Ferry to Bute with dolphins, May 2022.


I happened to be reading Chris Priest’s novel when I learned of his death. I have not been able say what I feel to Leigh, or his children, or Nina. I found myself writing about what I assume is his last novel, if not his last book. That has helped a bit.

I knew Chris for forty-seven years. He was one of those people with whom we didn’t talk around stuff—politics, progress, writing, personalities—just got stuck in. Something he pointed out back in 1979, when I first dropped in to see him, was that friends took up where they left off. We did.

The Fascination

Airside by Christopher Priest Gollancz UK 2023 (298 pp)  

Christopher Priest’s last novel is named for the airport zone beyond which exists only atmosphere and vapour.

Airside. Outside of our sovereign inside.

It is the story of once-famous Hollywood actress Jeanette Marchand, whose public beauty and domestic pain made it impossible for her to escape in her own country in the 1940s, but who in Britain vanishes without a trace at an airport. Justin Farmer is a boy in Manchester when Marchand disappears, one whose obsessive and systematic nature picks up both film and aircraft.

Paul Kincaid has pointed out that Farmer is close to Priest in some historical life circumstances. Yes, and no.

Airside‘s plot flirts in several of its turns with a story written by any other science fiction writer that might satisfy content generation, but Christopher Priest has been plying his own way well beyond the field for many decades. There are cheeky moments where the reader believes Justin’s story might resolve conventionally. Priest’s prose stands back from its subject, paces regularly, leaving spaces, lulling the reader into average expectations while all the while the author has been moving partitions around and altering the lighting and angles. Pages go by and before you know it you’re somewhere the ordinary words make poetry.

The novel form in Priest’s hands is itself is an excuse to write up to a sequence of words which would make no sense without the previous novel, but which glow away from the pages with a plain truth it has taken hundreds of thousands of others piled up beneath author and reader to scramble upon.

I’ve been reading them for about fifty years. Priest’s novels have always revolved around an image of the infinite, or perhaps heading toward the infinite like the city Earth in Inverted World. Since Indoctrinaire and Fugue for a Darkening Island, the world has changed yet is the same, only thinner. Priest’s work moved very quickly from what that might have been identified with SFF movements such as the New Wave and publications such as New Worlds, to novels outstanding for originality and seriousness. Even The Space Machine, a Wells pastiche which as a teenager and something of a stylistic snob I regarded as Priest breaking out of Priest but which in retrospect was just him breaking further into being Priest, is much more than a romp, arguably the origin of a rigorous and yet still frolicsome Steampunk and making postmodern comment on the genre with which Priest’s work always maintained an ambivalent relationship.

For all Priest’s affection for the science fiction fantasy communities, his relationship with all genres and cliques, his relationship with its conventions is broader-based in its fantasy and at once more factual than its science, leading him out of genre, including the “literary” one, and into a place that will continue to influence not only such limited origins but, through The Prestige and The Space Machine, The Adjacent, and his various Dream Archipelago stories, the world’s outlook in general.

This is a bold claim to make. He was no George Lucas.

Priest, I would maintain, was that beast rising from genre wetland, “storyteller,” where the magic of a printed stretch of pages comes from the author’s conspiratorial “plotting” in the devious sense of the word as much from the ideas and literary forms and stylistic twerking. This is what has helped Priest’s reputation for metafictional trickery in a way only matched in the great practitioners of it. And without the Lucas bullshit.

It isn’t enough to cleverly comment on the art of fiction and its history and connections to other art forms; to play an old song; Priest’s work depends from his connections with other art in a way completely integrated with his characters and places. Priest was always at work on the reader’s expectation of what was about to happen or should happen in a story such as by what he found himself the fascinated.

I can still see his eyes glittering with the joke, one often taken so seriously it took on greater proportions than the confines of a novel. Or a movie.

Not just geekery, those Priest interests in flight, photography, and stage magic, all miraculous. In Airside, Justin Farmer keeps a card catalogue of every film he has seen and runs into trouble when he attempts to catalogue his first relationship. It is not mentioned whether Justin continues this practise in his romantic life. Certainly he destroys this early assembly with the determination, “Never again. Never.” And yet his follow-through on Jeanette Marchand’s disappearance is quietly persistent and arguably all-absorbing in the finish.

