the m john harrison blog

Tag: writing

bad behaviour

I don’t know what to make of Richard Powers’ Orfeo. One minute I’m luxuriating in its complex weave of themes & thinking it’s the best Booker contender I’ve read so far. The next I’m writing: “In the late 50s/early 60s, JG Ballard would have taken the three or four central images & concepts of this book, compressed them into somewhat less than ten thousand words & made out of them the something astonishing that’s long-windedly hinted at here. I know it’s unforgiveable to say this, but Powers’ Orfeo lumbers by comparison to the Orfeo Ballard never wrote.” This isn’t just bad behaviour, it’s a failure to accept one of the threads of Powers’ argument about the fate of the experimentalist aesthetic over the last fifty years. I’m quite excited by the internal dialogue it’s sparked. (Although I’ve already spotted the upshot, which he telegraphed only a few pages in, & suspect Chuck Palahniuk would have been the man to write that. See? I did it again.)

norbiton restorational

This essay is hypnotic and astonishing and just a real delight–

Are you really well now? Or are you fatally winged and hurtling earthward, mistaking frictionless movement, freedom from pain, for freedom to move? it is impossible to tell, given that the future, on the shapeless brink of which we always hover, is dimensionless, unrelational.

Restorational, Anatomy of Norbiton.

SFF/Weird at Warwick U

I received more input than I could safely process at Irradiating the Object, so I’m looking forward to seeing all those beautifully-argued academic papers in print under the Gylphi logo. Taking it in at my own pace–and with a cup of tea–is likely to reduce the possibility of Explanatory Collapse. Thanks to everyone who gave a paper, to Rhys Williams and Mark Bould, conference organisers; and more on the book as soon as details become available.

Meanwhile here’s a podcast. The usual rants & fevers of the ageing entradista, expertly nursed on this occasion by Rhys Williams.

One of the things I did manage to take in on Thursday was that Rhys is to teach selections from Viriconium as part of Warwick University’s SFF/Weird module next year. Fantastika, he says, consistently estranges us from our own comfortable perspectives, but he’s immediately forced to admit: “it is also the literature of escapism and naivety”. That was certainly one of the things Viriconium was trying to point out, in a climate perhaps even less receptive to new ways of doing things than the one we have now. What can be seen today as a part of a major shift of ideas was experienced then simply as the struggle to get published in the face of snobbery, inverted snobbery and political panic; our rejection letters–both from genre and literary publishers–need to be seen to be believed. It’s strange, so long after the fact, to be acknowledged as an early uptaker of the post-genre fantastic, and to find myself in the company of, among others, Joanna Russ, Nalo Hopkins, William Gibson and Russell Hoban. Not to mention the Flying Strugatsky Brothers.

It’s more than possible that there’ll be a previously-unpublished Viriconium piece in my new short story collection, which is now officially in the publication pipeline. Updates on the collection, here, as things develop. (Don’t expect the Viriconium of 1978 or 1982, by the way. The city moves on with its author, so keep up.)

interrogating the object

From “The Neon Heart Murders”, one of the precursor stories of the Empty Space trilogy–

“When Aschemann first walked through the door of the Cafe Surf, it was not night: it was late morning. The bar was full of sunshine and bright air. Taupe sand blew across the floor tiles, and a toddler was crawling about between the cane tables, wearing only a T-shirt with the legend SURF NOIR. Meanings–all incongruous–splashed off this like drops of water, as the dead metaphors trapped inside the live one collided and reverberated endlessly and elastically, taking up new positions relative to one another. SURF NOIR, which is a whole new existence; which is a “world” implied in two words, dispelled in an instant; which is foam on the appalling multitextual sea we drift on. “Which is probably,” Aschemann noted, “the name of an aftershave.”

Thanks to everyone at Irradiating the Object for helping to complicate this conundrum further.

note to self

Signs of Life suffered by presenting its case without a lot of fainting fits about the unacceptability of the characters & their way of life. As a result, many readers made the sign of the cross & looked away. Always be sure to lead the audience in hissing & booing when the bad guy comes on stage.

notional velocity

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you left the door open

Your hands & feet are cold. There’s a certain amount of rain. The dogs are howling in the next garden. Someone in the street says, “Almost everything can be interesting,” & then, “August the first is too late.” You read:

“A few days later Lanny tried the crystal ball again, and there came something new. Blue water, sparkling in sunshine–everything was always bright in that globe, like a technicolour film.”

This leads you to wonder if Upton Sinclair–surfacing from the deep trench of your early teens to bob around 50 years later in a backwater bookshop in Much Wenlock–is, in fact, some sort of forgotten “influence”. Better read on, now you’ve got him home. But perhaps first close the door & find some socks.

from the moon in its flight

Loved this–

In 1948, the whole world seemed beautiful to young people of a certain milieu, or let me say, possible. Yes, it seemed a possible world. This idea persisted until 1950, at which time it died, along with many of the young people who had held it.

So bleak.

Read the whole of Gilbert Sorrentino’s “The Moon in its Flight” here at Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading.

unimmersing

This from 2008:

Larry at OF Blog reproduces–from Darnton’s classic The Great Cat Massacre–the synopsis of a French fairy tale, then adds ruefully: “There’s something about these tales that just seems to be missing from a lot of literature, both mimetic and speculative alike, being published these days…”

Perhaps it’s the startling images, concerns human & social, sly, sinewy humour, structures quotidian but supple? The directness of engagement with the reader? That everyone in the contract knows exactly where they stand, & no one makes any serious attempt to convince anyone else that the events presented are true? (We are here to enjoy this story together, not to pretend it’s happening.) Is it the lack of rationale & semiotic overload which makes them beautiful, the frank, unsophisticated combination of the weird & the matter-of-fact?

As a side issue, The Great Cat Massacre is a book I would recommend to anyone although: trigger warnings for cat lovers.

Original post & comments here.

available soon

Cave & Julia, still doing well as a Kindle Single, will be joined in the autumn by 4th Domain, a 10,000 word short story featuring a map, a medium & some weird human genome shenanigans in the suburban badlands of Barnes & East Sheen. Lovecraft meets Aickman.

Between now & then, the new 4th Estate edition of JG Ballard’s The Drought should be out, with my introduction. In 1965/6 I was stunned & hypnotised by The Four Dimensional Nightmare, The Terminal Beach, The Drowned World & The Drought. I felt like one of the new organisms in “The Voices of Time”, redesigned for life in conditions which hadn’t yet appeared, an environment the parameters of which could only be intuited. I hardly knew what to do with myself. I would have been utterly elated but also rather shocked to know that nearly fifty years later I’d be writing an introduction to The Drought. To tell the truth, I’m still excited.

This intro joins up with similar efforts I’ve written for Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (Heyne 2012, German only) & The Chrysalids (Penguin Modern Classics) to explore the uses of disaster in the UK in the 50s & 60s.

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