The Islanders Week 6: Peace Earned to Half Completed

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SUMMARY

Junno (Peace Earned)
* A prosperous group of 3 islands, difficult to get to by plane or ferry, and unattractive for travellers.
* The main island is the principle source of pollution in the Archipelago.
* Faiand leases the airport and runs it.
* The island has many workers from other islands. They are paid well, but not allowed to make contact with the outside and their work conditions are unknown.
* The island group is considered 'open' and has unrestricted havenic regulation.
* The island also has no shelterate legislation, and thus attracts deserters.
* Black-cap escouades try to catch deserters at the airport and re-educate them. Faiand deserters are sent back to the front. Glaundian soldiers are offered a choice of joining the Faiand army or may undergo further 're-education'.
* The citizens are armed to the teeth and participate in (voluntary) 'range wars' against the foreign workers.
* Reporter DANT WILLER lifted the veil on conditions here, somewhat, with award-winning reportage.

Keeilen (Grey Soreness)
* Initially developed as a neutral garrison island with a base for each side.
* Now is little more than a prison and re-fueling stop. The 'vicious killer' KERRITH SINGTON was to be incarcerated here, but was executed instead.
* Tidal Flood Cells are mentioned.
* Shelterate provisions are defined by the Covenant as guaranteeing deserters a safe haven should they reach any of the free Archipelago islands by their own volition. Keeilen is not technically free; residents try to welcome deserters but encourage them to move on.
* Black-cap escouades search for deserters here, in violation of the Covenant.
* Tunneling is one of the few 'attractions'.

Lanna (Two Horse)
* Bisected north-to-south by high mountains, creating two climates.
* Lanna Town, a port on the west side, attracts poets, painters, and composers.
* Poet KAL KAPES and his wife Sebenn moved here. They invited their friend DRYD BATHURST to visit.
* After a week, Bathurst was spotted leaving quietly leaving the island. Ten days later, Kapes and Sebenn were found dead.
* Sebenn was strangled, and Kapes died of thryme poison.
* A poem, Undreon's Way, found in Kapes notebook, points to a love triangle gone wrong.

Luice (Remembered Love)
* Another Faiand outpost and military base. Faiand claims they were there first, but archaeology suggests otherwise.
* Military approval must be granted to access the island.
* Two troop transport planes once collided here when descending from vortical altitudes.
* Relatives were allowed to come and claim the bodies. Author MOYLITA KAINE (Kammeston's correspondent in an earlier chapter) came to claim the body of a friend, despite not being a relative and being persona-non-grata with Faiand authorities for expose of war crimes.
* She pointed out her friend was not a soldier, but a fellow author and a draftee.

Manlayl (Half Completed / Half Started)
* At one time a Glaundian missile base. They dug the first holes.
* Tunneling then became a popular activity, opposed by locals for the damage it causes. JORDENN YO, who we met early in the book, was an early tunneling pioneer.
* Tunneling is not legal here anymore. The activity has caused a lot of damage, and tunnelers are persona-non-grata on the island.

QUESTIONS/DISCUSSION
* Several themes that have been touched on elsewhere have re-emerged here: The warlike aspect of the world, the activities of artists, and the nature of tunneling are all explored.
* Shelterate and Havenic regulations are further defined. Shelterate regulations are specific to deserters. Havenic regulations seem to pertain to civilian travellers. A new term: 'black-cap escouade' is introduced. Escouade is simply French for 'squad' or 'squadron'.
* What does Priest have to say about freedom and neutrality?
* What does Priest have to say about the nature of artists?
* We can cross off Moylita Kaine herself as a figment of Kammeston's imagination - but his correspondence from her may well still be completely made up.

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Comments

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    I am so glad that you are reminding us of people who we have met before... I would be utterly lost otherwise.

    I suppose that "vortical altitudes" in relation to aircraft has something to do with the inability to map the world from high up - the impression I get is of an atmospheric layer that does something weird to both winged flight and instrumentation.

