The Islanders (The Dream Archipelago, Book 3)

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Or the central science fiction idea is dealt with too obliquely. Hmm, Priest is never anything but oblique in the way he deals with sf tropes. Fugue for a Darkening Island is an invasion story, but not in the way that sf usually approaches invasion; The Glamour is a story of invisibility, but a form of invisibility that owes nothing to H.

So yes, oblique, or at least using the trope in a way that we might not expect. I thought that was supposed to be a positive, that novelty was meant to be a strength, indeed a defining characteristic, of science fiction. The Gradual is a time travel story, an archetypal science fiction trope that is well over years old. But the way it is used here is disturbingly different from how time is generally employed within sf. Time eddies and fluctuates and swirls about the islands of the Dream Archipelago. The central character, Alesandro Sussken, is a talented musician and composer born and brought up in one of the nations of the northern continent.

His country is locked in a perpetual war with one of its neighbours, but the war is fought out on the uninhabited southern continent, beyond the more-or-less neutral islands of the Dream Archipelago. Sussken escapes the draft, though his brother does not, and builds his career. His work is largely inspired by the islands of the Dream Archipelago, a couple of which he can glimpse on the horizon but they remain objects of desire forever out of reach.

Then, out of the blue, he is invited to join an orchestral tour of the Dream Archipelago. In the earliest Dream Archipelago stories the islands were places of sexual allure and peril, places of warmth and ease where it was tempting to throw off inhibitions. When Priest returned to the Dream Archipelago with The Islanders , the character of the islands had changed, they were more variable, often colder, more workaday. But the islands that Sussken encounters on that first tour revert to the earlier model, places of warmth and relaxation and sexual pleasure. He is seduced. But when the tour ends and he returns to Glaund City, he finds that much more time has passed than could be accounted for by the duration of the tour.

This, something like halfway through the book, is our first indication that time travel is involved in the story. There is something disingenuous in that sentence, as if the pairings are the wrong way round.

War shapes the world; time shapes the music. But music is time: time signatures, tempo, the sequences of sound and silence from which all music is built. The fact that Sussken is a musician is integral to the fact that this is a novel about time. The curious curlicue journeys that Sussken must undertake in the latter part of the novel to compensate for the gradual are musical shapes as much as they are temporal shapes. So, if we are paying attention, we know that this is a novel about time travel long before Sussken slips through time. But these are distractions on the surface, they are not the bass note of time that underpins the whole novel.

Yes, this is a novel with a straightforward, familiar, well-used science fiction trope at its heart. But that trope has been reinvented, changed into something else, given a different rhythm. And then it has been hidden in plain view. Later entries in the book seem to clarify what really happened in this case, but in the process open up more questions than are answered. Oh, a key figure the gazetteer references frequently is revealed to be dead, despite him having produced an introduction to the book apparently after reading it. Maybe he faked his death.

Or this is a newer edition with the old introduction left intact. Or something else has happened.


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The Islanders defies easy categorisation. Moments of dark, psychological horror suggest we should. The novel embraces its gazetteer format. References to another island in an entry may be a clue that a vital piece of information can be found in the corresponding chapter about the other island. Recurring names some of them possibly aliases and references to tunnels and havens provide links that bind the book together. The only thing I can say with certainty about it is that it is about islands and the people who live on them, and if there is a better, more thought-provoking and rewarding novel published this year I will be surprised.

But none of the other things you may or may not or may yet imagine of it are even close, to be sure. Actually … strike that. I say that. As the renowned novelist and Inclair Laureate of Literature Chaster Kammeston allows in his nonchalant introduction to the thirty-some incongruous entries which follow, including several which insist the honour is a posthumous one, as the author is dead — wait, say what? To wit, do not expect to exit The Islanders any more certain than you entered as to where exactly these islands are, what they are called — for a daunting number of patois languages, thankfully absent this guide, render their meanings, where rarely they are known, quite, quite meaningless, or else overburden each island with such a wealth of meaning as to effect the self-same result — nor even, indeed, if they exist.

Nothing, in short, is truly certain in The Islanders. The unidentified writer or writers of these brief sketches have an agenda which is not mine, but I do not object to it. For instance, certain shared themes arise to bridge the dizzying gap between the now of this returning master of speculative fiction and the then, among them: on the island of Omhuuv, illusion a la The Prestige , by way of the dearly beloved mime artiste Commis and The Lord of Mystery, who requires a gargantuan sheet of glass to perform his signature trick; one last set-piece before the curtain comes crashing, smashing down.

Our palette of emotional colours is the islands themselves and the mysterious sea channels that churn between them. We relish our sea breezes, our regular monsoons, the banks of piling clouds that dramatize the seascapes, the sudden squalls, the colour of the light reflecting from the dazzling sea, the lazy heat, the currents and the tides and the unexplained gales, and on the whole prefer not to know whence they have come, nor whither they are destined.

