was satisfyingly requited or not by the end of it, but I do somehow see myself frozen, ironically within an infinite summer, when first reading this story and perhaps never finishing the reading of it to discover what I now cannot tell you? It would spoil it, anyway!

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  8. THE AMENT

    “I had recalled the dream vividly the morning after, but no more than any of the other dreams that I had experienced at that time.”

    The story published towards the late end of the twentieth century, in alternate first and third person singular passages, of Andrew Welbeck from a baby till later life when people still used noisy typewriters in bedsits, his purely co-vivid dreams, as we would see them now, leaving marks of those he killed within such dreams upon his waking body, or so it seems, lockdowned, as he eventually finds, within one of the contraptions in the previous story, having been filmed, actually as himself or vicariously as someone else who was discarded, for a project throughout his lifetime, a project, as it happens, associated with the same organisation in the same area that is taking running photographs as a filmic scan of me next week in my own real-time! Except I do NOT believe this will be alongside a naked female as a part of a lifetime project from babyhood onward, nor is any such woman going to be filmed alongside me, as with Andrew! Also there is here a Second World War unrequited-love moment, as earlier in this book. The ‘minutiae of criminology’ as with the mutabilities in THE archipelagic EVIDENCE? A flip-book film of a lifetime as in the Danielewski? This filming or scanning goes through various monochrome and colour processes (possibly also see the simultaneous Madden novel mentioned above) or, in a study of the uniqueness (or not) of identity: ‘a copy being created’ as strongly implicated with the earlier mention of Proustian selves and the AFs in my simultaneously reviewed Ishiguro KLARA book. “…the pleasures of detail and cross-reference” in circumstantial evidence.
    Thus, I was naturally enthralled by this story.

    “…the paradoxes, the coincidences…”

  9. THE INVISIBLE MEN

    “‘Let me tell you about you British. You have some crazy idea of honour, that it and it alone is the right thing. If honour stands in the way of truth, or facts, then that’s just too bad.’”

    For a story first published in 1974, this is a powerful almost preternaturally instinctive work tantalisingly oblique and tentative about our political world today, a PM called Murdoch (a man who had given birth to the verb “murdochize”) under a personal self-guilty cloud of fraud and paranoia, as he wanders the drab mud flats in Norfolk with an apparent stage set of yacht painters, dinghy fishers and pub locals, and a woman giving a splash of colour with a yellow dress, with Murdoch meeting an American man with whom he is implicated with that fraud and today in some secret hour together now stolen for themselves. It deploys for me something called the British Tradition, our then forthcoming mutabilities of relationship explicitly described here with America and Europe, plus fake news conspiracies with invisible men…but at least nothing as obvious as some toff called Boris hidden in plain sight as a Russian agent once recruited on the playing fields of Eton!

  10. THE STOOGE

    The young man protagonist Barry Henson, aka Mr Benson or Milton (cf noticeable themes of role play and identity in Paradise Lost!) secures a job as magician’s assistant. An off-the-cabinet-wall story from 2010 that is impossible to believe anyone would write gratuitously. Involving sex and prestidigitation and C31E850F-F8FE-4826-9471-AF8B3032C202 today’s lockdown claustrophobia and switching roles as in the Andrew Welbeck story earlier in this book (if that was his name). Paid 20 Guineas, in two halves naturally, with his thus being a Guinea Pig as well as a stage stooge for our reading experience of writerly showmanship, and, meanwhile, we all know Guinea Pigs are misnamed, too, inasmuch as not coming from Guinea and not even being a pig! But the trick was not over.

    Wow! That’s amazing!”

  11. futouristic.co.uk

    Literature is a time travel tontine lottery during lockdown and this is its most complexly rich exposé from 2009 in the most disarmingly simplistic of prose styles. No mean feat. Whatever the evidence, this is NO co-vivid dream as you will discover should you dare click on the waking reality of the link in the title!

    “I took a cold shower, and went to bed.”

  12. SHOOTING AN EPISODE

    “made sure, made sure”

    As a real-time reviewer myself of episodes and evasions towards gestalt whatever the intervening glitches, this work follows that pattern itself, albeit a farrago in itself, as if this is the final story that, by its brainstorming, clinches the yearned-for gestalt, a dystopic quality freewheeling through Virtual Reality games with principals and players, the leaders and the led and the leaders of leaders, Artificial Intelligence where artifice is even realer than reality as in the Klara book, roleplaying games, Reality TV’s Big Brother, (Orwell’s too), an oXXbow helmet to see though, a laundering maze of a tontine’s wealth, ere we come full circle with a prophecy by this story-artifice in 2017 of a Caroline Flack-like character as gameplay leader-and-led taking a selfie as if with the first story’s self-depletion showmanship, even doffing piecemeal her psychic armour, too, thus allowing the players and principals their Elias Canetti power of crowds….often shot in colour.
    And much else that makes this effective powerful farrago still a farrago.

    “I presumed, I continued to presume.”

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