    I am still (and no doubt by design) mystified by the nature of the waring factions vis a vis the islands - half the time it seems that there is an absolute inviolable divide between them, and the other half we read of numerous bases scattered here and there, about which the island authorities can do nothing.

    In fact I'm kind of mystified by the overall geography...

    Back to things I feel more confident about... The fourteen lines of the poem written by Kapes is the conventional length of a sonnet, and I strongly suspect that Christopher Priest is using this as a signal. Again conventionally, a sonnet is built of two unequal parts (eg 6 lines / 8 lines) with a thematic or emotional turn at the division point. This probably mirrors the unequal division of time of the events described - a shorter period of (one assumes) happiness and such like, followed by a longer period of death and gloom.

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    Junno read like a British commentary on the worst of USAian libertarianism and gun culture. I'm not sure there was much more to it. Bathurst seems more like a superhuman Lothario than an actual human being.

    These islands show some of the impact of the continental war on the Archipelago. I don't understand why it's in Faiand's and Glaund's interests to recognise the neutrality. There doesn't seem much stopping them just doing what they want in the islands. The incident on Luice also suggests that travel generally in the Archipelago is dangerous.

    I suspect the dead writer, repatriated from Luice, will become significant in later chapters.

    I find it difficult to believe that digging tunnels is done as an art project. Tunnels take a lot of effort to build: just ask miners!

    In conclusion, there are lots of threads here. I'm still waiting to see how they connect into a whole, and why I should care about them.

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    Some impressions I'm getting:

    War: It's senseless. It's impersonal. It seems to be a force in its own right. We never hear of the causes for this war - just the methods, and the impacts on individuals.

    Artists: The Tunnelers, Bathurst, and the mime, Commis, are all very self centred, seemingly oblivious to the damage they do to others. Kammeston comes across this way, too, in his dialogue with Kaine. Is there something in this about the nature of artists? About art itself? Is art inherently selfish? Is there something in this about Priest - some kind of acknowledgement?

    The Dream Archipelago and Freedom: So here's this place - acknowledged to be a dream. On the surface it seems a bit utopian, with free, quiet, friendly locals. It eschews war and provides a haven to those fleering it. It's officially neutral. But so many of the islands are being ill used - by the warring factions, developers, industrialists, and narcissistic artists. Is this freedom just a sham? A myth perpetuated by guidebooks like this? In many ways, the Archipelago seems so much like Earth - is this one of the ways? I've seen many a time this Caribbean island or that one advertised as 'paradise'. Locals sometimes even smile at you and say 'welcome to paradise'. But it's mostly advertising, and it takes a lot of work to make paradise look like the commercials.

    Neutrality: Who benefits from a policy of neutrality? Who enforces it? Even if not at war, many islands are somehow involved in the war. How does Switzerland stay neutral - by holding the money of the influencers?

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    @Apocryphal said:
    Artists: The Tunnelers, Bathurst, and the mime, Commis, are all very self centred, seemingly oblivious to the damage they do to others. Kammeston comes across this way, too, in his dialogue with Kaine. Is there something in this about the nature of artists? About art itself? Is art inherently selfish? Is there something in this about Priest - some kind of acknowledgement?

    That's a good crystallisation of the point. Yes, the place is full of smug artists that leave a wake of damage. I don't know if it's autobiographical, or it's a point that Priest is trying to make in this book.

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    @NeilNjae said:

    @Apocryphal said:
    Artists: The Tunnelers, Bathurst, and the mime, Commis, are all very self centred, seemingly oblivious to the damage they do to others. Kammeston comes across this way, too, in his dialogue with Kaine. Is there something in this about the nature of artists? About art itself? Is art inherently selfish? Is there something in this about Priest - some kind of acknowledgement?

    That's a good crystallisation of the point. Yes, the place is full of smug artists that leave a wake of damage. I don't know if it's autobiographical, or it's a point that Priest is trying to make in this book.

