Sunday, February 04, 2024

RIP Christopher Priest


I think have only read the one book by Christopher Priest - A Dream of Wessex. Read it when it first came out, borrowed from Berkhamsted library (almost certainly the edition pictured above). And then I  read it again in the 2010s, having picked up a hardback of the original US edition (mystifyingly retitled The Perfect Lover) at Glendale's s.f. + fantasy specialist shop Mystery and Imagination (now sadly closed but continuing as a mail order / internet operation). 

I have had copies of Fugue for a Darkening Island and Inverted World awaiting my attention for some time now. 

Two different copies of Fugue. He revised it for a later edition, muting some of its potentially offensive aspects (the scenario is social collapse / fascism in the U.K., caused by an overwhelming influx of refugees owing to war and famine). So when I realised I had bought the 'corrected' version, I had to get the original, didn't I?  (The title itself - "darkening island" -  is questionable... but Priest was no Powellite, indeed he revised the novel because he hated the idea of being misunderstood). 

Been meaning to check out The Glamour (title allures for obvious reasons) and The Prestige  (saw the film) and others in that single-noun-title series-not-series of his 

Reading John Clute's obituary at the Guardian, I see that he also wrote an intriguing WW2 alternative history, The Separation

But yes, Christopher Priest - one of those New Wave of British s.f. writers who lit up my mind prior to the plunge into music and music journalism. I'm grateful to all these writers, and their American counterparts. They stirred my imagination (for a while, stirred ambitions too - to become a s.f. and alternative history writer). And they provided escape during a turbulent upbringing. 

Apparently, at his death, Priest was working on a nearly but not quite completed study of J.G. Ballard, his biggest influence and a mentor. Hope that gets put out. 


  1. Priest wrote a novelization of Cronenberg's eXistenZ, but THE EXTREMES is a more personal version of similar themes about violence and technology. From the description of A DREAM OF WESSEX, he was interested in these ideas for decades.

  2. That synopsis of "A Dream of Wessex" makes it sound like a clear inspiration for "The Matrix", too.

    I was thinking "Oh yes Christopher Priest, he was great," but then realised I was thinking of the similarly-named John Christopher. I don't think I have read any of Priest's books, but I loved the film of "The Prestige". I should check them out.

  3. Yes I have made that John Christopher confusion myself! I remember JC did several catastrophe scenarios (Death of Grass, made into a not very good film; A Wrinkle in the Skin - earthquake causes the Channel to rise, chap walks from Guernsey to Dorset - only to discover that mainland England is a sea now). John Christopher is in the John Wyndham tradition, from the ones I've read anyway. Priest is one of those New Worlds type inner space guys. Dream of Wessex has a slight resemblance to Wrinkle in so far as quakes causes Devon and Cornwall to separate from mainland England. But it's much more eerie and psychological, in the Ballard mode. Dream-like.

  4. Chris Priest also had a blog:

    And some snarky opinions:

    The only book of his I have read was "The Prestige". Which I found a lot less *definite* than the film.

    A few years ago, I had a debate with an acquaintance about SF vs "literature" - see the comments here:
    It lead to him reading this book - which I think was his favorite of the bunch I recommended:


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