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The Pastel City (Viriconium #1)

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  549 ratings  ·  48 reviews
The first book in the Viriconium series: 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 comp ...more
Hardcover, 158 pages
Published 1972 by Doubleday & Company, Inc. (first published September 1971)
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Dune by Frank HerbertFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyThe Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburyThe Foundation Trilogy by Isaac AsimovRendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
Golden Age & New Wave SF
122nd out of 229 books — 217 voters
The Hobbit by J.R.R. TolkienThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. LewisWatership Down by Richard AdamsA Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
100 Must Read Fantasy
63rd out of 141 books — 30 voters

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Community Reviews

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M. John Harrison’s The Pastel City is a title I picked up from, I believe, James Cawthorne’s Fantasy: The 100 Best Books. It’s a fine read, and it had me thinking around the mid-way point that the story was becoming an Anti-Rings story, but that’s probably not accurate. The Pastel City does have many of the standard features you can find in a great number of fantasy novels: a brooding poet-warrior alone in his castle, a young and beautiful queen under siege, a bad (and older) queen, a cranky dwa ...more
Bill  Kerwin

M. John Harrison, one of the youngest of the young Turks of the New Wave science fiction/ fantasy movement, wrote "The Pastel City" (1971) as an anti-fantasy, a sword and sorcery epic that would frustrate the expectations and disturb the complacency of devotees of the watered-down Tolkien and third-rate Howard and Leiber imitators that flooded the fiction market of the time. Now, more than forty years later, it is clear that the New Wave has accomplished its task so well that "The Pastel City" s
Kat  Hooper
3.5 stars
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Viriconium sits on the ruins of an ancient civilization that nobody remembers. The society that was technologically advanced enough to create crystal airships and lethal energy weapons is dead. These Afternoon Cultures depleted the world’s metal ores, leaving mounds of inscrutable rusted infrastructure with only a few odds and ends that still work. The current citizens of Viriconium are baffled by what they’ve dug up, but they have no idea what an
This opening salvo in the Viriconium series benefits from Harrison's icily fertile imagination and innate writing chops - but the latter was still at a raw, developing stage back in 1971 when The Pastel City was originally published, and there really isn't much to distinguish it from other rote fantasy from the same period. A decrepit, grim, and feral atmosphere - reminiscent of Moorcock, or even Glen Cook's The Black Company in its earlier incarnations - helps, but it cannot fully compensate ...more
The first book in the Viriconium cycle, The Pastel City holds up in that classic seventies $.75 mass-market paperback on a rain afternoon way. I'm an unabashed fan of all of the Viriconium stuff, and while this singular book is merely a preamble to the greater things to come, it can be read on its own, like a lighter and more picaresque Book of the New Sun.
Robin Sloan
My god, the language. The names. tegeus-Cromis! Canna Moidart! I was underlining whole pages—copying them out. Nominally, this is a book about a poet-warrior roaming a depleted planet. In truth, I think it's a book about how beautiful and bad-ass English can be.
3.5 stars. I really struggled between 3 and 4 stars and basically ended up at 3.5 stars. This is a pretty good science fantasy story that reminded me in tone, writing and story of Moorcock's Corum trilogy, Zelazny's Amber series and Vance's Dying Earth series. I did like each of those series better than this book and thus, in comparison to those works, ended up at the 3.5 star rating.

Briefly, the story is based in a far future, Quasimodo medieval world that is littered with technology from ages
Ben Loory
harrison is a wonderful writer-- evocative, sweeping, musical, and strange-- and this is the best book i've ever read about knights in the far future fighting ancient brain-eating robots. my only complaint is that it wasn't longer. not at the end, but in the middle.
I thought this book was a lot of fun. Short, sweet, and fun.

I've been keeping an eye out for fantasy that isn't boring, long winded, badly written, filled with cliches, and all the other things that the genre seems ridden with, and while The Pastel City may not come across as entirely original - for it certainly skirts along with many of the worn conventions of the genre - it does so with more depth, a lively angle, and a wry smile.