    Are we saying that the artists do more damage (on a personal level, at least) than the military?

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    Not more damage - but they seem to be equally reckless with respect to the individuals around them. I suppose the only difference is the degree of scale. I wonder if there's an interview with Priest that covers this somewhere?

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    I suppose that "vortical altitudes" in relation to aircraft has something to do with the inability to map the world from high up - the impression I get is of an atmospheric layer that does something weird to both winged flight and instrumentation.

    Next week's entry is another short story (about 40 pages long) and it seems to be about attempts at mapping by means of drones, so I expect we may get more detail on this.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    I am so glad that you are reminding us of people who we have met before... I would be utterly lost otherwise.

    Same here! Thank you!

    I suppose that "vortical altitudes" in relation to aircraft has something to do with the inability to map the world from high up - the impression I get is of an atmospheric layer that does something weird to both winged flight and instrumentation.

    This book is, I think, one of magical realism, and "vortical altitudes" part of the magical thinking that informs the book. I admit it hurts my brain.

    I am still (and no doubt by design) mystified by the nature of the waring factions vis a vis the islands - half the time it seems that there is an absolute inviolable divide between them, and the other half we read of numerous bases scattered here and there, about which the island authorities can do nothing.

    I think my previous point addresses this point as well.

    In fact I'm kind of mystified by the overall geography...

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes! By design!

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    @NeilNjae said:

    That's a good crystallisation of the point. Yes, the place is full of smug artists that leave a wake of damage. I don't know if it's autobiographical, or it's a point that Priest is trying to make in this book.

    Wanted to me too this!

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    Do the island names have any significance? I still feel like I’m missing some kind of joke when I look at them. Maybe Priest used some generative method for coming up with the names and that is triggering pattern recognition for me.
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    @Ray_Otus said:
    Do the island names have any significance? I still feel like I’m missing some kind of joke when I look at them. Maybe Priest used some generative method for coming up with the names and that is triggering pattern recognition for me.

    Yes, I keep wondering this. I can't keep in my head even a rough sense of what is near what, and we are obviously encountering different places in what CP regards as a thematic order rather than geographical or anything else. Maybe we're supposed to draw our own maps of the world, by analogy to how the drones in this week's chapter went - lots of detail about some places and almost total absence about others. I must look online and see if some geeky fan has already done this. I kind of feel totally lost without a big picture overview.

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    @RichardAbbott said:

    @Ray_Otus said:
    Do the island names have any significance? I still feel like I’m missing some kind of joke when I look at them. Maybe Priest used some generative method for coming up with the names and that is triggering pattern recognition for me.

    Yes, I keep wondering this. I can't keep in my head even a rough sense of what is near what, and we are obviously encountering different places in what CP regards as a thematic order rather than geographical or anything else. Maybe we're supposed to draw our own maps of the world, by analogy to how the drones in this week's chapter went - lots of detail about some places and almost total absence about others. I must look online and see if some geeky fan has already done this. I kind of feel totally lost without a big picture overview.

    It would even help to have all the links underlined in my paperback. LOL. Like "this has been mentioned before." But honestly I'm not worrying about that. I don't love the book enough (at least not yet) to devote that kind of focus. I'm just relaxing and letting it show me something.

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    I am certain that Priest doesn't supply any kind of top-down structural view because he doesn't want the reader to have one. We are left to look at the narratives through a sheet of invisible plate glass with whatever lighting the author decides to set up for us. ;)

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    @Ray_Otus said:
    I am certain that Priest doesn't supply any kind of top-down structural view because he doesn't want the reader to have one. We are left to look at the narratives through a sheet of invisible plate glass with whatever lighting the author decides to set up for us. ;)

    I like this observation a lot!

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    edited March 18

    Since we are, now pretty well 'Half Completed', I thought I'd share a couple of reviews I found. The first was published in the LA Review of Books and written by Paul Kincaid, who has written some award-winning non-fiction books about Science Fiction, including a biography of Iain Banks. Kincaid is someone who really seemed to get The Islanders and seems to have read a lot of Priest, so his review is very interesting in that it points us to several things to look for, and makes connections to other Priest novels.