In scenes echoing the films his character reviews throughout the book, Justin Farmer enters the liminal world of Jeanette Marchand, lands on whose far side lie uncertainty and alarm, whose border anxiety is managed by unseen and incomprehensible forces ministering according to scripts the passengers cannot share.

Part of the enigma, brand names are points of reference when the globalised and novelty-based architecture dissolves a sense of sovereignty to place or one’s body. Such logos and shapes are superficial but familiar, at least on the face. Christopher Priest has always seen through his own industry’s branding and travelators and boarding pass Cerberuses.

His work has taken appealing ideas—invisible man, alternate WWII, professional magicians’ secrets, bizarre topologies—and never led them to predictable conclusions. Airside is no exception. The glamorous combines with the nerdy, locating the birth of classic early science fiction and its fandom and its nervous Edwardian reaction to the corners of the planet having contracted (an earlier incarnation of an “end of history”) as the mystery origin of this popular, global, systematised mythology.

Priest wrote book-length caustic screeds on the deceptive moneymaking patter of fandom. Yet to the end of his life he remained a cheerful participant in fandom’s amateur public expression.

The shiny belly of the aircraft, or its shadow, or its descent into fire, stands in for the looming of real nature always ready to break with a climate-led, water-dependent shit-crash into our sterile profit-maximised and yet puffed-up baggage roundabout of entertainment, our peach veneer of luxury without real legroom: the moment of maximum vertigo for me in this novel concerns the boarding gate tunnel repetition of posters of tourists enjoying themselves in manufactured paradises.

And relief from that, however illusory this also might be, takes us back into coherent story, where we expect and want a “solution”, however qualified and ironic.

Justin reflected that being conducted through a terminal in this semi-official way temporarily removed the feeling of dysfunction. The one mixed blessing allowed to passengers waiting in a terminal, the false and restricted freedom to walk or wander around, was replaced by a sense of purpose, motion, transportation. No options existed. Was this a key to understanding? The solution to the enigma? The elevator halted. The journey resumed. The walls were the same, so were the advertisements.

A mystery is perhaps solved and Justin and his partner Matty, a writer with professional interests lending her an x-ray view into his obsessions, if not a collaborative fascination over them, must satisfy themselves with Jeanette Marchand’s new location, somewhere beyond their current movable partitions. Such an ending could have been perfunctory.

It could have been Concrete Island and not a novel in which this appears:

She disbelieved in coincidence. The circle of connections, double-headed arrows like arms pointing towards each other, a symbol of a loose friendly hug, the names made into a never-ending link. For Justin that day in the old cemetery was the first tentative confession of Matty’s love scribbled on the title page of an old book, or the approach of love, or its likelihood. Or its truth. That warm summer’s day on the bench beneath the canopy of trees—that was when he had Matty had begun their lives together.

We read shortly afterwards about “a mature and stable love” as opposed to Justin’s fannish obsession with Marchand. Priest’s Earth is fractured but not entirely a crystal world.

The reason Christopher Priest left writing and film artistry a better place than he found them is that in a career across six decades he maintained a story-based relationship with his reader, an unwavering gaze upon his own and others’ human natures, and work always firmly Christopher Priest no matter the influence.

Playfully, Priest’s characters have departed without confirmed arrival, into the clouds as, unlike their pages’ author, human being Christopher Mackenzie Priest has done as well.

Christopher Priest
14 July 1943-2 February 2024


Friends and Three Friends

My new novel, The White Library, is out everywhere now. It’s a pity there is no paperback; still, digital can be something better these days. So far, people seem to like it. There’s an excellent review from Ian Mond in Locus and a five star review on Amazon by somebody who ought to know, a librarian. I must get get off my arse and make sure that the next novel will get read. That one is called Three Friends. It’s been sitting around pretty much finished without me approaching publishers. (Covid. Moving house. Building a house.) At last, on the Surf Coast, I can think.

What is it about? First attempt at a pitch. <clears throat>

Three Friends is subtitled a massive conspiracy. That kind of does it, I reckon, because it is, and if I saw that it would grab me. If you look at the fact that it’s an “anti-anti-utopia”, as Kim Stanley Robinson has recently described the mode, set in the near future, you might think that politics is what motivated me, but it’s more like a reflection on what my work has been over the years. A collision of two things. Quite incidentally, I’ve been looking for an agent recently and, collecting reviews, having to read them, I must admit reviewers have for decades picked up my preoccupations.

