the m john harrison blog

a million-year-old starship from another galaxy

He was thinking about these things when the shadow of his friend fell across him. One monitor wasn’t enough to display her; she hung there in high aspect ratio across three of them, allowing the K-tract to paint her tip feathers mint blue and rose-pink.

“Hey,” Imps breathed.

“What do you want,” she said.

“You look beautiful today.”

“You broadcast every frequency. You call me up. You stare into the dark until you find me there. What do you want from me?”

Imps thought.

He felt he should tell her, “My day is crap when we don’t talk,” or, “I think you’re lonely too,” but both of those were too close to the truth. So he decided to say the next thing that came into his head.

Sometimes he made lists of the places he might have come from. For instance he liked the sound of Acrux, Adara, Rigil Kentaurus and, particularly, Mogliche Walder. But Motel VI was his favourite. Motel life, as he understood it, wasn’t too demanding. It was a lot closer-in than empty space, but still comfortably on the edge of things. It sounded like a good compromise between what he experienced now and some sort of full humanity. He wanted to ease himself into that. He had downloaded a brochure entitled Mobile Homes of the Galaxy, which also featured dwellings based on the classic Moderne hamburger joint–all pastel neon, pressed and ribbed aluminium–set against sunsets and mountain dawns. He showed her some of these.

“I want you to help me go back,” he said.

“You came here of your own accord.”

“Did I?”

She considered this. “Now you want to go back where you came?”

“I came too far,” he said.

“You thought this was what you wanted.”

“Peer pressure brought me here. It would be too much to suffer the disapprobation of my friends.”

Rig and Emil and Fedy von Gang, hacking busily away at the mysteries in Radio Bay; Ed Chianese who, it was rumoured, had himself plugged into a K-ship, as dumb a thing as anyone had ever done. The entradistas, the sky-pilots like Billy Anker and Liv Hula. People who called their ship Blind by Light, or Hidden Light, or 500% Light, or anything with Light in it. People who left a note by the bed, a message in the parking orbit: Torched Out. Who were wired up wrong from the first. Whose engines cooked with hard X-rays. Who went out unassuagable and came back rich or mad, towing a million-year-old starship from another galaxy. Rocket jockeys the Halo knew by their first names. Imps shrugged. He excused himself and got a beer. When he came back to his seat she was still there, and he said: “Out here thirty years, and I find I was never like them. Whoa! What’s this? Imps, you want to go back, find your home? Stop loooking in the dark for stuff no one’s ever going to understand?”

“You came too far,” she mused.

van Sant didn’t know if she was agreeing with him, or what. When he looked up at the monitor again, she had vanished.

Empty Space, 2012

Fifty years looking out of trains at night. The lines of lights, the distant neon, the way everything is laid out across a landscape you can’t see but which is somehow implied along with all its concomitant failures. Lights stacked on top of one another. Lights outlining buildings. Traffic lights glimpsed going through their cycle at empty junctions. Motorway boards. The tragic patina of light falling into a box room or a ground mist. The lives lived in it appear just like real lives. I don’t know what I mean. What can you mean, stationary again in some brownfield site on the edge of Wolverhampton, some nowhere, eleven thirty at night, late home again to an empty house?

the water house

Later, a succession of squalls swung in across the north bank and obscured the river. Hand sat in the remains of the garden shed, listening to the rain and watching the tide rush down the narrow defile between Oliver’s Island and the southern shore. “I’m just going into the garage!” he called into the house, but the old woman had turned up the TV and didn’t answer. In the garage he pulled the dust cover off the bonnet of the vehicle he kept there. Its bodywork glowed in the greyish afternoon light, rich with wax polish and chrome. Hand smiled. He checked the other items he kept in a rucksack under some rubbish in the corner. Everything was still dry and good. He had one more look at the car, then pulled the dustcover back over it and left. On his way back through the house, he called, “I’m going now.” No answer. He thought she had fallen asleep in front of the film, but she was waiting for him in the hall. “I know what you’re doing,” she said.

