Some months ago there was an unusual prospect that I would be ridiculously visible at this Worldcon. I was hoping that my book would be available (it wasn’t, and no word from the publisher about when it will be available). We had hoped that the Clarke Award anthology would be published for the Worldcon (but circumstances have forced us to put that back until January). I am due to appear in the Clute festschrift, but that has had to be put back. I have a story in Strange Pleasures 3 edited by Dave Hutchinson, which was rumoured to be published for the Worldcon, and wasn’t (Dave was sounding mighty pissed off with the whole thing and is talking about resigning from the Strange Pleasures series). So, in the end, the only place I was published for the convention was in the essay collection on GoH Chris Priest, Christopher Priest: The Interaction edited by Andrew M. Butler (Foundation Studies in Science Fiction, 6; The Science Fiction Foundation, 2005).
I started dipping into it during the convention (mostly to see how my essay held up in cold print) and finished reading the whole thing about two minutes before the car pulled up at Dr B’s house in Canterbury on the journey home. For an academic work it is very readable, and consistently interesting. It is also slightly embarrassing: on the strength of having conducted one interview with Chris and having written three essays on his work, my name appears in the book more often than anyone else (except for Chris himself) – though I only qualify for two entries in the index. And despite the fact that my essay is the only one to deal at length with the early novels (my essay is on the use of islands in his fiction, a consistent feature of his work from Indoctrinaire up to The Affirmation), they have chosen to place it last in the book. This is either in the hope that everyone will have given up reading before then (as Andrew says), or it is a position of honour which I find very flattering indeed. But this is a book about Chris, not me, so how does it rate?
Very well indeed. I’ve read all of Priest’s fiction at least twice, and I was still learning new things from these essays – which is as it should be. It would be invidious to single any one contributor out because they are all good – well, with the exception of Matthew Wolf-Meyer, whose essay on sex went way over my head. In terms of theory it may be excellent, but in terms of clarity it is a bust. What I did like was that the book was full of disagreements. Nicholas Ruddick noticeably disagreed with me on a number of points, and though I wouldn’t say he’s always right, he certainly offers enough argument to make me reconsider my own position. And a couple of people made a very persuasive case that The Quiet Woman is a lot better, and more important, than I have been inclined to think. I’ll have to go back to the book and look at it again in the light of these essays. I was a little disappointed that, although nearly everyone made reference to The Affirmation, nobody took it on to do an essay primarily about the book. But we have to balance that with very revealing pieces, in particular, on The Glamour, The Prestige and The Separation (I am not going to complain that Victoria Stewart seems to take the common view that The Separation concerns only two parallel timestreams, since it was only in preparing for my own paper on the book that I noticed quite how many timelines there are running through it – and what she does do very well is set the book in context of other literary considerations of the war and its alternatives).
It is, I must say, an honour to be included in such a fine book.
First published at Livejournal, 10 August 2005.