My work is always about friendship. Groups of friends. Told in natural dialogue.

In the Locus review, Ian Mond wrote, about the plot of The White Library,

I will say it features a romance as heartfelt, genuine, and unconventional as anything you’re likely to encounter in literary or genre fiction.

Which, apart from being embarrassingly kind, echoes Martin Livings in Eidolon nearly thirty years ago, talking about The Weird Colonial Boy. He uses the words,

Voermans’ second novel has a kind of open-hearted sincerity that makes Adams’ Mostly Harmless look like a cynical marketing ploy.

It goes on in a still more embarrassing vein, the kind of review you wish everybody read. (Thank you Martin Livings!)

The point is, I think it’s driven by the dialogue.

I’m motivated by what are essentially poetic images. At least one has to settle before I begin to write. There is a doozy in this one. Yet, what brings this down to earth is the way people speak and what surprises and delights me and if I am honest is one big reason I write: even those people in my novels who may start out “unsympathetic” are never only that. They turn around and do—such things! And the sympathetic can be more than flawed. All in their words. I have an urge to inscribe what I see as ordinary existence into the—frankly—whacko plots and ideas in my work. Don’t know why. It’s something I have in common with Samuel Delany and is probably more what attracted me to his work than a lasting influence. Even in the Neolithic, a character is close miked and you can hear coloratura, feel bass growl. Such influence is hard to tease out, though, obviously, when he’s such a genuine superhero to the whole field. And I love Hemingway dialogue as well, whatever else he may have done. Le Guin I admire as much, but there is none of those qualities in her dialogue. It’s complicated.

So, character. But where are the limits to naturalism? Written before the pandemic, Three Friends takes off from such an MO at the points language will break down, like suicide, childhood sexual abuse, loneliness. Rhythm changes, as Jerzy Grotowski pointed out in Towards a Poor Theatre. So each character has a style of non-prose—poetry, if you must. Three Friends is part-autobiography, a reaction to a workplace with HR that promotes “mindfulness” as if the workplace and world are not dysfunctional. And I have to say it is an anti-dystopia set in Melbourne; it’s also made of my life.

When will we see it? Perhaps next year! Oh, and here’s some Surf Coast, our new front yard view:

Next interruption will be moving to Gippsland.


Thought I saw Les Murray in my rear vision mirror
walking with a black dog where the footpath isn’t clear.
Had like a simile in one hand but no lead gripped in the other:
puppy was or wasn’t his, it would appear.

Sun was shining on his temple and crows were sighing by the tracks
I got on to Preston Market in my café latte dacks
where railway bells are ringing and golden hocks are hanging
and Les is up ahead already singing.

Pituitary Blues

for Karl

It’s a sunny day in Melbourne
The rain is pouring down
I chased the nurse around my bed
I did it sitting down
I think I know just what to do
But I’ll put it off till spring
Easier to wrestle
When them alligators sing
For the minute think I’ll just relax and listen to the band
The pituitary blues has got me by the gland

Oh when them hormones come a knockin’
And the thyroid does the talkin’
It never works out pretty anyway
So go on and do your drillin’
I’ll just be here chillin’
It’s not as if I want the job today

It’s a great day to be going home
Lord knows I need some beauty sleep
This hotel’s got good service
But the barber isn’t cheap
My whusky days are over
Least till my brain begins to set
And women like a bearded gent
Though I knows I makes ‘em wet
So it’s songs I got and I’m gonna sing don’t give a fuck if you can’t stand
Them pituitary blues have got me by the gland

