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The Pastel City (Viriconium #1)

3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  648 Ratings  ·  57 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
124th out of 226 books — 237 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
87th out of 144 books — 40 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,887)
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Bill  Kerwin
Sep 09, 2015 Bill Kerwin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy

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
Aug 30, 2008 Steve rated it really liked it
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
J.G. Keely
Fantasy has always had its moralizers and its mischief-makers, those who use the symbolism of magic to create instructive fables, and those who use the strangeness of magic to tap into the more remote corners of the soul, and then obscure their transgressions behind the fantastical facade. Like Moorcock, Leiber, and Vance, Harrison is playful, he is rebellious.

Indeed, in his swift, pulpy approach, Harrison very much resembles those authors, but his voice sets him apart. There is a scintillation,
Kat  Hooper
Mar 14, 2012 Kat Hooper rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
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
Dec 10, 2010 Szplug rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 compensat ...more
Ben Loory
Oct 28, 2014 Ben Loory rated it really liked it
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.
Robin Sloan
Aug 21, 2012 Robin Sloan rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 07, 2008 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nazmul Hasan
Dec 24, 2015 Nazmul Hasan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: great-fantasy
I can't review this book. I'll just let China Mieville talk about the two writers who had the greatest influence on him.
"I don't have space to thank all the writers who've influenced me, but I want to mention two whose work is a constant source of inspiration and astonishment. Therefore to M. John Harrison, and to the memory of Mervyn Peake..." (Intro to Perdido street station).

Harrison is an imagest, and 'The Pastel City' is to fantasy literature what Eliot's 'The Wasteland' is to poetry: rivet
Oct 12, 2012 Robin rated it really liked it
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
Aug 06, 2012 A.E. Stueve rated it really liked it
This is a quick read that pulls you in and places you firmly in the mix of a science-fiction/fantasy battle. Highly recommended.
Feb 26, 2015 Tony rated it liked it
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
Aug 13, 2013 Edward Rathke rated it liked it
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
Jan 04, 2011 Loren rated it it was amazing

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
Oct 22, 2013 Onefinemess rated it liked it
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 really liked it  ·  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
Dec 18, 2014 Tim rated it really liked it
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
Book Punks
Nov 09, 2015 Book Punks rated it liked it
Another book where I can't decide between three or four. Lots of good stuff, but...I guess fuck a rating, how about that. More to come on the blog, I hope, if I can manage to wrap my head around the Harrison effect enough to say anything articulate.
Mar 01, 2014 Fred rated it it was ok
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
Jul 29, 2014 Fabulantes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasia
"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
Oct 21, 2012 Chris rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 28, 2013 Arnab rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 30, 2014 Damon Isherwood rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 27, 2012 Printable Tire rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 20, 2010 Christian rated it liked it
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.
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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

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“ome seventeen notable empires rose in the Middle Period of Earth. These were the Afternoon Cultures. All but one are unimportant to this narrative, and there is little need to speak of them save to say that none of them lasted for less than a millennium, none for more than ten; that each extracted such secrets and obtained such comforts as its nature (and the nature of the universe) enabled it to find; and that each fell back from the universe in confusion, dwindled, and died.

The last of them left its name written in the stars, but no one who came later could read it. More important, perhaps, it built enduringly despite its failing strength—leaving certain technologies that, for good or ill, retained their properties of operation for well over a thousand years. And more important still, it was the last of the Afternoon cultures, and was followed by Evening, and by Viriconium.”
“In the water-thickets, the path wound tortuously between umber iron-bogs, albescent quicksands of aluminum and magnesium oxides, and sumps of cuprous blue or permanganate mauve fed by slow, gelid streams and fringed by silver reeds and tall black grasses. The twisted, smooth-barked boles of the trees were yellow-ochre and burnt orange; through their tightly woven foliage filtered a gloomy, tinted light. At their roots grew great clumps of multifaceted translucent crystal like alien fungi.

Charcoal grey frogs with viridescent eyes croaked as the column floundered between the pools. Beneath the greasy surface of the water unidentifiable reptiles moved slowly and sinuously. Dragonflies whose webby wings spanned a foot or more hummed and hovered between the sedges: their long, wicked bodies glittered bold green and ultramarine; they took their prey on the wing, pouncing with an audible snap of jaws on whining, ephemeral mosquitoes and fluttering moths of april blue and chevrolet cerise.

Over everything hung the heavy, oppressive stench of rotting metal. After an hour, Cromis’ mouth was coated with a bitter deposit, and he tasted acids. He found it difficult to speak. While his horse stumbled and slithered beneath him, he gazed about in wonder, and poetry moved in his skull, swift as the jewelled mosquito-hawks over a dark slow current of ancient decay.”
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