the m john harrison blog

some news

My new collection will be published later this year by Comma Press. It’s taken a while to get this sorted, and I want to thank everyone involved–also apologise to everyone else for the wait. Details as they arrive, here and from the Comma team. The book features eighteen short stories–five of which are original, unpublished & unavailable anywhere else and a further half dozen that will be new to most readers–and some flash fiction, much of which will be recognisable to habitues of the Ambiente Hotel. Contents include: a distributed sword & sorcery trilogy; two or three full-size sci-fi novels, one of which is two sentences and forty eight words long (fifty if you count the title); several visits to Autotelia, some that identify as such and some that don’t; and two final dispatches from Viriconium, neither of which would get house-room in an anthology of epic fantasy.

midnight’s broken toe

I enjoyed this article for the way it makes the reality TV aspect of Trumpist politics so clear, but even more for: “Nobody wants to buy a little piece of confusion and sadness.” The deep honesty hidden in this image is the only true thing in the world as constituted now. I wouldn’t normally feel anything for TPT, but here she is, someone human among all these awkwardly-posturing orange mannequins, a woman with a brain tumour forced out of her own reality show into honesty by her terror at the approach of death. She became real, they’re still puppets operated by themselves (“selves” whose very idea of self is penetrated the market they maintain & exploit). That we aren’t winners in that rhetoric suddenly becomes the most powerful ground on which to build. If I’m playing anything on a loop now, it’s “Chimes of Freedom”.

note from the ruins

Epistolatory fiction of the near future based around a cache of emails found in a long-abandoned server farm below the Arctic Circle:

… your last mail … suspected for about 5 years there’d been some really big change we weren’t seeing. Something our definitions & our picture of politics simply wasn’t taking into account. That turned out to be what’s happening now, of course! … also had this feeling there were two elephants in the room, not one. … certain now it was AGW … [large amount of text missing ] … Capital was already thinking forward … climate denial always a way of buying time. The New Elite wasn’t just a kleptocracy, it was the kleptocrats ensuring their own survival & the survival of the kleptostate through the transition period … bastards … let everything outside the borders go to hell & hope to come out of it with an Arctic resource fiefdom … can’t point to what convinced me in the end, probably his Rosneft pay-off. Anyway, great to hear that the kids are doing well & see you soo

Some corruption of data, obviously, as you would expect given the circumstances, not to say the times.

the pellicci tract

“Stop here,” Aschemann ordered “We can have a nice breakfast here.” They swept into the kerb outside E Pellicci. A notorious cholesterol venue halfway down Neutrino, Pellici’s offered deco walls and cafe electrique. More important, Aschemann said, you could hear the food smoking in the animal fat. At that time of the morning Pellici’s was full of rickshaw girls in pink and black lycra gorging themselves on simple carbs. They stood awkwardly up to the counter, unable to use the seating, ducking their heads needlessly, embarrassed to be among people of ordinary size. Aschemann smiled around at them, one or two smiled back. Once he was eating he seemed to forget both his wife and the murders.

–Nova Swing, 2007

last transmissions

From 2013–

I’m saying we didn’t have command of the vast fictions of the day … The city wasn’t, in the end, where those of us who lived there thought it was. We had already lost it in all senses of that word … All we knew about this place was the news … preferring the past’s acknowledgment of humanity, we remained uninterested by the watertightness of the plot … the halls are aware that–in the end–they can never know what, exactly, the plot was. It’s only silence after that. Back at the beginning there’s the tapping sound, like metal on stone … then the call signs, several of them, very amplified and confused … cries in the halls … a cruel few words and then, “We no longer know which way to face.” The halls are still aware … What if nothing “fell”? Nothing was lost but existed just alongside everything else, fifty years later in the rubble by a farm at the flat end of nowhere … who could write this … everyone has a different story to sell … call signatures in rooks, fresh plough, old silence: “We don’t know what to do. Everything is the alongside of something else.” –Minor players gesture helplessly … signals hard to make out in the chaos as the big institutions go down … everyone desperate now.