Harrison's writing is worth mentioning too, because it's solid,
A.E. Stueve
This is a quick read that pulls you in and places you firmly in the mix of a science-fiction/fantasy battle. Highly recommended.
I have no idea of where, when, or why I picked this 40-year-old sci-fi book up, but as I've making my way determinedly through my stacks of unread books, it came to hand the other week, and I breezed through it in a few hours. Actually, I'm not sure if calling it sci-fi is quite accurate, since it it has some features of fantasy (swords, warring queens, barbarian Norsemen, a bloodthirsty dwarf, an order of knights, etc.), but since it takes place on what seems to be a far-future Earth, millennia ...more
Edward Rathke
Maybe 3.5. Pretty cool fantasy yarn that has a lot of potential and, from what I'm told, things get much better in the subsequent books. The prose was powerful and beautiful and sometimes staggering, but the narrative was pretty standard fantasy adventure stuff, and the characters were interesting, though mostly painted in broadstrokes.

Looking forward to the next one, though. I hear things get wild.
A principios de los 70, M. John Harrison revolucionó la fantasía épica con su serie de Viriconium. Sí, parecía que tras Tolkien había vida. Sin lugar a dudas, muchos de los escritores contemporáneos de fantasía le deben mucho a Harrison, dejando aparte dragonadas y similares. Pero en realidad este libro está más cerca de la ciencia ficción que de la fantasía. Hay caballeros, luchas con espada, reinos que salvar... pero en un futuro lejano, perdido en los anales de la historia, un mundo arrasado ...more

By all rights, M. John Harrison's science fantasy The Pastel City ought not to work as well as it does. Almost all of the elements in the trope-laden epic have appeared in far better-known works. The plot reads like something Tolkien might've whipped up for an early draft of The Lord of the Rings. The barren, blasted setting recalls the desert world Arrakis from Dune. And, like Star Wars, it gives a prominent place to exotic energy weapons that that are like swords only
Roddy Williams
This is the first of a series of four books involving residents of the fabulous city of Viriconium, centre of an Empire heir to the legacy of the seventeen Afternoon Cultures which have plundered and despoiled the earth for millennia. The entire series, written between 1971 and 1985 has been republished in 2001 as a single volume, ‘Viriconium’ as part of Gollancz’ ‘Fantasy Masterworks’ list.
The Pastel City is an archetypal Science Fantasy novel, i.e. Science Fiction whose mood and setting allows
I wound up rating this one higher than I was expecting. It climbed up a quarter point and then another quarter point as I spent more time thinking.

The language here is really beautiful - lots of bits of sceneric (yep, just made that up) poetry. Vistas of depression scattered across an Earth truly on its last legs. We don't know how much time has passed, beyond a shitload. Enough time for starfaring civilizations to rise and fall multiple times (I wonder if Gene Wolfe was inspired by this book? C
Jun 26, 2008 Happydog rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: science fiction/fantasy fans
A fascinating book from the "British New Wave" era of science fiction. At first when it starts off, you might be deceived into thinking you're reading a Michael Moorcock homage/parody, with its dispassionate and troubled hero brooding over a landscape of coming chaos and death. But as you proceed on the book gains depth and casts its own strange spell quite different from Moorcock or anything else in the field. Harrison is more existentialist than Moorcock, but he is not without sympathy for his ...more
A very well-written tale of a dystopian distant future, like a bleak and minimalist version of Book of the New Sun. A band of should-be retired heroes sets out on a reasonably fantasy-like quest to save their waning kingdom, crossing a toxic bog of decaying industrial waste, and desert dunes of blowing rust. In the sky, some ancient powerful culture has set new stars, that spell out a message (or warning?) for all time -- if only anyone was left who could read it.