The aforementioned mime artiste Commis, early on the victim of an appalling accident, recurs again and again; as does the installation artist Jordenn Yo, who carves vast tunnels into the bedrock of various islands in order that she may make monolithic wind instruments of them, maybe; and Dryd Bathurst, celebrated bachelor and painter of landscapes.

It’s time Christopher Priest’s devout congregation extended beyond sci-fi enthusiasts

That is not to mention Esla Caurer, social reformer; the poet Kal Kapes; Esphoven Muy, philosopher of wind and water; and of course Chaster Kammeston, the reclusive novelist who you will recall began this boggling, brilliant thing … though he is needless to say neither interested nor particularly involved in its end. Each of the individuals The Islanders is attentive towards is related to each of the others in two ways. Their respective arcs, such as they are, are in this manner utterly disordered: the reader will often know the eventual fate of a character before there has been any account of their life or work or influence, if Priest grants us even that and there are no guarantees.

In strange and surprising ways, one story — some hundreds of pages removed from the narrative to which it loosely refers — pays another off, and sows the seeds of another, and another. And around it goes, describing elusive ovals in the sea rather than the intersecting lines one is perhaps accustomed to. I think they just need a bit more mulling over, similar to The Affirmation I see a pattern emerging in this series of books The most puzzling story was the last one, The Watch This is a series of short stories set in the world of the Dream Archipelago.

The most puzzling story was the last one, The Watched. While searching for possible online maps of the Dream Archipelago didn't find one , I happened to read that this particular story was highly influenced by John Fowles ' novel The Magus. Having read The Magus this time last year, I can see easily see the similarities. While I was frustrated with The Magus by the time I reached the end of its long pages, luckily The Watched is much much shorter.

Christopher Priest: The Adjacent | Asylum

Here is a blog post by Christopher Priest discussing his thoughts about The Magus. I may still be puzzling over the first two books, but Christopher Priest makes me want to keep coming back for more. This is a tricky review to write. This, t This is a tricky review to write. This, then, is how I came to be reading The Dream Archipelago. The Dream Archipelago is a collection of short stories written over a 30 year period starting in Priest would go on to tell you that the period lasted until , but I believe that you can work that out for yourself.

They are united by being set in or around the Dream Archipelago which is a collection of islands running round the middle of a world that has been at war for many, many years. The Dream Archipelago is a neutral zone and, as such, attracts the attention of young men destined to fight in a war that has no apparent end and consists mainly of each side moving troops around but never actually fighting one another. After an initial, very short, introductory story, we get what could be an interesting short story about a soldier patrolling a wall on the frontier who has the chance to meet the author of his favourite book.

Slow molasses drip under a tipped-up crescent moon.

When the author writes a poem for the soldier, he begins to question whether he is on the side of right in the war. Unfortunately, it rather went downhill from that point. Most of the rest of the stories seem to be aimed at heterosexual teenage boys and their sexual fantasies my son left his teenage years behind a long time ago, though.

Each story gives the impression that if you attend an event normally a funeral, it seems in the Dream Archipelago, at least one woman will throw herself at you and not take no for an answer. This is independent of your own gender.

And it normally ends badly with some kind of nightmarish episode. In what might be a slight spoiler, the final story tells of a soldier on the run after discharging himself from the army who begins to paint using a technique and materials that mean physical contact with the paintings induces an emotional response in the person.

It raises the possibility that the whole book is stories of one or more people hallucinating as they touch one of these paintings, which, in that context, would make all the different stories the experiences of a single person captured in their paintings.


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But I may be searching too hard for a unifying idea and something to redeem the book. Reading The Prestige is tempting, but knowing the twist from the movie probably spoils any reading of the book. Sorry, Matthew. Superb collection, with ingeniously designed and cleverly, subtly interlocking stories about mind and sanity, culture and war, sexuality and madness.

A connected collection of really good stories with sightly less than satisfying conclusions. This collection of stories is characterised by non-completion. By ellipses, gaps, loss of memory, tantalising hints of more, general incompleteness. In the stories themselves, in the people, in the world. This turned out not to be the book I thought I was reading. Having adored The Islanders, I thought I was getting an earlier novel set in the same place.

Uh, no. This is a set of short stories including a couple of novellas : some set in the Dream Archipelago, some just referencing it. So I was This collection of stories is characterised by non-completion.

The Islanders by Christopher Priest – review

So I was quite discontent when I read the first 'chapter' - The Equatorial Moment - and accepted it as setting the premise for the book Don't worry; I got over my disappointment. It's a vignette, explaining the very odd thing about this world: that there is a time vortex, which means it's the same time everywhere on the world at the same time. It also means that flying somewhere is a rather difficult business. It also sets up that this world is experiencing a war, which - far more than issues to do with time - informs the entirety of this collection.

It's set in the Dream Archipelago, but that's all.

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