the m john harrison blog

the new fantastic

Lowrider sword & sorcery. Before the battle of Helm’s Deep, Galadriel, who’s eaten nothing for a week but the wadding from benzedrine inhalers, does Cootchie Cootie in the back of his 1951 Fleetline bomb. It’s a favour for a friend. Wittgenstein, Merlin & CS Lewis look on in passive-aggressive disavowal. After that, for the founding volume anyway, it’s Zap Comic dynamics on a lean-burn version of The Revenger’s Tragedy–the usual tale of poor choices, low ground clearance & self medication. Emotional palette from A Glastonbury Romance, prose from Destination: Moon! & worldbuilding from one of those ads where if you buy the right mobile phone it causes inconvenient buildings to fold themselves away in front of the user so she can get to some other stuff she wants to consume without ever walking round a corner or even, apparently, consulting the phone itself? (The world will be called Eldrano, & not as I first proposed Eldranol, which turns out to be already TM’d for a bovine mastitis application.)

–published as “use your new genre” in 2012

dscf1761

photo: C Phillips

amazing

The discovery of a defunct galactic culture the final activity of which seems to have been to construct a maze around a previous maze… The subsequent discovery of successions of maze-building cultures, whose energies have been directed into solving and then hiding or elaborately embedding the mazes of its precursors… Such embeddings aren’t neccessarily architecturally or even topologically congruent with the precursor maze–a maze can also penetrate or permeate the precursor. A maze like that is diffult to identify, let alone solve… Decoy mazes, often more complex than real ones, continue to be found. They contain no precursor maze, but have been built to soak up the efforts of later cultures, rendering them exhausted and passive, their energy directed away from the precursor’s artefact… The inability to solve a maze may actually be the inability to detect and solve a later maze… You may engage with a maze for a lifetime without recognising that your inability to solve it stems from the inability to solve a non-architectural maze which penetrates or permeates it… In the end, is it possible that all mazes might be hidden this way, by a single non-architectural interpenetrating over-maze applied from far in the future of all known mazes?

Enjoyed this. Made me wonder if Chuck Tingle is having such a benign effect on f/sf not just because he acted as a political releaser in a bad situation, but because his outsider art & brilliant idiolect, like his lively political tricksterism, bring him closer to the full-on act of imagination than the kind of fiction you’re used to finding inside the genre. Maybe people sense that & pick up some enthusiasm & creative velocity of their own from it. He certainly seems to have more in common with Blake or Dadd or Darger than with the f/sf professional whose imaginary, constrained from the beginning by what the industry needs, soon dries up.

sublet city

The setting of the new novel, a sort of futurised now, is predicated on economics like this. It’s kept, the way background should be, in the background; but it makes a visible contribution to the narrative. When I put out a few chapters for beta reading, the main criticism I got was that a set-up like this isn’t realistic–it’s retro. I didn’t quite know what to say. Welcome to the new world, same as the old world. I lived in London bedsitterland between 1966 & 1971. That makes it easier for me to spot & understand what’s happening here. But it doesn’t make me wrong.

won’t anyone think of our children

Saturday afternoon and a pair of magnificently helicoptering parents attempt to direct traffic on the southern approach to the level crossing on Vine Lane, Barnes. There’s nothing they can achieve by this. The crossing gates are closed. The normal protocols are in operation. The cars are already in an orderly line, exactly where the highway code requires them to be. The train passes. The gates open again. The cars move off. Everyone has plenty of space. Nobody has run over the children. The whole thing has been theatre.

Later, I wondered if they were Someone. Their casual clothing seemed expensive, accurate to a hair, formally worn. They had a clear sense of centrality in other people’s lives. But if they were Someone–if they were bankers, pols or luvvies–why were they walking their very special children down the side of Vine Road on a Saturday afternoon rather than enjoying some more gated, quietly chauffered form of activity? Something more tailored to their tastes and abilities, which would reduce their anxiety? Something involving an actual helicopter?

Who knows. But for a moment, as they mugged and grimaced at the cars and strove to make theatre of personal control out of a perfectly normal situation already managed by the rules of the road, they looked uncharacteristically vulnerable; and that turned out to be the most thought-provoking thing of all.

“Night Moves was Penn’s point of turning, his last carefully structured work, a strong and bitter film, whose bitterness emerges from an anxiety and from a loneliness that exists as a given, rather than a loneliness fought against, a fight that marks most of Penn’s best work. Night Moves is a film of impotence and despair…”

–Robert Kolker, The Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Stone, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman

A Twitter mention of Bernard Moitessier reminded me of this, blogged February 11, 2011, under the title How To Write

In his NYT piece about Reid Stowe, Adam Sternberg describes a classic detournment performed by Bernard Moitessier during the Golden Globe round-the-world race in 1968–

‘…he was well in the lead when he decided to change course and simply keep sailing. He explained this in a note, which he flung by slingshot onto the deck of a passing ship, that read in part: “I am continuing non-stop because I am happy at sea, and perhaps because I want to save my soul.” He later wrote that, looking back on his decision, he only regretted the inclusion in the note of the word “perhaps.”’

Moitessier himself writes, in The Long Way

‘The geography of the sailor is not always the one of the cartographer, for whom a cape is a cape with its longitude and latitude. For the sailor, a great cape is both very simple and extremely complex, with rocks, currents, furling seas, beautiful oceans, good winds and gusts, moments of happiness and of fright, fatigue, dreams, aching hands, an empty stomach, marvelous minutes and sometimes suffering. A great cape, for us, cannot be translated only into a latitude and a longitude. A great cape has a soul, with shadows and colours, very soft, very violent. A soul as smooth as that of a child, as hard as that of a criminal.’

Still can’t think of anything to add to this. Magnificent.

DSCF5954

fermin lima at the well of souls

You’ve been inside the mystery long enough not to care anymore that you can’t encompass it. In fact you’ve been inside long enough to prefer a position a little way outside, just left of the door. The view is more interesting. Parallax error runs in the background of everything you see, like a little bit of code totting up Air Miles and Nectar Points & so on. The main thing is that you don’t have to try, although it takes a few decades of trying before you discover that. You have to put in those decades, then one day you just build a new instrument out of inappropriate &/or broken bits; then you stand on a corner in all weathers playing it. People see you there night and day and they wonder about your life, something that stopped puzzling you years ago. You’re happy at last, give them a few years & they will be too.

–Originally blogged 2013, as halloween, or Charlie Mingus at the Well of Souls