the m john harrison blog

states of play

Available: Viriconium, The Centauri Device, Climbers, Light, Nova Swing, Empty Space, “Babies from Sand”, “Cave & Julia” and “Fourth Domain”. Out of print: The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life, Things That Never Happen. Unlikely ever to be reprinted, although a couple of the stories in it turn out to be not quite as bad as I remembered: The Machine in Shaft Ten. Forthcoming: “Yummie” (The Weight of Words, ed McKean & Schafer, 2017), You Should Come With Me Now (short stories, Comma Press 2017). In progress: “English Heritage”, a ghost story, and “Autotelian Journey”; and two novels, The Water House, very odd, and The Future, a shadowy & bizarre post-apocalypse with sturdy links to the 2014 short story “The Crisis”.

What’s happening about the Signs of Life, Course of the Heart and Things That Never Happen reprint schedule seems as shadowy & bizarre as any of the Beige Ops in this notorious programme; but I’m hoping they’ll see the light again, one way or another, before I cough it.

gifco is here

Those who have failed to regulate the self. Those whose behaviours enact a medicating fiction. Those who flew to the Canary Islands on a cheap ticket in December 1991 & left the remains of their personality in the apartment hotel. Those who ran from everything in a zig-zag pattern, so fast they never found the transitional object. The unsoothed. The dysmorphic. The unconditional. Those who were naive enough to take what they needed & thus never got what they wanted & whose dreams are now severe. Those who were amazed by their own hand. The confused. The pliable. Those who look at the sea & immediately suffer a grief unconstrained but inarticulable. Gifco is coming. Gifco you are always with us. Gifco we are here!

Photo: the other Nick Royle.

Originally published here in 2012 as “those who know gifco”

a man walks into a bar

A man walks into a bar and orders a whisky, “Just an ordinary sort of Scotch.” He reads for half an hour, then gets up, and pays his bill in cash. Thereafter he returns once or twice a week. He drinks the Scotch, he reads a book. Kino the barman thinks perhaps that he’s a gangster. In the end that’s not really an issue; it’s Kino’s story we’re going to get anyway…

A cockroach wakes up to discover that he is Gregor Samsa. He is already forgetting he was a cockroach and when he tries to remember, “something like a black column of mosquitos” swirls up inside his head. He decides to give up on that. His first concern, he thinks, should be to get up off the bed, because lying on his back makes him vulnerable to attack by birds…

A woman’s ex-lover gets a phone call from her husband, who tells him she has committed suicide then hangs up. The lover has no idea where she lived after she left him, or who with. He can’t even imagine what her life was like, let alone find a way to reconnect with it. She’s the third woman he’s been with who killed herself…

Murakami’s Men Without Women are self-centred and lonely. They’re rather too puzzled, given their intelligence, as to why those two conditions go hand in hand. They present as tentative but act impulsively; expose histories founded on some early act of self-alienation; then, after jumping their lives inexpertly from one track to another (often from a low energy state to an even lower one), become tentative again at the last. Murakami–alert, relaxed, whimsical–watches them. He’ll tell the story in his own good time. My review for the Guardian here.

pregnant again

Recently began to read Genet again. I couldn’t say why, except that after fifty years he claimed suddenly, from his jail cell Shangri La, that he had something to do with the new book; & more, that he’d already had something to do with the last three. I really don’t get that. But there it is– “Read me now! read me again!”, a voice from a distance, from the dead. Quite a luxurious experience, I have to say, although it makes me wonder how I could have been so sure I’d read him back then–how on earth I could have convinced myself I’d understood more than a fraction of him when I was 21 & at that time about twelve years old. I had no idea what he was offering. Whatever he’s trying to communicate now isn’t coming through yet; neither am I resolving the increased sense I have that there are other survivors from those days in it with him. In it with him yet having so little in common with him or each other that only grammar could ever hold them together in a sentence. These people. These other writers. Vision, content, timbre, whatever:  I am, at this point, the only clue to their commonality. I won’t get them, or my book, until I get why. Maybe it’s just a whim. Maybe I’m just visibly pregnant & want to eat strange meals.

