the m john harrison blog

not made in 2011

Note made in 2011:

“I began to feel as if I had learned a lesson in a language I didn’t–-but might soon–-understand. It had something to do with how you are in the world, how you control, or don’t, its access to you. In the light of that, conflicts between characters would be viewed less directly, less in black and white, and seen as less important because they are less conflicts than failed attempts at co-operation. The horror would be located in the ideological fabric of the constructed “world”, while the characters did their best to be human without understanding how they were failing. That was the big idea I was going to take away from 2009, anyway: but because Empty Space wasn’t the best vehicle for an understanding like that, it only shows through in patches and little bits of testbedding. And because I haven’t been working hard enough on short stories, nothing has come of it. I have to file the lesson under ‘ephemeral’. I feel as if I wasted a chance. It’s frustrating to know that something important won’t now find the kind of articulation that led to Climbers or Things That Never Happen.”

Well, wrong. I went back to testing, wrote more short stories, and now this book, though it’s not half the book I imagined in 2009, looks as if it will do the job.

we’re all back from the dead

we’re all back from the dead now
even those of us who were alive to start with
so there’s no point you standing there on the one leg
flapping your arms that way
the building, the bars, the unfortunate street
this whole picture’s uncompromisingly cursed
and whatever you do you will not become a “story”

dscf7908

notes for a debriefing

Don’t say: “Riding my intelligent cool-looking polar bear to do battle with evil.”
Do say: “The arctic sea-ice isn’t freezing this year.”

Don’t say: “Dog with head-balancing skills becomes star.”
Do say: “We blew antibiotics.”

Don’t say: “Swipe it straight into your mouth.”
Do say: “Pence at Hamilton was theatre in the theatre, a deft, clinical reframing of the opposition’s theatrical space, utilising the media as proscenium.

My review of Christopher Priest’s haunting new novel The Gradual, up at the TLS today.

I thought I might just reblog this once a year at around the appropriate time

…then, after a wonderful morning at the cenotaph we decided to go for a walk in the woods, which was rather spoiled by their being so muddy underfoot & our meeting a man not wearing a poppy. After Father had pointed out to him the disrespect inherent in this gesture, what did he do but harangue us for half an hour about some complicated political grudge he held? In the end, Father, indicating each of us in turn, gently asked him if he thought it right to bully innocent women and children in this way, & that seemed to be enough to calm him down; though he remained rough & humourless. Little Jenny, only eight years old, cleverly got his address from him, as a result of which, later, we were able to report him to the police.

Originally blogged November 9th 2015, as “the next war”. Last year, this still seemed to have elements of humour, now [shrugs].

the missing

As soon as I start watching it I’m exhausted. Something about the way the scenes are overweighted with meaning–implications of subtexts which the material itself is simply too ordinary to support–almost as if, through editing & dubbed dialogue, someone has tried to write a more interesting story on to the unfolding images. Some of it, I know, is that I don’t really care about any of the characters in what’s just a TV thriller bloated up to “significance”. Some of it is because I don’t understand why the returned girl has to look like someone’s mistaken memory of a zombie from the vastly superior Les Revenants. Some of it is because I don’t understand why the investigation of a civilian kidnapping in Europe should be led by the UK military, except to centralise and pump up the UK military in the eyes of UK viewers. And when people call it “the best of British drama” I think: yes, overloaded, overacted & convinced of its own importance in the face of the evidence.

on the white road to carleon

In 1923 Arthur Machen calculates that writing has earned him six hundred and thirty-five pounds in forty two years. “That is, I have been paid at the rate of fifteen pounds and a few shillings per annum.” So he wasn’t writing for the money. As for the rest of what the trade might be about, you never really write what you hoped you would, not so much in terms of quality as in terms of content and structure: in the end, he admits, it’s never quite the story you intended to tell. Why do it, then? Well, to provide interest in a bland life, much the way mountaineers “expose themselves to horrors, miseries and the instant risk of death on the most desperate mountains of the world”. Life is “cold mutton”, he says, intolerable without sauce. If this seems to us quite a bland response in itself, not to mention (especially given what we know about the single-minded ambition and sheer personality disorder of mountaineers) an evasion or cover-up, well Machen isn’t going to show any more of his cards. Except of course to suggest that perhaps what we call life isn’t really life at all. My review of Machen’s Things Near & Far and Catherine Fisher’s Machen’s Gwent: A country hardly to be known in the TLS today (£).

terranauts

Ecosphere 2, a sealed multi-biome habitat in the Arizona desert, is a dry-run for life off Earth; an experiment in closed systems living sunk by sex, hunger and competitive tensions; and a two-year reality show and visitor attraction set in a popular-science theme park, the gift shop of which offers soft-toy bush babies “at $14.95 a pop” “It wasn’t a stunt,” one of its occupants admits, “And it wasn’t theatre. But certainly those elements were present… Call it science-theatre.” Something we’ve seen plenty of this week, as “all eyes” were turned to Mars etc etc, and will see plenty of again as the publicity of science becomes more important than the science of science. My review of The Terranauts, TC Boyle’s blackly comic novel, not quite a new Tono Bungay but a savage enough pisstake of contemporary techno-boosterism, up at the Guardian.

may time

HE Bates is good at people dying puzzled after a life lived without interrogation or protest and an old age that has reduced them to the human equivalent of a salmon after breeding, coming to pieces in the upstream pool. The absolute triumph of modernism was to make it clear that, while you have to accept the reality of death, you don’t have to accept anyone’s description of the “realities” of the life that precedes it. We should cling to that understanding as Theresa May moves us gently but firmly back to small town English life in Bates’s 1920s.