    I'm going to share a few excerpts, and will post a link to the review at the bottom. The full review has some SPOILERS in that it reveals some things we haven't yet discovered, which is why I'm posting excerpts here. @WildCard and anyone else who is sensitive to such things, should avoid reading the full review until after we finish the book.

    I have bolded a few points that touch on things we've discussed.

    When Christopher Priest began writing about the Dream Archipelago in the late-1970s the world-girdling archipelago was clearly an avatar of the Greek islands, which were just then becoming generally affordable for British holidaymakers and had already acquired a reputation for hedonism and sexual licence. This reputation is reflected here, for instance, in the erotomane laws on Torquil. In Priest's stories, collected in The Dream Archipelago (1999), the Dream Archipelago separated a cold northern continent whose technologically advanced nations were locked in a perpetual war, and a largely uninhabited southern desert continent where this war was mostly fought out. Between the two land masses lies a chain of islands so profuse that no one has a clear idea exactly how many there are. The islands of the Dream Archipelago represent the unease of neutrality, politically, morally, socially, and sexually. They are places of escape, particularly for deserting soldiers, and yet many of them turn into a trap in themselves; they are places of sexual freedom, but the price of such freedom is often death. The sexual allure that constantly draws visitors to the islands has a vicious side; the stories consistently render desire as threatening and generally fatal.

    The psychosexual dramas played out in these stories were transformed in what many consider to be Priest's finest novel, The Affirmation (1980), in which the nature of identity is undermined and reconfigured. The islands become a place not so much of sexual or political liberation as of an escape from oneself, a place for reimagining one's own identity. At that point he stopped writing about the Dream Archipelago, though there were references to it in The Quiet Woman (1990), and later novels such as The Prestige (1995; the source for Christopher Nolan's 2006 film) and The Separation (2002; winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award) continued to explore themes previously laid out in those stories. Recently, however, he has returned to the Dream Archipelago in a number of short stories, and now there is another novel.

    The Islanders is as different from The Affirmation as it is possible to be and **yet still retain that sense of shattered identities, unstable realities, the combination of allure and threat, and above all the willingness to challenge and experiment with our understanding of what is going on. **

    Several entries restrict themselves to basic facts about the islands, but other forms of information start to intrude: there are diary entries, letters, newspaper articles, official reports, memoirs, personal accounts, confessions, and more. Many of these constitute stand-alone short stories, so that at times The Islanders comes across as a collection of separate tales; at times it is like a "fix up," linked stories that add up to something close to a novel. Then, slowly, we realize that in among the several stories we are being told there is one central mystery to which we keep returning, sometimes directly, sometimes only glancingly. By the end of this intricately structured work, we accept that it is a novel, but a novel unlike any other we have read.

    Because of its complex structure, nothing of this central mystery is presented in chronological order or from consistent viewpoints. It is up to us to piece all these disparate scraps together to discover what story it is we are being told. And since not every account we read can be telling the truth, we might all come up with a different story depending on which accounts we choose to believe and which we dismiss.

    Such a disjointed, achronological structure is nothing new for Priest. His second novel, Fugue for a Darkening Island (1972, revised 2011), opens, in its first paragraph, with a description of the protagonist as the story begins, and in its second paragraph, with a description of the same character as the story ends. Thereafter, the novel moves, seemingly at random, to disparate scenes between these two points. Famously, Priest introduced one discontinuity into the text so that the paragraphs could not simply be rearranged into a coherent chronological whole. I doubt that he has needed to play the same trick this time, if only because there are more than enough reasons for us to doubt and question what we are told.

