British Fiction Focus

Adagio for an Archipelago: Revealing The Gradual by Christopher Priest

Praise the sun, speculative fiction fans, because Gollancz just revealed Christopher Priest’s first new novel in three years—a novel even more noteworthy than that, according to the author:

The Gradual is the first conventionally written novel I have produced since The Extremes in 1998: it is a straightforward narrative told in sequence. It is about time and the perception of the passing of time. There are those who have said they noticed certain recurring images in my recent novels: identical twins, for instance, or stage magic, or invisibility, or the sainted presence of H. G. Wells. Such critics will not find any of them in The Gradual. The narrator is also completely reliable. Hah.

Me, I’ll believe it when I read it—not least because The Gradual takes place in the Dream Archipelago, which is to say the same surreal setting Priest has returned to repeatedly over the years: first in 1981 in The Affirmation; then again in a short story collection named after the same lot of landmasses in 1999; and most recently in The Islanders, a kind of travel guide which the British Science Fiction Association named the Best Novel of 2011. Not without good reason, either.

In any event, if I’m sceptical of Priest’s precis, it’s because nothing in the Dream Archipelago is quite what it seems.

On that note, here’s a bit about the book:

Alesandro Sussken is a composer, and we see his life as he grows up in a fascist state constantly at war with another equally faceless opponent. His brother is sent off to fight; his family is destroyed by grief. Occasionally Alesandro catches glimpses of islands in the far distance from the shore, and they feed into his music—music for which he is feted. But all knowledge of the other islands is forbidden by the junta, until he is unexpectedly sent on a cultural tour. And what he discovers on his journey will change his perceptions of his country, his music and the ways of the islands themselves.

Gollancz also unveiled the cover art which will grace The Gradual—a phosphorescent piece that looks to have been partly papercrafted by Julyan Bayes:


Gollancz mean to make The Gradual available in the UK on September 15, with Titan Books on track to bring the book to the States less than a week later.

And after that? Another as-yet-untitled collection of short stories, according to the author’s blog.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and He lives with about a bazillion books, his better half and a certain sleekit wee beastie in the central belt of bonnie Scotland.


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