And while the irresistible apoca
Sean DeLauder
Jan 27, 2015 Sean DeLauder marked it as to-read
I have to add and read this one just because it has a strikingly similar theme to a series I've left on the boilerplate in my brain for a while, ideally as a graphic novel, though I have zero drawing skill. There are quite a few "regression of humanity" works out there, including Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series and one of my own books. I'll be mortified if it's too similar to the ideas I had, and saddened that I'll have to scrap the story because what I believed newborn was nearly middle ...more
Excellent first novel by Harrison. Follows some standard fantasy scifi conventions, but displays a level of vocabulary and technical skill out of range for nearly all beginners.
As good or better than first novels by Disch, Delany, Ballard, or Wolfe, however takes less chances and is formally more conventional. Harrison's debut is very promising technically, but doesn't display the sheer weirdness his contemporaries were able to harness in later more mature works.
I look forward to reading mor
"Viriconium es una metáfora. Es la capital del reino que Harrison construyó para contar (para cantar) la lenta agonía de una civilización, inexorablemente podrida, inexorablemente vetusta. Es el nombre que se le pone a una historia sin final feliz; una historia en la que en verdad importa más el tránsito que su fin. Se dice que ésta es la condición de los relatos de iniciación, de aprendizaje. Eso es falso, o al menos incierto, como casi todas las
I'm slowly picking away at the 'Fantasy Masterworks' collection I torrented. This is total New Wave style fantasy a la Moorcock. Great post-apocalyptic travelogue with an epic tale, but not a million pages long. If Tolkien wasn't boring or obsessed with country bumpkins, imperialism, and good vs evil. tegeus-Cromis and Tomb the Dwarf are a couple of characters to put into my personal pantheon alongside Elric, Muad'dib, Kid (Dhalgren), and Hagbard Celine. I dunno why but I really dig this kind of ...more
Very reminiscent of Michael Moorcock's Hawkmoon in its steampunkery, but also the beginning of M John Harrison's eternal bickering with genre. The scavenging for ancient technology reminded me of the Kefahuchi Tract in Light. With a little effort, its not difficult to consider the new trilogy as a far flung sequel to Viriconium.
Damon Isherwood
All those times you were in second hand bookshops, scouring through the penny novels on the sci-fi shelves, to try and find a novel that you just know has to exist - the one that has it all: a tortured warrior poet hero, a quest, fantastic adversaries etc - well this is it. One to read and reread through the years.
Printable Tire
Y'know, I was going to give this book 3 stars. But Harrison manages to create an intriguing and elaborate world, rife with interesting-enough epic and sporadically brilliant prose, and all within a brief span of pages. And those "brief span of pages" are always a bonus in my book.
First Viriconium book. World weary adventure set at the dying edge of the universe. The most conventional tale of the sequence, w/ its fantasy tropes (brooding sword-poets, scavenger dwarves, death golems, doomed queens, immortal wizards) honed to a diamond edge.
Good entry in the 'dying earth' subgenre. A group of melancholy heroes attempt to save a city from killer robots as Earth slowly winds down. Lacks the darkness and twistiness of M John Harrison's best work, though hints of it lurk around the edges.
Peter Dunn
On the surface there doesn’t seem much here that hasn’t been seen before: mixing swords and energy weapons (and even mixing them into energy based blades), a quasi-post apocalyptic earth, a dwarf, a set of exoskeleton/power armour, a relentless robot like army. Though to be fair the energy blades differ from, and predate, those movies full of Jedi.....
However somehow M J Harrison makes it all come together to feel very different. If nothing else you come away with a bunch of haunting melancholi
If you read this, you will learn the names of many obscure colours, but they are generally more vibrant than pastels.

Great stuff, I should have read this decades ago.
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aka Gabriel King (with Jane Johnson)

Michael John Harrison was born in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1945 and now lives in London.
Harrison is stylistically an Imagist and his early work relies heavily on the use of strange juxtapositions characteristic of absurdism.

More about M. John Harrison...

Other Books in the Series

Viriconium (4 books)
  • A Storm of Wings
  • The Floating Gods
  • Viriconium Nights
Light Viriconium Nova Swing The Centauri Device Empty Space

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“The right fist rested on the pommel of his plain long sword, which, contrary to the fashion of the time, had no name. Cromis, whose lips were thin and bloodless, was more possessed by the essential qualities of things than by their names; concerned with the reality of Reality, rather than with the names men give it.” 0 likes
“At Birkin Grif's left, his seat insecure on a scruffy packhorse, Theomeris Glyn, his only armour a steel-stressed leather cap, grumbled at the cold and the earliness of the hour, and cursed the flint hearts of city girls. ” 0 likes
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