The Dream Archipelago Week 15: Pause and Recap

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So, this is a quiet reading week for the slow read, but a bit of a pause before we jump into The Gradual.
We've now read two books - The Islanders and The Dream Archipelago.

Please feel to express your thoughts on the series.

Personally, I always have (and still do) prefer The Islanders, which to me remains one of the most remarkable books I've read. I fine it a little more thematically coherent. I love the mix of 'travel guide' (such as it is), shorty story, and overarching theme that almost makes it a novel. The Dream Archipelago has some interesting (and generally very well written) stories, but doesn't quite hold together as well as a 'book' in my opinion.

I'm looking forward to The Gradual as well. I think Priest is quite good at the long form, and I've enjoyed his other novels. The Gradual is the only book of the series that I've never read, so this one will be a new to me as it is to you.

@clash_bowley is quite right that Priest seems more interested in the metaphorical than the actual. I certainly don't mind that, as I quite like the metaphorical. Do we call this 'speculative' fiction rather than Science Fiction? Or maybe Pure SF as apposed to Applied SF? Priest is almost like and anti-Kim-Stanley-Robinson.

There were some strong thematic lines in these two books. Pacifism, perhaps, is one. The complexity of art, maybe another. A love of geography seems to be a third. Certainly the awkwardness of close relationships is there, too. Unlike Clash, I'm not convinced we can divine the ego/id of the author from these, but it is tempting to try and draw a picture of Priest, however inaccurate. I'm curious to see how much The Gradual will follow along these same lines.

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    I preferred The Dream Archipelago to The Islanders. I think The Islanders was an experiment that didn't quite work. The longer stories in The Dream Archipelago gave Priest more space to evoke and develop the dreamy, emotional settings that he does well. It's not "a book" and I didn't treat it as such: it's a collection of short stories, and that's fine. I'm looking forward to seeing how The Gradual reads.

    Priest does sensations and impressions, rather than facts. That's true in the worldbuilding: when Priest tries to give some hard facts about the world, things fall flat; when he gives some hints and allusions, we're happy to fill in the rest.

    I'm always suspicious of authors writing about how writing is profound and important: they have a vested interest in believing that! At least Priest has the grace to hid his sentiment behind an author writing about painters.

    I still see these stories being wedded to the context of 1970s Britain. The aftershocks of the Summer of Love etc, the growing threat of World War 3 (and proxy wars in Korea, Vietnam and soon Afghanistan), the hedonistic, exotic otherness of the newly-accessible Mediterranean islands.

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    For me, Dream Archipelago was more engaging, perhaps because I went in to Islanders not knowing anything about the setup. I can easily imagine Islanders being a better read for those who already "know" the archipelago from other books.

    As was said a couple of weeks ago, the perspective here is very different - we learn a lot more about the warring continental factions (even if what we learn is not always consistent or credible), and conversely less about the islands, except as exotic destination points that are hard to get a solid grip on.

    There was less in Dream Archipelago about the absolute impossibility of making maps, and indeed in several places we learn that maps are in fact created by various people. The ban on maps is more of a human edict than a natural law. And I don't think there was quite the same sense as in Islanders that all the technology and whatnot was pretty much identical to our own (actually, the reverse, in that weapons of war are more targeted on at psychic disruption rather than simple destruction).

    I am looking forward to The Gradual and seeing how CP manages a full-length novel (these two books are the first of his I have read so I have no particular expectation).

    Themes - I'm not sure that "pacifism" is quite right - individual people seem to expect considerable levels of interpersonal violence. Personally I'd rather say that CP wants to bring into focus the pointlessness and personal horror of organised warfare (his infamous "3000 years" probably its here), and doesn't really expect the world to be without conflict of various kinds. But I broadly agree with the other themes @Apocryphal listed.

    @NeilNjae yes - sensations and impressions not facts, to which I'd add that he tries to instil in his readers the same feelings that his characters are experiencing. Sometimes this works, other times not (for me, at least).

    Hilariously given your comment "I'm always suspicious of authors writing about how writing is profound and important: they have a vested interest", I'm currently watching the streamed series "Any Human Heart" which foregrounds exactly this preoccupation of authors with the process of writing, and encounters with real-life famous authors (in that case, Hemingway and Fleming)

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    Themes - I'm not sure that "pacifism" is quite right - individual people seem to expect considerable levels of interpersonal violence. Personally I'd rather say that CP wants to bring into focus the pointlessness and personal horror of organised warfare (his infamous "3000 years" probably its here), and doesn't really expect the world to be without conflict of various kinds. But I broadly agree with the other themes @Apocryphal listed.

    I think he only talks about war in terms of its cost and the damage it does. At best, we're shown how people adapt to their new situation, but it's worse than before. We never hear about victories, or glory, or the defeat of evil. I don't think that's "pacifism", in that he never calls for an end to war; but he's not one that thinks war has any real redeeming feature.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    ... We never hear about victories, or glory, or the defeat of evil...

    Especially when we learn about troop movements which are routinely repetitive and pointless... lots of tedium but no magnificence.

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    I have really enjoyed Dream Archipelago compared to The Islanders, and this may have been me. It wasn't until the end of the Islanders that I realized how to mentally handle the fact that CP was doing something that greatly irritated me, namely deliberately changing established facts between stories. Once I decided to treat each story as a separate, though similar, universe, it helped a lot. With that strong background irritation gone, it was easier to like or dislike individual stories on their own merits. Of all of us, I am the least appreciative of droning on with themes and clever authorial tricks, both of which CP is prone to. I prefer strong, straight storytelling, without faffing about, and this is my main problem with CP now. I am hoping The Gradual will be consistent and creepy! I had previously read The Prestige some years ago, and really enjoyed it.

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