Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Priest, Christopher

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(1943-    ) UK writer whose work during the 1960s and 1970s was marketed as sf, although its sf metaphors were increasingly employed to subvert genre expectations. This subversion has since come to the fore. A significant turning point was The Affirmation (1981), a teasing Fabulation which plays disquietingly with issues of Perception and Reality. Here the first-person narrator's record of "facts" soon proves shockingly untrue; his attempt to deal with his unexceptional life by retelling it in fictionalized, metaphorical form becomes the tale of a man who must record his experiences in readiness for the Amnesia which will be the price of Immortality – the two narrations, equally fictional, entwine in complex knots of Story. An Infinite Summer (coll 1979) includes stories sharing the Dream Archipelago setting featured in The Affirmation. The Glamour (1984; rev 1985 US; rev 1996) appears to be a Contemporary Fantasy featuring a kind of Pariah Elite whose literal, personal Glamour confers not so much Invisibility as unnoticeability. But this unseeable status carries metaphorical overtones of characters and events excised or edited from cinema, personal perception, memory, and life ... and from a story which ultimately revels in its own fictionality. Most recently The Prestige (1995) offers twin first-person narratives of Victorian stage Magicians, bitter rivals, whose lives are both distorted and defined by the central deception in each of their trademark illusions. Gaslight Romance shades into Technofantasy as one conjurer commissions Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) to duplicate and surpass his enemy's effect using not stage-magic but physics. Doubles, echoes and blurrings of identity already abound; a mishap with Tesla's device introduces a Rationalized-Fantasy literalization of one rival's Shadow. The modern-day Frame Story eventually brings the threads together on a note of Gothic Fantasy. This may be CP's finest novel; it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. [DRL]

see also: Recursive Fantasy.

Christopher McKenzie Priest


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.