Christopher Priest

Reviews of THE DREAM ARCHIPELAGO (1999)

The Dream Archipelago

[The Dream Archipelago is a neutral zone in a world at war. The thousands of islands, languishing in equatorial seas, are a constant lure to young men and women on both sides of the conflict. This is a book of sexual obsessions, moral ambiguities, neural abnormality.]

Infinity Plus:

This book, the first collection by Christopher Priest in about twenty years, is superb intellectual architecture. The six short stories and novellas gathered here are all triumphs of quiet, steady craftsmanship, models of ingenious design and subtle implication, and as a group they further enrich each other, interlocking cleverly, symmetrically, sinisterly. They date from the period 1978-80, the time when Priest's departure into the mainstream was becoming evident; and the tales themselves demonstrate this shift very clearly, being slow, contemplative studies of minds and cultures in crisis. This book could just as easily have been issued as "upmarket" literary fiction, given its exceptional depth and richness. Priest's so-called Dream Archipelago is just what its name implies, a region of the wondering (and wandering) mind, a location allowing intricate explorations of various, always abnormal, mental states. The islands occupy the equatorial ocean of a world that is in some sense a reflection of our own, with familiar political, cultural, and psychological realities. Modern realities are certainly being brought brutally home to the islanders, as the rival powers of the northern continent wage global war on each other, enforcing a bizarrely restrictive "neutrality" on the archipelago while their forces ravage countries still further south. Armies of occupation; battles fought on supposedly neutral territory; horrifying medical experiments; "sense gases" that drastically confuse perception: these traumatize indigenous cultures, and make even cosmopolitan visitors uncertain of their existential ground. All settings and events seem unreliable, subjective; and, indeed, one might readily see the islands as fragments of the inner landscape of a single human brain, obeying subconscious rather than naturalistic logic. So of what does this mental topography consist? One of the virtues of these stories is their openness to multiple interpretations, as cryptic clues are dropped and hidden designs are intimated. The Dream Archipelago is virtuosity of narrative design at its most cunning, its most urgent, and its most elegant.

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