    Nor is this the only incongruity that makes us question the novel. We drift in time just as readily as we meander from island to island; events in one telling seem to be far in the past, in another they are current; characters are long dead in one tale and mingling with figures from a later age in another. Part of this is play; The Islanders is often very funny and contains some of the driest jokes Priest has ever written. Part of it is deadly serious; this is a profound meditation on the nature and unreliability of truth, on belief and trust.

    Just as one of the main characters in the novel is the writer Chaster Kammeston, so other recurring figures are artists, but artists whose work tests our sense of reality. There is the sculptress whose work consists of tunnels drilled through islands until they become tuned instruments played by the wind, artwork that has the unfortunate side effect of destabilizing the islands themselves. There is the painter and serial adulterer whose erotic paintings, often withheld from public view, reveal in their detail stories only hinted at elsewhere. There is the up-and-coming novelist who writes, in vain, for advice from Chaster Kammeston and who turns out to be Moylita Kaine, a central figure in the very first Dream Archipelago story ("The Negation," 1978), and whose own magnum opus is The Affirmation, further blurring the lines about what we can trust. And, of course, there is the mime artist whose death is open to so many explanations, and who seems to have performed as much off stage as on.

    All are drawn together into a complex interweaving of plot and ideas, of playful games with reality and serious challenges to our preconceptions. The result is easily one of the richest and most rewarding novels that Priest has written to date.

    Link: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/playful-games-with-reality-christopher-priests-the-islanders/

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    The second review was written by Ursula K. LeGuin and published in The Guardian. I think it's more reflective of how many club members are receiving the book, and you may hear some familiar sounding comments in here. I myself was first drawn to this book because someone said it was like a cross between LeGuin's Earthsea and Italo Calvino's Invisible cities - both of which we've explored at the club. If I ever wondered what LeGuin might in turn have thought of The Islanders, I now have my answer.

    A book consisting of descriptions of the islands of the "Dream Archipelago", or visits to them, or stories of people who live on them – irresistible! I've always been drawn to such drifting, apparently aimless voyages among islands, or worlds, or planes of being, and I anticipate pleasure in the voyage itself, as when you board an excursion boat and settle down to see what palmy atoll or red-roofed city will rise out of the sea to become your destination.

    The trip Christopher Priest takes us on in The Islanders is not such an easy-going one. Descriptions of the islands are often of the prevailing climate, currents, winds and other technical information. While the archipelago is at least nominally on another world, nothing is exotic; the cultures of the countless islands are uniformly those of 21st-century Europe, right down to such decade-specific details as instant messaging and installation art. Although most islands are governed semi-feudally and the islanders are said not to travel much, their mindset seems remarkably sophisticated, capitalistic and uninsular. Perhaps this is because their enormous continental neighbour to the north, containing many countries endlessly at war with one another that use the uninhabited Southern Continent for a battlefield, has more influence on them than they will admit.
    Anyhow, it soon becomes clear that one should trust little or none of the information provided, beginning with the identity of the provider. Who dreams this archipelago? An answer to that question probably lies within the book. Since I'm no good at noticing and assembling clues and take no pleasure in the task, I won't pursue it, except to say that the curiously detached tone of the Introduction, by one Chaster Kammeston (later described as "the great novelist"), denying any responsibility for the contents of the book, could indicate that the whole geography of the archipelago is indeed his dream. Priest is notably fascinated with stage magic and illusionism, as in his novel The Prestige, and perhaps it is better to consider this book as a sleight-of-hand performance – now you see it, now you don't.
    **
    **Far from the haphazard drifting I expected, there is among many of the book's chapters a tight, recursive interconnection – in other words, a plot. What seems a rather dull series of court documents will turn out to be the first instalment of a complicated story involving a murder on stage, that plays out through various islands and characters. Several characters turn up repeatedly, most frequently the painter Dryd Bathurst, a priapic genius.

    On Collago Island there are athanasians – people made immortal through a scientific invention. The discussion of the physical and ethical problems that would arise out of the existence of immortals is brief and careless, and we never hear of Collago again. That's a big hare to start and not pursue. Meanwhile, hints early in the book about the temporal anomalies that make it almost impossible to chart the islands (a lovely idea) are finally explained – but by then it seems the anomalies are rather unimportant after all.

