Some notes on Christopher Priest’s The Islanders

Yesterday morning I received a signed copy of Christopher Priest’s latest book, The Islanders, direct from the author. This is Priest’s first book length fiction since the Arthur C. Clarke Award winning The Separation, and since the release of the film The Prestige, based on the author’s James Tait Black Memorial Prize winning novel of the same name. What follows are some spoiler-free notes towards a later review.

The Islanders, Christopher PriestIn the first 22 pages of The Islanders Christopher Priest uses the word ‘adjacent’ three times.

By some counts The Islanders is Christopher Priest’s ** book, if one includes works of non-fiction, chapbooks and works written under a pseudonym. Do we count chapbooks, small publications such as The Song of the Book? Does The Book on The Edge of Forever count? – an account of the non-publication of another book (Last Dangerous Visions) by another author which if it did exist would be an anthology of stories many other writers.

But even if we consider only Priest’s fiction it is still difficult to reach an agreed number. What of the two slightly different versions of the story collection Real Time World? Do we count one, or both? Or the different revised texts of the novel The Glamour – for which Priest also wrote another version as a BBC Radio play? Itself which exists in two versions, one running approximately 100 minutes, the other, containing exactly the same material but time compressed to fill a 90 minute broadcast slot.

The Islanders is Priest’s ** novel, if we count works written under a pseudonym. But which pseudonyms? It’s well known that Priest wrote the ‘book of the film’ of eXistenZ as John Luther Novak, but what about certain other books which have long been rumoured to have been the author’s work, but which Priest has always denied?

As Chaster Kammeston writes in his introduction to The Islanders, ‘I did not write this book, although there have already been rumours that I did.’ Christopher Priest, The Islanders back cover

Just as no one can be sure exactly how many islands there are in the world  – ‘There are no maps or charts of the Dream Archipelago. At least there are no reliable ones, or comprehensive ones, or even whole ones.’ – no one can be sure how many books Christopher Priest has written. All we can affirm is that The Islanders is one of them.

The Islanders documents certain aspects of The Dream Archipelago, the central setting for Priest’s story collection The Dream Archipelago. The Dream Archipelago was of course location for half of what is perhaps Priest’s greatest novel, The Affirmation. The Islanders is not a sequel, it is perhaps not a novel in the conventional sense, but a geographical, historical, biographical gazetteer of a place which seemed an ‘alien’ world in The Affirmation, half of which was located in a world parallel with our own (in that it contained a country called England with a capital city called London), while the other half introduced us to a country called Faiandland with a capital city called Jethra and a previously unknown chain of islands spanning the entire girth of the planet.

In The Islanders Priest writes about the world which is home to The Dream Archipelago as if it were exactly as real as the world in which we live, of which so far he has made no mention.

In a year or two, if shelved in order of publication The Islanders will separate Priest’s previous novel, The Separation, from his next, to which it will be adjacent. That novel already has a title. It is called The Adjacent.

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You can read my interview with Christopher Priest here.

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