REVIEW: “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium” by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 141-163 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Two things the title invites the reader to ask: Who is the young man, and where (or what) is Viriconium? Neither question is answered explicitly. Is the young man the narrator? Or is it the Dr. Petromax that he meets in his search for Viriconium? Viriconium itself, we are told, is a place that we all want, but “it is the old that want it most” (p. 142). Half the interest in the story is trying to piece together what (or where) Viriconium is, so I shan’t say anything more about it.

This story was told at a more languid pace than some of the others in this collection, and the framework of one person reporting what another person has told him meant I found myself regularly flipping back to remind myself to whom these experiences belonged. I’d peg this one as “good” but not “phenomenal”, like some of the other stories in the anthology are.

(First published in Interzone, 1985.)