    [Both of these are explored more in other books - something LeGuin doesn't mention and may not be aware of]

    The flatness of this characterises much of the language also. The tone is mostly dry, ironic, aloof, sometimes pedantic. Visual and sensual descriptions are rare. Little is made vivid, which may be why sex and murder are called upon to put some colour into the narrative. This is a fairly typical passage: "The history of the Emmeret family reveals many examples of the sort of eccentricity often associated with long dynasties. The twelfth Seignior is said to have banned children from the house, the eighteenth to have insisted that all house-guests should be permanently naked, the nineteenth Seignior, son of the naturist lord, is notorious for the many weekends of debauchery he and a band of regular guests enjoyed at the house; the twentieth Seignior, the son of the debauchee, devoted his life to the cloth. The twenty-third Seignior was obsessed with gardens, and spent much of his life at the house, landscaping and re-landscaping the extensive grounds. The present Seignior is said to take his feudal responsibilities seriously, is a kind and generous man, but he is rarely seen on the island that bears his name. He attends once a year for the formal collection of tithes."

    One longs for a house-party with the eighteenth Seignior, but he is the only interesting one, and after him the list tails off into banality. It's a bit too much like the small, dusty history of Sark that you found was the only thing to read by the 25-watt lamp in your hotel room.

    [Possibly @RichardAbbott has had this very same experience!]

    Still, piecing together the rather unpleasant lives of the main characters is entertaining; and there are episodes complete in themselves, short stories really, which are satisfying. The ghosts are excellent. And I consider the thryme an absolutely first-class invention. The thryme lives on the island of Aubrac Grande, and you really do not want to meet it.

    Link: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/sep/30/the-islanders-christopher-priest-review

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    @WildCard said:

    @Ray_Otus said:
    I am certain that Priest doesn't supply any kind of top-down structural view because he doesn't want the reader to have one. We are left to look at the narratives through a sheet of invisible plate glass with whatever lighting the author decides to set up for us. ;)

    I like this observation a lot!

    As I said, I think The Lord of Mystery is Priest himself!

    Is this a coincidence? https://www.chrispriest.com/

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    " It's a bit too much like the small, dusty history of Sark that you found was the only thing to read by the 25-watt lamp in your hotel room." LOL

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    Thanks for the reviews, @Apocryphal .

    I hadn't made the connection between the Archipelago and Greece, but it's obvious now it's pointed out. It might fit hole similar to the Caribbean for those on the other side of the pond. Accessible, but still exotic; connected to myth; hedonic and carefree.

    The disjoints in time in the book's episodes: that's something I've noticed but we've not commented on yet.

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    There's something about it that reminds me of my small-town upbringing too. When I go back "home," my Mom wants to tell me stuff about all of these people I no longer know (and barely knew or cared about in the first place). Mom: "Did you hear that Ronnie Crane's brother died?" Me: "I'm struggling, help me out. Who is Ronnie?" Mom: "Oh, his sister's oldest was in your class. Or maybe your brother's."

    I know Islanders isn't THAT rural, but it's a kind of "history" of "important" people in the islands. Both of those in quotes for obvious reasons. The northern continent and their antarctic battlegrounds sort of represent "all the rest of the world." In my analogy it's how two towns of about 300 people each in rural Indiana is somehow bigger than everything else in America/the world. Here the island chain feels HUGE. So big they are, collectively, unmappable. Hell, you can't even know all their names. And yet there is a whole continent of warring nations to the north that ... well, they all get subsumed into one continental proper noun.

    A scale thing ... ya know? Words fail me. I woke up at 4 am for some odd reason and still haven't had coffee.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    Thanks for the reviews, @Apocryphal .

