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Underground Reading: The Pastel City by M. John Harrison

1MnnU_SW_-_F-1971-The_Pastel_City 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.)