The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times

“It’s 1923. Lucy Marsh and her friend Winifred, mid-teenagers from an enclave of dying pubs and dead industries in north-east London, find themselves effectively sold into prostitution by their families. Once a week in Epping Forest they meet with and service four bizarrely wounded ex‑servicemen who have given arms, legs, hands and faces for their country in the recent world war. Lucy isn’t sure if they’re named after Dorothy’s companions in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or if the characters in the story were named after them. The “funny men” seem as decent as they are damaged, puzzled to the point of inarticulacy by the things that have happened to them. But though they’re shy they know what they’ve lost – homes, wives, children, physical comfort, any sense of themselves as welcome in the society that sent them to fight – and they know what they want, at least from Lucy and Winifred.”

–Read the rest of my review of Xan Brooks’ dark & politically timely debut novel at the Guardian, here.

A wasp pushed itself into the room from behind the wooden blanket chest, as suddenly as if it had made itself from nothing. I looked behind the chest and found a ventilator daubed with layers of paint. Had the wasp blundered down the old chimney? It flew straight up into one of the skylights and sat on a bent nail, grooming its antennae. I tried to hit it with the local freesheet but I couldn’t reach that high; and anyway I couldn’t believe in it as a wasp. Long ago my writing filled up with characters who suspect that they don’t understand the world: not because the world is impossible to understand but because they have reached either the limits of their intelligence or the emotional boundaries that describe what their intelligence can be allowed to understand.

still love these stairs

I cleaned the stairs again this morning. I clean them often, mainly as an excuse to be on them, to be in close contact with them. I love to be abroad on these stairs. I love their proportions, their cool still air. They have a calmness which easily transmits itself to me. I’d live on these stairs if I could. Lock all the doors to the rooms, except the bathroom and the kitchen. Sleep on the top landing, work on the next one down. There’d be plenty of space. And plenty of light coming in through the long windows. I could keep my stuff in a blanket box. I love blanket boxes. I wouldn’t own much–a couple of pairs of jeans, underwear. There would just be room for a mattress on one floor, a desk and chair on the other. The outdoor stuff I could hang in the hall, that wouldn’t change; shoes I’d line up in the hall, too. I’m not sure whether I’d allow myself to leave the house, but I suppose I would have to. It’s not a matter of dealing with claustrophobia–because how could you suffer claustrophobia in all that space and light?–so much as doing the shopping, or getting exercise. I suppose I could have stuff delivered. If I absolutely had to go out, I’d try to confine myself to the garden as much as possible; and on wet days stare out of the landing windows at the hollyhocks bending in the rain. Hollyhocks are ridiculously tall. Strictly speaking, the garden isn’t quite where the stairs end. They make another turn and continue down into the cellars.

previously posted as “take the stairway to the stairs”, 2013

Monty Don speaks:

“The desert of the real may now break through. April
the cruellest month in the Baudrillardian garden.”

Monty Don with his old-looking dog
I’m overcome with love for them. See
How the dog stands by the wall, stares ahead.
Hermeneusis now seems so plausible–

Monty Don not solely Monty Don
His dog old/not old
His shed with its lurching kind of door
not wholly a shed

blueprint grey on grey

Forty seconds later, the main hold filled with light.

Internal comms tanked. Up in the control room, error signals jammed the boards. “Accept!” Liv Hula told the pilot connexion. Nothing. She stuffed the wires into her mouth by hand. “Akphept!” Too late. They were half in, half out when the connect halted. She pushed until she bled, but the system wouldn’t receive. Instead, Liv was snatched out of herself and began some long, identityless transit.

When things returned, she was seeing them via an exterior camera-swarm. Autorepair media raced along the brass-coloured hull like dust down a hot street. The stern assembly pulsed in and out of view. Outriggers, fusion pods, the tubby avocado-shaped bulge housing the Dynaflow drive: you could see the stars through them. From a source down there, where the holds and motors had once been, intermittent, washy-looking streams of plasma curved out into the dark, already an AU long and curved like scimitars. Liv felt sick. With the connector a lump of gold wire half-fused into the tissue of her soft palate, she was reduced to flicking switches.

“Antoyne ? Hello ?”

No one responded. Inside the ship, engine rooms, holds, companionways, ventilator shafts, stairwells, winked out one by one. Go through the wrong door, who knew what you’d see ? Liv was aware but blind. If you could blueprint grey on grey, that’s what filled the control room screens–a kind of luminous darkness where her spaceship had been. There was nothing there, but it had a strong sense of order.

“Jesus, Antoyne,” she said. “What are you fucking around with now ?”

–from Empty Space, 2013

on the pier

C Pierre & one other (seen here with knitted mermaid) on a recent fact-finding tour of south east coastal towns by a working party of the Architectonics Committee.

 

Photographs by CB Phillips.