The Dream Archipelago by Christopher Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This superb collection of short stories by Christopher Priest lives up to its title, being both subtle and subtly off.
Off not as in bad... but off as in we're being carried away by deep waters that are subtly carrying away our sense of the universe.
You see, these stories feel awfully familiar and normal, or if they're evidently and obviously on an alternate Earth, at least everything seems ultimately recognizable... until it isn't. And this, let me tell you, is damn awesome. There's practically no way we can't fall into his trap. He lulls us along and then stops the stories at places that confound and make us ask really deep questions.
At first blush, we keep seeing big themes of incompletion, usually surrounding unsatisfying sexual encounters, synesthesia, all kinds of off-art, and the sense that the war is just WRONG.
But expect no resolutions. These aren't those kinds of stories. They're deeply personal, intimate, and often disturbing, focused almost entirely on the inner or nearby worlds of the main characters, usually involved in what might be characterized as a travelogue of the Dream Archipelagos.
And like the other Dream Islands, the islands are a character in themselves, they're both disturbing and fascinating, and they're set right in-between two warring nations that have been going at it for up to a few thousand years. They're not going to defeat each other. They have too much invested in just keeping the conflict going.
There's undercurrents under the undercurrents, references back to real and fictional novels, themes that are both profound and familiar, and it's always heavily sexual.
These are almost impossible to truly describe. They're just that good. Expertly crafted, confounding, intimate, and interrupted. A few of them are truly wonderful, especially the last novella, but after reading them, it really is as if I've been living a dream... Not wild. Just carried away with the currents.
If you can't tell, I'm kinda at a loss for words. I feel like I'm one of the characters in these stories, all fish out of water and simultaneously horrified and caught in the beauty. :)
Anyway. They're absolutely worth the read. Really amazing, actually. :)
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