the m john harrison blog

Tag: empty space

whoa

03.10.2009–

There’s no such thing as character, D says. There’s only behaviour. We’re memes but we’re careful not to admit it–so careful with one another! That shouldn’t be taken, he’s quick to add, to mean that we exist in some state aside from materiality. We’re subject to material forces but won’t allow ourselves to see that either. The whole West, D says, is in massive denial of both these ideas. He suggests we have more bourbon. He likes the Bulleit bottle–it looks, he thinks, like a bottle you’d see behind the bar in an episode of Deadwood. Memes, he says, in a complex, randomly-shifting flow of other memes. Turbulence gives the flow that aching sense of depth or meaningfulness.

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retrospective

Things I have bought over the years to convince myself I was happy: a brass lizard; a wire lizard; two small boxes, one in some featherweight lacquered wood, the other ceramic and half glazed with a stylised picture of the local architecture; a bowl in striking fire and earth colours now faded; various earrings; two belts and some peculiarly sordid- and pre-used-looking suede shoes; Italian things; Canary Island things; Spanish things. All these things bought out of a mistaken elation or assumption, all this unwarranted semiosis, all these unmemorable memories and tokens from moments unviable from the very start. You can’t quite call them kitsch, but they don’t have a quality of personal nostalgia either. It was weird being a romantic and living in a constant aura or vibe, a “dream” I suppose, or at any rate a sense of something happening when nothing, in retrospect, was. Luckily, age lifts you out of that, enabling a proud shiny new impulse control in boutique, fleamarket and gallery shop; freeing you up to buy the rubbish you actually like. (Something resembling a small wormy stone brain picked up on a beach does not belong to this class of objects.)

Analyses

For fun I put some random blog entries through I Write Like, which told me I write like: Jack London, JRR Tolkien, Chuck Palahniuk (twice), Arthur Clarke (for the “Earth Advengers” post), Cory Doctorow, Gertrude Stein, Dan Brown (for the first paragraph of a review of a Peter Ackroyd novel), Ray Bradbury, David Foster Wallace (twice, once for “Keep Smiling With Great Minutes”), and HG Wells. After that, deciding that my samples must have been generally too short to give a consistent result, I tried the whole of “Imaginary Reviews” and got Isaac Asimov; a 4000 word English ghost story, set mainly at the seaside and featuring an ageing middle class woman called Elizabeth, and got Isaac Asimov again; and then “Cave & Julia” & got HG Wells again. For the whole of Empty Space I got Arthur Clarke; but for its final chapter, which ends with that memorable sentence of crawling Cosmic horror, “First she would separate Dominic the pharma from his friends, take him upstairs, and fuck him carefully to a tearful overnight understanding of the life they all led now,” I got HP Lovecraft.

a little bit of empty space

“Have you ever been inside a quarantine hulk ?”

This voice belonged to MP Renoko, a man you often met at The East Ural Nature Reserve, where he would begin a conversation by saying: “You agree there’s no neccessity to confuse a practical tool with a theory of the world ?” Renoko came and went, but always bought rounds of drinks.

“I’m relieved to see you,” Antoyne said. “Considering this.”

“Considering what ?”

“That,” Antoyne said, pointing above his head; but the baby was gone. He looked up, around, behind him: nothing.

Gravuley Street offered no aid. To the left lay darkness and the empty planet; to the right, the savagely lighted window of the Faint Dime. He could see every item of interior decoration, pressed-out and perfect in candy colours. Someone was drinking Ovaltine with rum. Someone else was getting a big-size ham on rye sandwich with fries. Antoyne wiped his mouth. The hair went up on his neck. One o’ clock in the morning, and a light wind blew dust in ribbons down the middle of the street.

“Something was here,” he asserted. “Why don’t we get a drink ?”

“I’m buying,” said MP Renoko. “It seems to me you’ve had some sort of shock.”

