Vrico. Pastel City. The City, and the city, and city …of dreams.
I first came here as a young man. Seventeen. Through a portal in one of those London termini, I’d almost swear it was St Pancras. The old one of tunnels, caves, and condensation in huge waiting rooms. Except there was a bookshop, selling sci-fi.
Simon said “M John Harrison: he’s friends with Michael Moorcock. Or something.” I bought the book, we boarded a train. We crossed the sea to Amsterdam.
Uroconium. The City on the edge of the Western Sea. Canals, and pools, and streets with strange, familiar names. Genever in coffee shops and women at windows. Scarlet, black, neon. A city that wears its heart on its sleeve, but plays cards close to its chest.
I dreamt so many dreams, those seven Viriconium Nights.
I’ve returned to The City often, sometimes in Amsterdam. And reversed my way through this series of books: Viriconium Nights, In Viriconium (The Floating Gods), A Storm of Wings, The Pastel City. Immersed myself in the graphic adaptations of Ian Miller and Dieter Jüdt. For me it was always a series of two halves. The “In” and the “Nights” books are where it’s at.
And now, I’m told, we can return there one last time, in You Should Come With Me Now, in Jack of Mercy’s. I admit, I’m afraid of what might happen.
I’m not sure what pulls me back, and I never seem to find it. You never fill the yearning. Yet there’s always something new, unexpected.
First I learnt that fantasy needs no heroes, it does not need quests. Happy endings are over-rated; endings too, by and large. Life is not a gift-wrapped package. Stories can be slippery. The map is not the t… where am I?
Gradually, I noticed detail: names of flowers, species of birds. And, now that I know metalwork, I’m noticing that too. Rarely noble: Tegeus Cromis’s base metal rings, and the steel set of Queen Jane. Iridium birds and planished copper tables. Iron bogs and cadmium wastes. Could “Viriconium” too be some sickly, antediluvian element, tarnished by an earlier civilisation, waiting to be reworked into weaponry and ornament?
Worked metal was the death knell of them, tolling from the crude and ceaseless smithies of the North.
The things that seem eternal are the names. People and places, from the Margarethestrasse to the Rue Serpolet. Bistro Californium to the Luitpold Café, where you may find Ansel Verdigris with his fresh dyed scarlet coxcomb, his extraordinary yellow shirt, puking a puddle of lemon genever.
Montrouge to the cisPontine Quarter. Monstrance Avenue to Plaza of Unrealised Time (or perhaps it was the Plaza of Realised Time). The Ghibbeline Stair, the Proton Circuit, and out through, say, the Surgeon’s Gate?—?out perhaps to Iron Chine, to Dunham Massey, to Soubridge and the wastes beyond.
Nobody knows where these places are, or how to reach them. But their names form a thousand cities in your mind. And ruling over each of them: a Mammy Vooley, a cracked and faded totem. Some kind of doll or vanitas, a one-eyed heap of sticks that sings, creaks, whispers: “Stop! I bless all my subjects. Even this one.”
And the senses. Acid yellow, cobalt blue, coxcomb red, all burned in the retinas. The cloying scent of sticky spilt genever. A lingering whiff of blood and fish. These things endure, along with oxides of the metals.
I have never seen the far side of the Aquelate Pool — has anyone? How big is it? And what is in it? Does it even have a far side?
Some things I reluctantly admit I’ll never know.