the m john harrison blog

Month: November, 2008

real at last

Climbers makes it into the Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide 100 Must-Read Books for Men.

nova nova

Nova Swing: advance copies of Bantam Spectra’s US mass market edition arrived this morning.

LP on living in the moddun world

I’ve been wondering how concerned I ought to be that I am the only one among my friends who doesn’t know what a wii is – at least until last Sunday. Does this matter? They all laughed at me. Don’t you read the papers? Not really. Don’t you watch the telly? Hardly. And do I care?

Me neither, except to have a smirk when people do those vestigial twitchy motions with the paddle-things, also their excited yet vague expressions which don’t seem to match the bodily activity & indicate that the rewards are inward. The only thing I can engage with to the point of an emotional response is that ad where you see a woman with a radiant smile as if she is having a religio-sexual experience, then the camera moves round to show that the back of her head has been scooped away & replaced by a computer game. That upsets me. I’d rather be shot repeatedly in the face than have that look.



Listening to: Ry Cooder, Boomer’s Story. Reading The Atmosphere Railway, short stories by the immaculate Shena Mackay. Reviewing: The Silence Room, short stories by Sean O’Brien, from the increasingly interesting Comma Press. Wishing: that my own collection of stories was coming together a little more quickly.

an imaginary review (5)

This novelist’s characters are like himself. They speak in clever & rounded sentences. They have caught life in a linguistic net, & found some odd fish there, & now they are going to tell you about it: not really at length, but in the end at more length than you suspected in the beginning.

The impression of wisdom radiates from the feeblest of their jokes. You look covertly at your watch even as you think, “How delightful!”

It isn’t possible at this distance–the distance between writer & reader–to tell how much of the novel is “biographical”. If some of it is, there’s nothing we can do about it; if none of it is, well that’s a joke some decades old by now, & perhaps a little less joyful than it seemed in 1980. What is possible to say is that the acknowledgements page, written in the same tone as the book itself, is a very self-indulgent piece of work.

A butterfly landed on page 52 while I was reading it in my garden. From that single event I learned nothing about the book, or reading, or writing, or anything at all.

dying on stage

Death wanders on to the stage dressed in a kind of dusty black romper suit with a not-very-good skeleton painted on the front of it, and begins to explain diffidently how this show differs from the one he’s used to.

The set, for instance, he says, is much reduced. There would normally be a row of potted plants here. A little band, just a four-piece combo, at the back in this corner here.

As he busies himself about the stage, he seems to get a bit more energy. He’s shy, but he is, after all, death. He prides himself that he has a bit of an edge–in the normal run of things, when he makes his entrance, down the spiral staircase (which, of course, you can’t see, but it comes down about here), he can depend upon a reaction. Some people don’t like the dark, for instance. They say, you know, things like, “Oh no. The dark.”

It’s a show with, well, he doesn’t know how to put it, except to say it has a bit of an edge. But this performance is reduced, & there are parts of it, he doesn’t mind admitting, that he doesn’t really like.

Meanwhile, his latest client is doing her dying behind him, roaring & groaning, gagging & clicking & humming, writhing & kicking, picking herself up and dragging herself about. Are those her entrails in her hands ? She’s looking down at something, with some horror & disbelief but more rage than either. She’s quiescent for long periods. You can tell that’s what death prefers. He gives her good feedback for that. “I like what you’re doing there,” he tells her motionless, exhausted body. “I like those subtle things you’re doing there.” But the client hasn’t finished. Because dying is hard. It’s long drawn out. It isn’t just giving up, whatever death would prefer. & if he’s a little embarrassed by all this & doesn’t get it, if he’s a bit blokey around all this naked affect, well that’s just too fucking bad.

“Normally,” death says, giving up on her for a moment, “at this point in the show, a little spotlight would come out, from the side of the stage, just, well, I can’t say really, I’m not an expert, but I think, from about here, and–how can I describe it ? —run about across the stage.” He runs about in little zigzag sallies, the little sallies of the soul, here and there on the stage. “It’s almost jaunty.” Normally, of course, at this point in the show, there would be dancers. & music from the combo.

Robin Arthur & Claire Marshall in Forced Entertainment’s two-hander, Spectacular.

horror needs victims

My review of Stephen King’s Just After Sunset, in the Guardian today.

the new rays

Or should that be El Rayo-X ? Anyway, a healthy “Yes!” to this, from Infinite Thought. The image is a touch of genius, & could have been improved only by having a link to David Lindley doing “The Tubercalucus & the Sinus Blues”. Maybe someone can find one, I can’t. Get well soon, IT. Or maybe not…


Lara Pawson, restless as ever, now curates a Museum of Doubt.

you find ashes

This, from Ghost Light, is very shaming–

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

There’s more, & it’s equally passionate.


Between them, Maxim & his commenters make most of the basic points about Michael Crichton. I shall rather miss him. His fiction was as cheap as chips & he had none of the talent of a great popular writer like Martin Cruz Smith or Thomas Harris. But if nothing else he was a bete noir of insider sci fi–& the things a genre execrates are a direct connection to the truths about itself it’s trying to hide from itself.

Farah Mendlesohn drew my attention to these, which are quite funny (there are two further pages, not quite so good).

Comma Press sent me an early copy of their anthology The New Uncanny (ed Sarah Eyre & Ra Page), which stretches its arms quite wide to gather in such diverse souls as Christopher Priest, AS Byatt, Ramsey Campbell, Hanif Kureishi & Nick Royle. (Some great titles– “Anette & I are Fucking in Hell”, Etgar Keret; & Chris Priest’s “The Sorting Out”.) I’m looking forward to reading it. Obvious comparisons would be with Peter Straub’s Poe’s Children; the Straub-edited Conjunctions 39 of 2002; and Ann & Jeff VanderMeer’s The New Weird.

Reviewing: Stephen King, Just After Sunset.