The Floating Gods: A mysterious plague hits Viriconium

M. John Harrison Viriconium 1. The Pastel City (1971) 2. A Storm of Wings (1980) 3. The Floating Gods (1982) In Viriconium 4. Viriconium Nights (1984)The Floating Gods (aka In Viriconium in the UK) by M. John Harrison

The Floating GodsIn this third volume of the VIRICONIUM omnibus, we visit the old artists’ quarter of Viriconium — a lazy decaying place where gardens bloom and the smell of black currant gin exudes from the taverns where the increasingly lackadaisical citizens used to sit and talk about art and philosophy. This part of the city used to be vibrant and innovative, but it has been deteriorating as a psychological plague has been creeping in from the high city. The artists’ patrons, infected by this plague of mediocrity, have become dreamy and only want to purchase uninspired sentimental watercolor landscapes. And all they want to talk about is the debauched antics of the Barley Brothers, a couple of twins who act like buffoons but are rumored to be demi-gods.

Ashlyme is a renowned artist whose cruel portraits are known for their ability to capture and emphasize his subjects’ unflattering personality traits. He’s concerned about Audsley King, another famous painter who is succumbing to the plague. With the help of his scientifically-minded friend and a cruel dwarf who calls himself the Grand Cairo, Ashlyme plans to transport Audsley to a part of the city where the plague has not yet reached, thinking that she may recover. Their plans go awry and end up like an episode of The Three Stooges.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Floating Gods (aka In Viriconium) is funny, witty, and brilliantly written with sharp humorous insights into disagreeable human behavior. As the plague crept closer, I could feel the beloved city of Viriconium decaying — its fountains drying up and its gardens becoming unkempt and shabby. Like the previous book, A Storm of Wings, The Floating Gods is intensely atmospheric. This is a better book, though, because the atmosphere is balanced by humor and plot. This is my favorite VIRICONIUM book so far. Now I’m moving on to the last part, a collection of stories called Viriconium Nights.

I’m still listening to the wonderful audiobook version of the entire VIRICONIUM saga which is produced by Neil Gaiman Presents and narrated by Simon Vance.

~Kat Hooper


M. John Harrison Viriconium 1. The Pastel City (1971) 2. A Storm of Wings (1980) 3. The Floating Gods (1982) In Viriconium 4. Viriconium Nights (1984)The Floating Gods is the third book in the sequence, and in it Viriconium is beset by a mysterious plague that affects the artists’ quarter and drains their vitality and hope. As artist Audsley King slowly dies from the plague, her portrait artist friend Ashlyme tries to save her from this psychological malaise that seems to be taking over the city. This story abandons the sword-and-sorcery setting of the first two books in favor of a much grittier urban setting like an alternative London. It is a semi-comic, semi-tragic story of artists struggling against both the madness of their patrons and the strange loss of vitality that the plague brings. It is very much a metaphor for the struggle inherent in the artistic process, and being one of the most unartistic persons I know, I found it hard to care much about their travails. This book was Kat’s favorite among the sequence, mainly for its coherent storyline, humor, and evocative writing. For my part, I found my attention drifting fairly quickly, and can now recall almost nothing of the book’s events, much like a strange dream that fades upon waking.

~Stuart Starosta

Published in 1982. Third book in the Viriconium sequence. The city is beset by a mysterious plague that affects the artists quarter and drains their vitality and hope. As artist Audsley King slowly dies from the plague, her friend Ashlyme tries to save her, and the result is at turns comic, tragic, and absurd. Much less fantastic in tone, it could be set in an alternate London.

Viriconium — (1971-1984) The third book, The Floating Gods, was also released as In Viriconium. Publisher: In the distant future, a medieval system rises from the ruins of a technology that destroyed itself. Armored knights ride their horses across dunes of rust, battling for the honor of the Queen. But the knights find more to menace them than mere swords and lances. A brave quest leads them face to face with the awesome power of a complex, lethal technology that has been erased from the face of the Earth — but lives on, underground.

M. John Harrison Viriconium 1. The Pastel City (1971) 2. A Storm of Wings (1980) 3. The Floating Gods (1982) In Viriconium 4. Viriconium Nights (1984)M. John Harrison Viriconium 1. The Pastel City (1971) 2. A Storm of Wings (1980) 3. The Floating Gods (1982) In Viriconium 4. Viriconium Nights (1984)M. John Harrison Viriconium 1. The Pastel City (1971) 2. A Storm of Wings (1980) 3. The Floating Gods (1982) In Viriconium 4. Viriconium Nights (1984)M. John Harrison Viriconium 1. The Pastel City (1971) 2. A Storm of Wings (1980) 3. The Floating Gods (1982) In Viriconium 4. Viriconium Nights (1984)


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff from March 2015 to November 2018, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he lived in Tokyo, Japan for about 15 years before moving to London in 2017 with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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