So much ink has been spilt over M. John Harrison's The Pastel City over the years that there's little I can offer that hasn't already been said better elsewhere. Instead, I'll tell you what most struck me about the little novel - its economy. Harrison's novel is a wonder: in a quarter of the time a modern fantasy author would take, Harrison builds a world, develops characters, and tosses in some major action sequences, a dirigible and a mechanical vulture (inspiration for Harryhausen's Bubo, perhaps?) all in 144 pages. The Pastel City isn't just a quick read, it's a satisfying story - and that's saying a lot.
Why is it that science fiction authors tend to assume that, after the apocalypse, mankind will revert to a pre-industrial European state? Perhaps they're merely inspired by the vision of men wearing fluttering capes and romping around on horseback through the ashes of our modern world. It's certainly a compelling image. (See, e.g., at right; the cover art for my copy of The Pastel City.)