the m john harrison blog

the air had an edge: September

Half an hour later Helen Alpert accompanied her client to the door, where, both eager to admit how they would miss one another, they said goodbye. While Anna walked swiftly up Chiswick Mall towards Hammersmith without looking back, Helen crossed the road and leaned on the river wall. It was a sunny morning, but the air had an edge: September, accepting that the game was up. The Thames ran low, with a sullenness that suggested the tide was on the turn. Two or three mallards, who had looked as if they were going to make a morning of it, honking and squabbling in the mud, suddenly took off and swept west, gaining height until they vanished behind the trees on the far bank. Back inside, she put the Waterman file away; then changed her mind and, leafing through it angrily, began to make a fresh set of notes. The client, her personality frozen in adolescence, had disguised herself as an adult for the duration of her marriage to Tim Waterman. To what end ? She had effectively erased the abjection of her life with her first husband, yet remained bound to it, and through it to the unthought known. Why allow the disguise to fall away now ? As to the significance of the repeating dream: other dreams seemed as diagnostically valuable, and moreover came with all the neccessary tools for their own decoding.

From Empty Space, 2012.

mysteries of the houses


neither here nor there

That night he dreamed he was back in the cloister. This dream was to recur for the rest of his life, presenting as many outcomes as iterations; from it, he would always wake to an emotion he couldn’t account: not quite anxiety, not quite despair. He dreamed the white blur of Julia Vicente’s face watching from the shadows, immobile and fascinated until the procession of search-and-rescue teams found her and bore her triumphantly home on a stretcher in the bald light and shimmering air of the plateau. The fountain seemed to roar silently. The cloister cobbles softened and parted in the heat, encouraging Cave to slip easily between them into the vast system of varnished-looking natural tubes and slots which, he now saw, underlay everything. It was cold down there; damp, but not fully dark. He could not describe himself as lost, because he had never known where he was. He heard water gushing over faults and lips in tunnels a hundred miles away. Full of terror, he began counting his arms and legs; before he could finish, woke alone. A feeling of bleakness and approaching disaster came out of the dream with him. His room was full of cold grey light. 5am, and traffic was already grinding along Caledonian Road into Kings Cross. He made some coffee, took it back to bed, opened his laptop. Although he knew it would mean nothing, he emailed her:

“What can any of us do but move on? How?” And then: “Did I ever have the slightest idea of your motives?”, to which she could only reply puzzledly:

“Of course you did. Of course you did.”

Cave & Julia still pursue their strange driven relationship on Kindle, here; or as an Audible audiobook, here. Meanwhile, here, a man called Shaw blunders about in what might well be the inside of his own skull, failing to understand what he needs.

i never promised you a rose garden

Seeing all these roses in one place is first overpowering then depressing. It’s a rose zoo. Crammed into the invisible cage of the planting, they want their space but at the same time seem to lean up against one another for comfort. And the names they give them. The most popular buy is a white rambler called A Shropshire Lad; his consort, Shropshire Lass, gets less trade. “Look, this one’s new for this year! Look, ‘Ancient Mariner’!” There’s more than one ancient in here this afternoon. “This is solid!” –patting a box hedge, admiring and patronising at the same time, congratulating a shrub for being grown by the same culture that grew him– “It’s been up a few years!” Nevertheless, dark clouds are gathering here at the David Austen home for old gardeners.


Sign on a truck– DELIVERING UTILITY SOLUTIONS. Sign on a road– SLOW MUD. The worst kind. Two signs on farm entrances in the middle of nowhere– AUTO BODY REPAIRERS & FUN RIDE HERE. Sign on a hurrying Citroen van– THREE COUNTIES OVENCLEAN. Centre of Ludlow: A woman hurries past then comes back, stops, and stares into the middle distance with an expression of rage on her face; suddenly hurries away again. A man drinks from a can as he pushes his baby along in its buggy. Overheard– “It’s just a bit Wicker Man at the moment” & “Root beer, like Germolene.” For the novel: “A rectangular pond, surrounded by warm limestone flags and odd little stone benches across which tiny lizards flowed like shadows. It looked older than the house itself.” Sign on a refurbished building in Wales– CENTRE FOR THE CREATIVE MIND: CLOSED. I thought I saw ostriches at the top of a steeply sloping field near Brampton Bryan. DROVERS THAI RESTAURANT.