passing the sump

Some ways of being dead are good, some are not so good, X claimed. But admitting you are dead is generally a good thing. When he first entered the sump he found a layer of dense blue “air” which lay at the midpoint between the ceiling and the floor. While this layer was generally twelve to eighteen inches thick, and in some places could be measured at twenty five inches, it once shrank to a millimetre or two, causing him to choke and panic. It looked & behaved more like a liquid than a gas. How was he to pass it? He began work immediately. For two nights in a row he didn’t sleep at all. For six nights in a row, he dreamed of the wrong thing. For a further fourteen nights in a row he dreamed that his lungs had turned inside out and expressed themselves through his mouth, after the use of a home-made SCUBA device–he had failed to pass the sump in all fourteen cases. For eight nights in a row he didn’t dream, although he woke with memories of something moving in darkness. On the next night he passed the sump, but not in a dream. No equipment was required. He was able to breathe normally.

page 117

I just played this divination meme: open the nearest book to you at p117, read the second sentence, & that will describe how 2017 happens to you. I opened Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke. There aren’t any sentences on p117 in my copy: only the section title “1966”. 1966, my first short story was published. I wrote three or four more & towards the end of the year one of them was accepted by Ted Carnell at New Writings in SF. I lived in shared flats in Shepherds Bush & Holloway, & in a bedsitter in Tufnell Park. We played cards a lot. We scaled up a frame from a Marvel comic to the size of a door & put the words It’s All Stopped Happening–which I had stolen from a cartoon–in Private Eye?–into a superhero’s mouth, I forget who. There was a fire deep in the night in some lean-to shops opposite Holloway Road tube station, we went out to watch. You could feel the heat on your face from the other side of the road. Most mornings we spent in a cafe, playing Beck’s Bolero repeatedly on the jukebox. I did other things, but those are the memories that come to mind without thinking. What I remember most clearly is the constant grinding anxiety. I had no idea who I was or what I was doing there. I had no idea about anything & that was why I clung so hard to writing. It was going to be my only way out from too many situations. To be honest, I’ve grown used to not feeling that way & in 2017 I was hoping for a continuation of that.

imaginary review (14)

This novel’s central character exists only to witness something he doesn’t understand. The reader doesn’t understand it either; not because it can’t be understood, or because there is nothing to be understood, but because understanding comes at the price of reassembling the components of the book from a position that is only hinted-at. One way or another, everything’s a clue to a point of view. But, much as a gene’s most important function may be to switch on a cascade of other genes, that in itself may be a clue only to another clue.

death of a witness

Olivia Laing on John Berger:

Capitalism, he wrote in Ways of Seeing, “survives by forcing the majority to define their own interests as narrowly as possible”. It was narrowness he set himself against, the toxic impulse to wall in or wall off. Be kin to the strange, be open to difference, cross-pollinate freely. He put his faith in the people, the whole host of us.

The book of his I pick up more & more often as I get older is his collaboration with Jean Mohr, A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor. I have a beaten-up old paperback–from the early 70s, I think–which doesn’t get any easier to read without it falling to bits; but it’s now available from Canongate with an introduction by Gavin Francis, who describes it in his first sentence as “a masterpiece of witness”. That was what Berger felt like back then, and what he made me want to become: a witness.

some falls

Summer, 2012: Charlie and his cousin Matthew set out one evening in Charlie’s Lexus to join Charlie’s wife, Chloe, at their summer home in the Catskills. It’s a complex relationship. Charlie, you sense, usually gets what he wants. Matthew is more the junior partner, always offering, always giving, always biddable. In fact, before we know it, he has already agreed to get out of the car, catch a train back to New York and pick up a bracelet Charlie left behind. By page four you think it’s odd that Charlie’s so insistent, in his understated, manipulative way; by page five you’re wondering which of them might be the fall guy of the title… Read on

My review of James Lasdun’s The Fall Guy, up at the Guardian today.