the m john harrison blog

Category: predicting the present

into the valley

Everything is uncanny valley at the moment. I have no real idea of the political shape. Things are about to reveal themselves as having gone badly wrong. I’m only certain that while we think we understand what’s happening, we don’t. The descriptive systems we’re used to are about to stop working–they may already have stopped working. I feel the way I did in the mid-to-late ’70s–that the ideas I get for weird fiction understand the political situation better than I do. They have a connection to some great sore lump of political material we’re too rational to see. It’s implied by events, but at the moment we are only looking at the events. Given what happened in the mid-to-late ’70s, I’m not comfortable with this feeling.

alternate world

Long horizons, rising downs. West Sussex pub, full of the ghouls of money. 1947 Concours d’Elegance Bentley in the car park. Light aircraft float to & fro across the ghouls’ own sky won in single combat from the Nazis all those years ago. The weather is fine, blowy mid-May, but when we say we’ll sit outside, the barman responds with a kind of knowing servility, “You’re going to brave it, then?” Yes, we’re going to brave it. We’re going to meet today’s minor but satisfying challenge, we’re going to brave the May weather & have our lunch outside, the way the ghouls braved the Nazis in the blue enduring sky to protect their power & money all those years ago. You can’t be the rulers if you have no country to rule.

a smeared present

Includes some events from the immediate past. As you grow older the effect increases. When you were a child your smeared present was only a few minutes long; by the time you reach sixty it’s two or three years. A very smeared present can include anticipated events from the near future as if they have already happened.

street view

Sudden smell of scorched hair & fats. A man in a white shirt stops walking past & looks up into the sunlight. He’s dressed for crown green bowling. He thinks: the wires, always tangled up. Who knows what he saw. At the window you only know what you could smell. The man, dressed in his white shirt & white hat for crown green bowling, will say later that he doesn’t remember anything. He has always felt a deep nostalgia but it is not based on memory. As a result he is forced to look forward like someone with a cricked neck. He is forced to find his memories in front of him–scorched hair, tangled wire, warm sunshine & another man looking down from a window on the shady side of the street. It’s almost seven in the evening, those lazy days of summer.

what it looks like now again

You sit over a one-bar electric fire in a rented room. As soon as you feel recovered from the commute you’ll boil some potatoes on the gas ring, then, three minutes before they’re done, drop an egg into the same water. You can hear the family downstairs laughing at something, some dressed-up cats or something, on the internet. After people have cooked, they can often get use out of their gadgets–join a world building game, preorder the gadget they want next–although the load soon precipitates a brownout. During the day you work in a 7th floor office in the Strand. Publicity for a fuel corporate. It’s nice. All very heads-down but worth it to have the security. Last year you got involved with an East Midlands junkie who claimed to have a telepathic link to another world & to be able to control a 3d printer with their mind alone, & they turned out to be seventeen not twenty seven as they said, & after their staffie/mastiff cross, which they were looking after for a friend in rehab, bit two fingers off your ex’s left hand when he came back from an oil-exploration contract in one of the ‘stans, you forget which one, they fitted all the lights in the house with blue bulbs then tried to commit suicide in your bath in an excess of adolescent self-disgust. It was a cry for help. They’ve gone now–last you heard they were with a grindcore musician in Peckham–and you’re glad, but you miss their smell, which was instantly exciting; & their dysfunctionality, which you remember as “character”. The sex was tremendous, if a little full on & tiring. Outside it’s minus ten & you have no idea what’s happening on the old housing estates by the river. “Welcome to London,” someone in the office said today. That got a laugh. “Welcome to the managerial classes.” All he really meant was that like everyone else he would do anything to stay this side of the line.

a doomy hollow rushing sound

A fat pigeon that seems to live on the fence nearest its main resource–next door’s vast complex bird feeder–raises one wing high into the straight-down rain to flush out parasites, prospecting the result briefly but decisively with its beak, leaning to the other side & repeating the procedure. It settles, ruffles up, settles again, stares towards the bird table with one speculative eye. Perhaps a little something? Perhaps it’s too soon. You always think of birds as living–quite furtively–in foliage and thus somehow finding shelter. But here’s one carrying out what might be termed a life in the complete open, all-weather and for anyone to see. There’s something honest, something impressively direct about that. It wouldn’t do in my case. I could never relax. Meanwhile the rain is so heavy that where it falls on the lawn it makes a doomy hollow rushing sound, as if falling on an invisible iron roof. Thunder rolls too, if more distantly. Should this turn out to be UKIP’s Finest Hour–remembered by the winners’ historians as the day they laid the ground for 2015’s “Hall of Mirrors” putsch–they can add to their lists of those things that belong solely to us, the English, this most traditional of features–the 21st Century English Monsoon.

inadvertent prophecies

Shifnal, Ercall, Gnosall, Wergs. It’s all too Viriconium for me. If I hadn’t stolen those West Midlands place names in the 1970s, I wouldn’t be living surrounded by my own fictions now. “Be careful what you write,” Hilary Bailey once warned me, “in case it comes true.” Did I pay any attention then? No. Will I pay any now, even though I know she was right & that you are making some unpredictable, oblique, weirdly successful guess at your own future every time you write up a dream, or tinker with the implications of someone else’s relationships, or push their character until it falls over an edge you believe only you can see? No. But I might soft pedal a little on the kinds of objects people discover in a roof void last opened up during the Victorian period. & at least I never called anywhere Great Bolus.

separation anxiety

If a slow accumulation of time is necessary to completely separate you from an event or condition of the past, a single moment is often all that’s necessary to drag you forward and into the present. Suddenly, a time that still seemed close–almost revisitable, like an annex to now, so fresh in the memory–is re-sited forever. It is irreducibly past. Before that moment, it could still be touched in some way. It still seemed accessible: now it isn’t. Even the illusion of accessibility is over. The past is the past. This frees you to move forward, at least into the present. (Although if you aren’t careful–and you feel, for instance, “liberated” as opposed to liberated –it’s easy to mistake that movement for the beginning of a journey into the future you’ll never reach.) Perhaps because I’m the kind of person who can live in a vanished present for two or three years before something tugs me out of it, the whiplash attendant on this process–this fallacy of a sudden acceleration and a simultaneous catching up with yourself, as if you had moved ahead and left part of yourself behind–always both astonishes and delights me.

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best wishes as ever

Southern England just doesn’t seem as nice as it did, dear, so your father & I are moving north before Thames Valley prices drop even further. We were thinking of somewhere in the Harrogate area. Above 100m, obviously, and with a bit of ground for the dogs. It will be such fun for them, especially Pinnie. The fact is, darling, your father and I are rather surprised that this has happened to people like us. You do see why some of the Somerset people complained, don’t you, but I think we’ll always vote Tory. Anyway, best wishes as ever, and I’m sure you’ll do well with your little wellington boot shop.

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