Ex Libris

If all the books in my whole house I’ve never read
Out of tricky polymorphism re-expressed into
(Non-sexually of course)
Ones I would
And sat up hoping:
Some get better, some worse, and some stay just as they are.
Although the number about fish masses;
About novel and novelist, painter – but not a musician – declines;
And the ones unchanged present themselves perhaps more brazenly.
I have calculated tMissed the Blackbirdhe number of novels I might in my day
Assuming an average span of average ones –
Is it obvious the Canadian brother between 39 and 60 beats his heart
Three two hundredths slower than la femme canadienne? –
Novels I’ll actually consume will not allow much shilly-shally
Yet the space for authors unbidden, novels unbidden –
Sadly those cut short beat them –
And books I just have to waste my time on if I’m not to ascend to boredom
Leave a narrow shelf space running off into time for the ones I must, I shall, I dread but do:
Just enough to range and rearrange
Deck chairs.
So when you speak to me of brevity, I’m against it:
It isn’t art that is too short but the frequency of art things too much and short things make many
So I’m against it.
So when you speak to me of clarity, simplicity, communication, surely you don’t mean in the service
The service of what you mean by brevity.
They’re not out there making haiku but slogans
For commercial disruption not the real kind
Just where less makes more and more make less
So I’m against it.
Time anyhow prints me a book on the stoop in the shape of a person and how
Can you say no to puppy eyes?
One more drops off that shelf at your feet. Yes I will walk your damn book.
It will be my pleasure. The pleasure is all mine. Come on then.

So if you see a blackbird a-scratching in the dirt
If you see a blackbird a-scratching in the dirt
You could kindly tell him that he has got my shirt;
If you see a blackbird a-fleeing from a cat
If you see a blackbird a-fleeing from a cat
You should kindly tell him that he has got my hat;
And if you see a blackbird dance his manky dance
If you see a blackbird dance his manky dance
You must kindly tell him that he has got my pants;
Then if you see that blackbird a-dressed in all my feathers
If you spy that blackbird a-wearing all my feathers
You very well may sing to him what he is to me, me forever.

a science fiction convention

Covered the Natcon for Radio National. Is it me or is it SF fandom? A bit of both. We have both changed. I have never felt so at home at a con before. In fact it has been quite the opposite; that although I might have a lot in common with the people at such an event I could never really talk to them. Well, I still have the trouble talking, but I’m not too worried about that now. Before in some sense it was like not being able to talk to myself, and so distressing. Now?

More later.

Old Friends

Got an email from my old friend Donald in Mallacoota wrote the other day. What it must be to live there! Less than 400 people in the off season. But also very limited in what is available to you. I don’t mean in entertainment: the entertainment must be the same as here; I mean we we have a band, we watch movies, we drink and we fall about. No, it’s just that if you want to change your life you can just go out and get another job – perhaps not easy, but they are here, unless you have one of those jobs that there is only a handful in the whole country.

I suppose it sorts the wheat from the chaff as far as your priorities are concerned; you cannot just up and take some piece of crap on a whim. Also, the consumer society doesn’t grab you the way it can here. It adds some time for thought – and I guess you can obsess about some piece of rubbish much more successfully, on the other hand, without the means to confront yourself with the foolishness of actually laying your hands on it immediately!

clever stuff

Writing the latest chapter (24, the fourth Bianca one), I have been wondering if the references to research about utopian fiction must be submerged, or if people will enjoy them for what they are.

Why in fact did I put that bit in there? What in fact are they? I suppose I thought it was a rather neat way of thinking about existence. It could have been because I wanted to show off my erudition, I suppose. I was looking for an impersonal way of making an introduction to the chapter, because it was supposed to be a bit mysterious, it was a plot that had been mentioned but not described and should unfold in a leisurely fashion because there is already a sure element of suspense involved.

(Mind you, we haven’t written all the previous Bianca chapter yet.)

It occurred to me that the description of life as a corridor, with blinding windows beside it, mirrors behind and a trapdoor ahead, was picture of mortality we wanted our readers to fear on behalf of our valiant revolutionaries.

It is also a poetic image which is striking, the vulnerable inside the invulnerable. The elderly person in the robot.

The question is, do you mention the source or ask people to figure it out for themselves? I suppose if you do not put people off, there is no harm in it. It is a chapter of action, and can stand a little freight.