you can have this other free thing

Aren’t you sick of the same world. It’s not the ideology so much as the lack of imagination. This is it. Consumption. This is the offer. This is how it is. This is the sheer inevitability of these goods. An elite who pretend to be populists manage the rest of the population & offer in return this locked-in set of opportunities. This is what what we take from you: work all your life. This is what you get in return: the digital funfair & fatty sugared-up meat our people can make look really good. But aren’t you sick of there being about five basic avenues of satisfaction, each internally graded for price? & aren’t you sick of being obsessed with your hobby? Your house? Your car? Everyone must have a car & now–wow–those cars have fucking radar and everything. Everyone can have a wrist radio & speak into it as if their errand is a mission & their mission is more important than anyone else’s in this jam-packed space. Hello? London calling. Hello? Everyone calling. Hello? Hello? Did you know? Fast things got faster & smoother! You can have a fast smooth thing! This is new, this kind of liquid fastness! This is the future. It’s the new kind of future. It’s what they wanted in the 1950s, finally–always–indisputably–coming true. If there’s a real age-versus-youth problem (one, that is, which isn’t stoked by middle-aged middle management like any other transient program of divisiveness) it’s this: all our goals, all our ideas about philosophical & economic goods, were decided between 1945 & 1955; and, apart from their means of satisfation, have not changed since. We live in that period’s utterly naive dream, the early-consumerist future, & we’re trapped there because we don’t have the imagination to see or hope for anything else.

the heart goes last

You make the dystopia you deserve. It’s the near future, and finance capitalism has pushed itself over the edge. The US is a rustbelt. Charmaine and Stan – we never learn their surname, which encourages a slightly patronising relationship with them – started out well: she worked for Ruby Slippers Retirement Homes and Clinics; he was in quality control at Dimple Robotics. Now they live in their car, just two ordinary Americans down on their luck. Charmaine maintains a “lightly positive tone” but misses her flowered throw pillows; Stan, though he “can lean to the mean when he’s irritated”, is a good man underneath, and feels he has let her down. They’re used to the smell, they’re used to being hungry. They have each other. They seem a little naive in the way they maintain their love as a bulwark against the world; and it is this naivety that makes them vulnerable when, in desperation, they join Positron, a socioeconomic experiment based around a privately funded postmodern prison… Read the rest of my review of Margaret Atwood’s savage new satire, The Heart Goes Last, in the Guardian

hi dave


pulsating neural tissue etc

Corelli DeLaMary Linn Gourd, a Texan fantasy writer, finds she has run out of vanished, exotic and geographically distant cultures to loot for the milieux–or “worlds” –of her immensely successful novels. She’s bored by the costume museums, post-Steeleye Span folk rock bands and archeological websites devoted to back-engineered weapons through the ages that have previously provided inspiration, colour and filler. She’s bored by the grim daily round of combining non-scientific anthropology and relatable Campbellian selfie-stick heroism with freedom motifs to provide uplifting developmental arcs for her characters. She decides instead to actually make something up. The central race–the “Sentienta” as she will call them–of her next novel are to have transparent foreheads, behind which can be seen their pulsating neural tissue & the wispy filaments which connect to eyes like greenish half-billiard balls. It’s very exciting. The human imagination is a truly astonishing thing.

–December 13th, 2010


Layout 1Here’s the cover of Edhasa Argentina‘s volume of my short fiction, which in addition to various old favourites like “Egnaro” and “The Incalling”, includes a selection of flash fictions & nonfictions from this very blog, along with first paper publication of a couple of other short pieces. For English readers, some of the same material will be available in my new collection, still temporarily entitled Found & Lost, alongside brand new longer stories: but when that will be published is now uncertain. I’m as much in the dark as you, I’m afraid. So, as they say, don’t ask. Anyway, lovely to go out in such a nice restrained cover, among nice books like these.


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