    I hadn't made the connection between the Archipelago and Greece, but it's obvious now it's pointed out. It might fit hole similar to the Caribbean for those on the other side of the pond. Accessible, but still exotic; connected to myth; hedonic and carefree.

    The disjoints in time in the book's episodes: that's something I've noticed but we've not commented on yet.

    Likewise - the Greek island connection seems obvious now but I had not thought of it. I was just the wrong age to take note of the whole Shirley Valentine "Greek islands as a place to escape a boring life and have some fun sex" thing so that particular connotation doesn't click. However, it made sense given this other bit from @Apocryphal "a cold northern continent whose technologically advanced nations were locked in a perpetual war, and a largely uninhabited southern desert continent where this war was mostly fought out" - this triggered associations for me of European nations fighting in North Africa, with the Greek islands (together with a bunch of other places like Malta etc) lurking uneasily in between. In fact, the whole concept of the southern continent as a desert battleground made a lot of things about the archipelago come together - like @Ray_Otus I had been trying to visualise two polar continents with a mostly ocean-covered world, and this shift to a kind of Mediterranean view has helped (of course, it might be quite wrong...)

    @Apocryphal said:
    The second review was written by Ursula K. LeGuin and published in The Guardian. I think it's more reflective of how many club members are receiving the book, and you may hear some familiar sounding comments in here. I myself was first drawn to this book because someone said it was like a cross between LeGuin's Earthsea and Italo Calvino's Invisible cities - both of which we've explored at the club. If I ever wondered what LeGuin might in turn have thought of The Islanders, I now have my answer

    Yes, her comments are very like our own reception, for the most part, though slightly adapted by occasional comments reflecting on CP's other works set in the archipelago. Particularly "athanasians... That's a big hare to start and not pursue" or "The flatness of this characterises much of the language also. The tone is mostly dry, ironic, aloof, sometimes pedantic. Visual and sensual descriptions are rare. Little is made vivid, which may be why sex and murder are called upon to put some colour into the narrative".

    One longs for a house-party with the eighteenth Seignior, but he is the only interesting one, and after him the list tails off into banality. It's a bit too much like the small, dusty history of Sark that you found was the only thing to read by the 25-watt lamp in your hotel room.

    [Possibly @RichardAbbott has had this very same experience!]

    Not actually in Sark (though I think my parents took me there as a young child when we visited Guernsey) but yes in other guest houses elsewhere in the UK - a cunning national ploy to provide inadequate illumination in your holiday home, no doubt. But mention of Sark made me consider the Channel Islands as another potential source for the Archipelago, and:
    1. Feudalism was (I found this extraordinary) only abolished in Sark in April 2008!!! And the chief person other than Queen Elizabeth is called the Seigneur.

    1. It is quirky in other ways - it has a small peninsula which is so nearly an island that "They are connected by a narrow isthmus called La Coupée which is 300 feet (91 m) long and has a drop of 330 feet (100 m) on each side.[4] Protective railings were erected in 1900; before then, children would crawl across on their hands and knees to avoid being blown over the edge. "

    2. There are both man-made and natural tunnels on the island "Little Sark had a number of mines accessing a source of galena. At Port Gorey, the ruins of silver mines may be seen. Off the south end of Little Sark are the Venus Pool and the Adonis Pool, both natural swimming pools whose waters are refreshed at high tide. The whole island is extensively penetrated at sea level by natural cave formations that provide unique habitats for many marine creatures, notably sea anemones."

    3. Weird things have happened concerning people, eg "In August 1990, an unemployed French nuclear physicist named André Gardes, armed with a semi-automatic weapon, attempted an invasion of Sark. The night Gardes arrived, he put up two posters declaring his intention to take over the island the following day at noon. The following day he started a solo foot patrol in front of the manor in battle-dress, weapon in hand. While Gardes was sitting on a bench waiting for noon to arrive, the island's volunteer connétable approached the Frenchman and complimented him on the quality of his weapon. Gardes then proceeded to change the gun's magazine, at which point he was tackled to the ground, arrested, and given a seven-day sentence which he served in Guernsey." - one might easily imagine this happening in The Dream Archipelago!

