The Af­fir­ma­tion

1981, Faber & Faber

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Christopher Priest -

The book Priest de­scribes as his “key” novel is the story of Peter Sin­clair, who tries to es­cape prob­lems in his life by cre­at­ing fan­tasy fic­tion, only to find his real-world and fic­tional selves merg­ing. It’s the book that fully in­tro­duces the Dream Archipelago, a se­ries of is­lands that can never be re­li­ably mapped, within Priest’s fic­tion. Writ­ten at a time when Priest was frus­trated “with the way the fan­tas­tic was be­ing com­mod­i­fied and pack­aged” in SF fran­chises, it “lib­er­ated” his writ­ing.

“It’s al­ways tempt­ing to try to make imag­in­ings lit­eral,” he says. “This is why al­most ev­ery fan­tasy book these days has a map, a glos­sary, a fam­ily tree etc. Peo­ple un­doubt­edly like this.

“Not me: I swim against that tide. I be­lieve in the imag­i­na­tive power of lit­er­a­ture, that ideas and im­ages in fic­tion are not just the things that are stated. When a poet writes about a rose, or a sun­set, or a lover, the words have a dou­ble mean­ing. Of course they are meant lit­er­ally: a rose, a sun­set or a lover, but also these ideas mean some­thing more sym­bolic, they stand for some­thing that can’t be de­scribed lit­er­ally, they ex­press the feel­ing be­hind the poem.

“In a sim­i­lar way, the is­lands in the Dream Archipelago have a lit­eral func­tion: they are places where peo­ple live their lives and do things, where boats dock, where peo­ple paint and write and draw, and fall out and make love, have jobs, where sto­ries hap­pen. But the is­lands also have a metaphor­i­cal life, a sub­tler mean­ing. I want peo­ple who read my stuff to share that dou­ble sense, think about it, per­haps en­joy it, and not just won­der what shape the coast­line is, or where the Moun­tains of Gloom are sit­u­ated.”

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