Renoko looked like a photograph of Anton Chekhov, if Chekhov had aged more and come to favour a little white chin-beard. Otherwise his look sucessfully teamed used raincoats with grey worsted trousers five inches too short. His hair–white, swept back to a grubby collar–always seemed full of light. He was smallboned, and intense in manner. His clothes came spattered with outmoded foods such as tapioca and “soup”. On his feet he wore cracked tan wingtips without socks, and it was a feature of this careful image that his ankles went unwashed. As soon as he and Fat Antoyne had settled themselves in the comparitive safety of The East Ural Nature Reserve, he returned to his original subject as if he had never left it:

“‘Everyone their own evolutionary project,’ we tell each other here in the Halo. Excuse me, this can only be an element of cultural self-dramatisation, even in times like ours.” His smile meant he was prepared to forgive that. “But if there is a new species,” he said, “perhaps it’s up there in those quarantine hulks.”

Fat Antoyne said he didn’t get it.

Renoko smiled. “You get it,” he said.

Leaked navigational nanoware or eleven-dimensional imaging code slips up someone’s anus at night and discovers it can run on a protein substrate. In a similar way, ads, memes, diseases and algorithms escape into the wild. They can run on your neurons, they can run inside your cells. They perform a default conversion. Suddenly the cops are out with the loudhailers, “Stay inside! Stay Indoors!” but it’s too late: on your street, in your house, everything collapses suddenly into an unplanned slurry of nanotech, half-tailored viruses and human fats–your husband, your two little girls in their identical dresses, you. “Entire planetary populations,” Renoko said, “are converting to this stuff. Is it an end-state ?” He threw up his little hands. “No one knows! Is it a new medium ? No one is willing to say! It’s as beautiful as water in strong sunlight, yet it stinks like rendered fat, and can absorb an adult human being in forty seconds. The hulks are full of it, the quarantine orbit is full of hulks. Men like you keep it safe.”

Obsolete pipeliners that worked the Carling Line, decommissioned Alcubiere warps the size of planetisimals, anything with a thick hull, especially if it’s easy to reinforce further: Fat Antoyne had a sudden clear image of those pocked relics in the interplanetary darkness–used-up ships mysterious with the dim crawling lights of beacons and particle dogs, pinwheeling around on near-chaotic operator-controlled trajectories.

He shook his drink and watched it settle.

“Not me,” he said. “I got a six month contract to move some of it around, that’s all.”

From Empty Space.

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“Before she could speak he walked straight out through the window, vanishing the other side & leaving her with the impression that the view from her room was painted on the glass. As if the world fabric was a style of art to which only Gaines and people like him had the secret.” One problem […]

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bad, bad pony

Reader Simon Spanton sends us a “moment” from his holidays–

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Please do not remove this picture from the back bar notice board.

john gray: empty space: hermetic doubt

    …the Kefahuchi Tract is outside time; if it enters the world it does so in a perpetual present tense. Rather than projecting human meaning into the scheme of things as Kurzweil’s Singularity does – by promising deliverance from decay and death in the manner of monotheistic religion – Harrison’s Tract appears in the form of unsettling epiphanies, which act to disrupt any meaning that human beings may have found or made. Yet the Tract is far from being only a symbol of senselessness, for it suggests the possibility that humans may find a way of living by falling away from the meanings to which they cling. –John Gray on Empty Space, Climbers and Viriconium, in the current issue of New Statesman

volume

Music drifts past, slows down for the junction, moves off along the street. Otherwise it’s quiet. C has gone to London to work. I’m in the vast invisible Russian Doll of geography. The space inside the house. The space inside the street around the house. The space inside the town around the street. The space inside the land around the town. Inside this vast structure I have relief from density. I can feel all the distinct spaces around me: the space in the loft, the space in the cellar; the space on the first floor landing, which is different not just in shape but in silence and resonance, to the space on the third floor landing. There’s such a difference in the way the air occupies these volumes! I sit on the stairs and read. I’ve got so much silence. I can’t articulate–I can’t get over to you–how much of a relief that is after 27 years in the city.

empty space, what it means (4)

    The world we see is an illusion, albeit a highly persistent one. We have gradually got used to the idea that nature’s true reality is one of uncertain quantum fields; that what we see is not necessarily what is.

Alexander B Fry, “In the Dark”, Aeon

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