    The whole Wiki article is worth reading for light entertainment.

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    I have actually read the Sark Wikipedia entry - read it for all the Channel islands and other islands in the Channel... there are more, some inhabited!

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    " like a cross between LeGuin's Earthsea and Italo Calvino's Invisible cities "

    IF ONLY!

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    When I hear Sark, I think of the evil dude from the 80s movie Tron.

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    (It's gems like these, right? It's why you want me in the club. LOL)

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    > @Ray_Otus said:
    > When I hear Sark, I think of the evil dude from the 80s movie Tron.

    I'd quite forgotten about that Sark :)
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    @RichardAbbott said:
    Likewise - the Greek island connection seems obvious now but I had not thought of it. I was just the wrong age to take note of the whole Shirley Valentine "Greek islands as a place to escape a boring life and have some fun sex" thing so that particular connotation doesn't click. However, it made sense given this other bit from @Apocryphal "a cold northern continent whose technologically advanced nations were locked in a perpetual war, and a largely uninhabited southern desert continent where this war was mostly fought out" - this triggered associations for me of European nations fighting in North Africa, with the Greek islands (together with a bunch of other places like Malta etc) lurking uneasily in between. In fact, the whole concept of the southern continent as a desert battleground made a lot of things about the archipelago come together - like @Ray_Otus I had been trying to visualise two polar continents with a mostly ocean-covered world, and this shift to a kind of Mediterranean view has helped (of course, it might be quite wrong...)

    That's a great contemporary reading of the situation. But how about the Classical one? The book is a journey across an unknown Mediterranean, hopping from island to island. An Odyssey, if you will. Is there anything to be gained from that reading? (I'm not sure there is: there's no "search for home" or something to return to. Perhaps it's a story for one of the deserters.)

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    @NeilNjae said:
    That's a great contemporary reading of the situation. But how about the Classical one? The book is a journey across an unknown Mediterranean, hopping from island to island. An Odyssey, if you will. Is there anything to be gained from that reading? (I'm not sure there is: there's no "search for home" or something to return to. Perhaps it's a story for one of the deserters.)

    Well. Let's break that down a little. For one thing - no one is really journeying. The narrator is writing about these places from an island that he has never left. So there is no epic journey, only a kind of voyeuristic one. (Ha. Never thought about how the word voyeur might have roots in voyage. I need to look that up.) At times he seems to incorporate the writings of others, but again, they may or may not be voyagers. It's a kind of travelogue by clippings.

    Since there is no real point-of-view character on an epic voyage, there is no continuity in that form. The continuity is recurring themes. Almost randomly recurring themes.

    In other words, it's all very post-modern and I don't think it has any meaningful structural connection to a classic epic.

    I'll go farther (further?) and say that I do not believe Priest had an outline or plot in mind when he wrote this. It feels a bit stream of consciousness to me. Which is not the same as random, mind you. It's playful in a way (if not in tone). He's playing with language and ideas in a kind of fictional daybook.

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    edited March 20

    Here's another wildly speculative and quasi-psychological interpretation - make of it what you will.

    The Dream Archipelago is the human mind. The cold arctic continent with disputing nations is the intellect. The tropical battleground is passion. The islands, and islanders, live in a scattered and impossible-to-map zone between the two, influenced by both cold and heat - and by influenced here I mean both physical migration of people, and the background influences of air and ocean currents, plus vortical whatnots (my spellcheck wanted to write cortical there...). Interpretation: the human soul lives, moves, and has its being in a kind of liminal zone (that surely had to get in the plot somewhere) between cold and heat, not really part of either, and with an uneasy and rather ill-defined treaty maintaining its integrity.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    Here's another wildly speculative and quasi-psychological interpretation - make of it what you will.

    The tropical battleground is passion.

    Except the southern continent is antarctic, colder than the northern continent.

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