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niche operations

A paragraph of the new novel:

The only time Helen had spoken to him was when she caught him looking at the shrinkwrapped books in the chiller cabinet: “We’re a wholesaler, really. We sell on in bulk.” The self-deception of this was his introduction to the business; or to that side of it. From then on he would make two or three trips a week to similarly shabby premises–crystal shops, candle parlours, short-let niche operations selling a mix of cultural memorabilia and pop merchandise from two or three generations ago–which had flourished along the abandoned high streets of the post-2007 austerity. They were run by a network of shabby voters dressed in cheap business clothes, hoping to take advantage of tumbling high street rents–though their real obsession was with commerce as a kind of politics, a fundamental theology. They had bought the rhetoric without having the talent or the backing. The internet was killing them. The speed of things was killing them. They were like old-fashioned commercial travellers haunting decayed hotel corridors, fading away in bars and single rooms, exchanging order books on windy corners as if it were still 1957–denizens of futures that never coalesced, whole worlds that never got past the natal crisis. Men and women washed up on rail platforms and pedestrianised streets, weak-eyed with the brief energy of the defeated, exchanging obsolete tradecraft like Thatcherite spies.

contents

The collection:

Lost & Found
In Autotelia
Cries
The Walls
Rockets of the Western Suburbs
Cicisbeo
Imaginary Reviews
Entertaining Angels Unawares
Elf Land: the Lost Palaces
Psychoarcheology
Royal Estate
Last Transmission from the Deep Halls
Places you Didn’t Think to Look for Yourself
Not All Men
Dog People
Jackdaw Bingo
Earth Advengers
Keep Smiling (with Great Minutes)
The Crisis
The Theory Cadre
Recovering the Rites
Anti Promethian
Animals
Here
In the Crime Quarter
The Good Detective
Name This City
Crome
Studio
The Old Fox
Awake Early
Explaining the Undiscovered Continent
Self Storage
A Web
Back to the Island
Cave & Julia
Alternate World
At the Seaside
Getting Out of There

4:30 am

I went out into the corridor where it was cooler and looked out over a strip of grass and some bollards. An iron staircase was off to one side. Everything was lighted grey and blue. I could see what I thought was a car park and behind that a few trees quite dense and dark against the sky. White propane tanks. Some kind of portabuilding offices. I had a short complete glimpse of myself opening the fire door and walking away. I felt as if I could easily have gone back down the institutional corridor, collected my credit cards and cash and whatever personal belongings I had brought in with me, and walked away. It wouldn’t have required a decision. To some degree, in fact, I felt that it had already happened. That initial glimpse had lobed itself off and become its own world in which I could see myself moving away between the trees, tentatively at first but with increasing confidence. I didn’t need to go because I had gone. So I went back to bed

an irregular event

Reading “The Crisis” last Thursday at Irregular Evenings 2, a hidden venue deep in the religio-industrial complex of Stoke Newington, ably organised by Vlatka Horvat and Tim Etchells. Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion were a hard act to follow. A great, mixed audience which included everyone from the #LossLit team to Michael Caines of the TLS and Canongate co-founder Whitney McVeigh. The evening was notable in another way for me, but more of that someB_Xmq6KWYAE2FMOother time. If you couldn’t be there for reasons of because, you can still catch the Warwick University audio of the original reading, online here. It looks as if “The Crisis” will have its first print outing in the short story collection–tentatively entitled Found & Lost–which is working its way up the femoral artery and into publishing’s dark heart etc etc even as we speak. News of that very soon, I hope.

Photo: Aki Schilz.

algorithm angels

These are the Pharoah’s life & death guys. These are his guys of life & death, the certainty of making his decisions bursts from their skin every second & every second of that second, like: knowledge! brass reflections! water! white of eye & pure smiles of delight of children! These guys are the full beauty of the Pharoah’s decision made. You may die but it will be the perfect call. You may live & it will be the perfect call. Everyone is happier when they pass. Everyone is happier, meeting those guys in the market place. Their tread–light, active, gracile, musical–is a measure. They know the date of birth, they know–within one glowing week, give or take a percentage not even the Pharoah can calculate–the day of death. Some things can not be known, & they glint with the mischief of admitting that. The corner of their eye glints with the delight of the mischief of the residue that can’t be known. No one knows when they die, those angel guys, & they keep that residue of laughter all their days. They are the guys of the Pharoah who lives in the dark in the pyramid, in the liquid actuarial core of all the things of the world.

wild ride

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