Naturally, this post will make more sense if you read the chapter. Come back in about a year; I hope it’s published by then! We’ll see if the bit about Erewhon makes it.

computer depending

Yes, hung from our computers. Mine had problems with its power supply, which I was told might cost more than a new laptop to repair. Fortunately, Lenny was able to fashion a new pin and solder it, saving me about $1600. Yes, and although I had avoided that sickening feeling of not having backed up my work, I was very much put out by having to use another computer. I had to use it elsewhere, nothing was where I wanted it; I suppose all this was fairly wussy, but I spend so much time on the laptop and I am a creature of habit.

pictures of george

I’ve begun a gallery for George Turner and asked Bruce Gillespie to put in comments, but he has declined, I think. Who can blame him. So little time in his life, and lots of old pictures. What to say? Anyway they’re on the gallery site. http://pv.rumspringe.org.au/wp-gallery2.php?g2_view=core.ShowItem&g2_itemId=282

grey river

Went to Grey River with Natalie. Thanks to the Sparrows. Natalie loved
searching in rockpools most of all, I think. I got some writing done,
we ate well and slept like crazy. 9 hours a night, when I have been
getting 4, plus the odd afternoon nap. There are about 8 houses strung
along the road on the slope, with koalas in the back yard. Heaven!
Have a look at the pictures in me gallery. http://pv.rumspringe.org.au/pictures

Sawmill Website

Did the Sawmill site for Jill and Gerard today. It’s tempting to write a script that will set up WordPress for me and copy all the plugins and themes I want. But I won’t. Better to spend my time learning new songs. Good site for Sawmill, though. It’s a great idea for people to record all the birds and animals they saw. http://sawmill.rumspringe.org.au/

S.Y. Agnon

music: Solomon Burke

Reading The Bridal Canopy which all new to me. And gently funny. Taking my time with it, but at the same time I’m eager to get onto the other books I have out of the library. I can’t help thinking there is a story in this stuff somewhere, but I’m not pushing it.

Fred Vargas

music: Josh Ritter
mood: yes

Yep, I’m reading Have Mercy on Us as well, which Jill and I agree is not profluent, but it’s likeable for that very reason. I like the village-y Paris, the town crier, which my theatre group once did, at the Williamstown Summer Festival (the first one). Who is this “Fred Vargas”?

Reserved at my Library

You can only reserve 15 at a time. What I recommend, they seem to say they’ll order, but in practise it’s a mystery as to why it takes so long. Perhaps what I order is so good it does the rounds of all the librarians before it goes out. Anyway, it’s like a little Christmas when they get one. Of course, it’s not always like this, I try to reserve stuff on their website that I know they’ll have, or I wouldn’t get much to read at all.

Band of gypsies /
by Jones, Gwyneth

I read the other two of this series, recommended to me by Rosaleen Love. She’s good, but Jill didn’t get into them. I can see why.

The blue mountain: A Novel.
by Shalev, Meir.

Highly recommended by Keren Rubinstein

Considering Aaron Sorkin
by Fahy, Thomas

Who is of course author of The West Wing and I have all the eps. It’s the closest thing to Shakespeare on the Romans – not that I’m comparing Aaron to Bill, but this is the most powerful person on earth and the problems are big, with lots of room for – stuff.

Elsewhere, perhaps /
by Oz, Amos

Always been curious about him.

Ferocious minds
by Broderick, Damien

A mate – his latest.

Inside job
by Willis, Connie

Read everything I can of hers. To Say Nothing of the Dog is great.

Looking for Jake : and other stories /
by Mieville, China.

Been borrowing this from Jill – ordinarily not a great short story reader, but he’s very good and some are long, I think.

by Disch, Thomas

The master.

Quest for consciousness
by Koch, Christof

This was ordered so long ago I think they’ve forgotten. This looks good though, as more research for “http://pv.rumspringe.org.au/research.html”>Chain

Rushdie, Salman, Standing Order Fiction author : pre-purchase record.
by Rushdie, Salman.

Shalimar the Clown

Science in the Capital: Science in the Capital /
by Robinson, Kim Stanley

Sequel to Forty Signs of Rain\\ I think, which my friend Glenda did not like, but Jill did.

The secret river /
by Grenville, Kate, 1950-

Very good reviews. 30 people want this book at the library. I am number 4.

Sports night (DVD)
by Sorkin, Aaron

Nuff said.

Spy kids (CD-ROM)

For Oscar. Been on order for 8 months and seems to be there now. But we’re third on the list.

First Post

music: Ravi Shankar
mood: Hm.

I’ve just installed this software and it’s not bad. It would be good to see if we can get other people to use it.

As usual, I’m going to list what I’m reading and watching right now. A little S.Y. Agnon: THE BRIDAL CANOPY, which is pretty funny as well as full of love. Just seen SEAN OF THE DEAD, which was pretty funny too, but of course just a little more crass than Agnon.