the m john harrison blog

Month: May, 2009

magic shoes

In conjunction with hills & naturally-derived vitamin D, Innov-8 Roclite 295s changed my life forever. But they come with a warning.

Despite being durable, stable & medium-cushioned, at 295 grams they’ll blow away in a strong wind. Check them out here; after that there are deals all over the net.




strange bedfellows episode 2: c to d*

Stripping yourself of objects is the most fantastic relief. A visit to the recycling centre brings a sense of elation & power barely matched by sex, violence, or even revising a sentence. But why, in my case, is a decrease in the number of books always matched by an increase in the amount of outdoor clothing ? Ah, I see. OK. Anyway, more scandals from my downsized bookshelves–

Tim Cahill
Italo Calvino
Truman Capote
Angela Carter
Raymond Carver
Willa Cather
Bruce Chatwin
Anton Chekhov
Norman Cohn
Peter Coveney & Roger Highfield
Robertson Davies
WH Davies
Richard Dawkins
Lawrence Durrell

I don’t know who’s unluckiest, Angela Carter or WH Davies. (*& for episode 1, see here.)

occult malignancy

Ambiente Hotel supports Jo’s Friends, a foundation dedicated to Cancer of Unknown Primary Site. Occult primary malignancy is little understood, & accounts for more deaths in the UK than breast cancer. Pop over & have a look at their site, & help them if you can.

luck in the head

Towards the end of this–about 23 minutes in–there’s some footage of me & Ian Miller talking about our graphic version of my short story “The Luck in the Head”. I suppose it must have been 1990 or 91. People tend to describe this as an “adaptation”, but actually it was a collaboration, which lasted some months & produced a brand new item.

throwing the voice

Larry at OF Blog’s recent review of What is the What, by Dave Eggers, prompts me to post this, which originally appeared in the TLS on June 13, 2007–


Valentino Achak Deng watches as two of his companions are eaten by a lion. It is night. The lion emerges from the bush, kills a boy and drags him away. No one does anything. No one tries to do anything – except not hear the boy being eaten – and the lion comes out of the bush again and eats another boy. After that, they sleep in a circle. All through the night, the boys on the outside of the circle migrate inwards, displacing others.

Acts of witness have complex effects on the reader, one of which is a sense of guilty helplessness. In his life, Valentino has experienced a good deal of helplessness on behalf of other people, and this somehow multiplies the number of acts of witness taking place. By a subtle turnabout he manages to stand in for, represent in some way, his own interlocutors: we are, What Is the What reminds us, teller or listener, all in the same boat. None of this doubling, which thrusts us back into the oral tradition and makes us question what a story – a statement of witness –actually is, would be possible without the sophisticated intervention of Dave Eggers, who in this deceptive book appears to surrender his voice to the voice of a real person.

Eight or nine years old, displaced by the second Sudanese civil war, his parents killed and his village burned by the murahaleen militias, Valentino Achak Deng finds himself among the “Lost Boys”, endless lines of starving Dinka children, mostly male, some naked, all hungry, who walked through the deserts and forests to safety in Ethiopia, preyed on by animals, disease and soldiers. He watches his friends die. He survives, though he sees and experiences things we would rather forget, and all it leads to is ten years in the wrenching conditions of the Kakuma refugee camp.

Later, in America at last, grown up, working for a qualification, trying to understand and come to terms with the food and art of his adopted nation, he is pistol-whipped during a robbery. “In my life”, he remarks, “I have been struck in many ways, but never with the barrel of a gun.” His assailant, a black Atlantan called Powder, mistakes him for a Nigerian, then, after a certain loss of temper and some wild kicking, reduces him almost carefully to unconsciousness. “When there is pleasure, there is often abandon, and mistakes are made”, observes Valentino; better to be robbed deliberately than killed by accident.

It is hard to say whether What Is the What, the result of years of collaboration between Eggers and Deng whose story this is, should be described as fiction or non-fiction. Content has overwhelmed form so completely that the book is released to become neither, existing first as a “human document” and then, paradoxically, as a pure act of writing –subtle, funny, fluid, elegant, poignantly clear and honest. The most demanding part of the task must have been to stand away from the subject matter and allow it to breathe. Eggers has been so successful at this that What Is the What acts, if nothing else, as a triumphant rebuttal of Martin Amis’s method for House of Meetings, a book in which the author’s need to add literary value tended to obscure the very facts he was writing about.

The art has gone into throwing Valentino’s voice. As a result, you receive it unquestioningly as the voice of an autobiographer. The only obviously novelistic choice has been to use Valentino’s experience of being robbed in Atlanta as a framing device for the cruelties of his life in Sudan. The ironies that spin off add to the reader’s sense of guilt at not being able to be there for the Lost Boy; but they are also the perfect compliment to Valentino’s quiet, sly, Dinka sense of humour. Not long after they have settled in the US, Valentino and his friend Achor Achor decide to watch The Exorcist. “We have an interest in the concept of evil, I admit it”, he says. The film terrifies them, and Achor cannot even stay in the same room with it. It would be a mistake to think that Dave Eggers has given up irony. What he has done is to send it deep into the text where it can do its work.

welcome to sussex

Where bad punctuation & sound joinery combine to give you the real feel of the country life.


I found a 1950 Penguin edition of Charles Williams’ Many Dimensions for 30p in a Rottingdean charity shop, & read it here–



mieville, thorpe, womack

Barbaric Document has China M, determinedly not spoiling The City & The City for anyone. Read that book whatever else you do. I’m reviewing Hodd, by Adam Thorpe. Listening to: every accoustic guitar track I’ve got, through my shiny new Fat Man valve amp, very boomy. Re-reading: Womack, Let’s Put the Future Behind Us. Doing my ironing for: three days walking on the South Downs. Back on Wednesday, shan’t blog again ’til then.

elegant politics

The law will hang the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But lets the greater thief go loose
Who steals the common from the goose

–Anon, via Chris Wood

The bankers took everyone for incomprehensibly vast sums of money. They ruined everything from the economy to the lives of individual pensioners. They got away scot free, & they got away with the bonuses. They aren’t paying anything back.

The MPs’ expenses row has taken attention away from this. It has refocussed attention exactly where the Tories would like it to be: on public spending. The bankers stole our money: but the MPs have stolen “the taxpayers’ money”. Instant uproar.

The bankers stole more. They didn’t fiddle a meagre £10,000 here & there. They got away, personally, with fortunes. They didn’t fiddle a mortgage; they fiddled millions of mortgages & then collected £7 or £8 million in “pensions” as their price for leaving the institutions they had wrecked.

They got the taxpayer to pay them to go. How is that not “stealing the taxpayers’ money” ?

Paying MPs is a form of public spending. When we are stupid enough to vote the Tories back in, our rage against MPs will be redirected by them on to every other form of public spending. The bankers will get away with it. The blow that should have fallen on them will be received instead by a handful of hapless prats who got their fingers in the petty cash. Result.

Our frustration with the bankers, our rage against the recession they caused, will be refocussed on that arch enemy of Toryism, public spending. Because MPs have been shown to be corrupt, all public services will be blackened by association, then cut: it will seem perfectly logical. The disadvantaged, their ranks swelled by hundreds of thousands of victims of the bankers, will be punished for the sins of the advantaged. As usual, ordinary people will be deftly turned into their own enemies. Fantastically elegant politics.

more science fiction movies

Time Out has a list of 50 films here.