the m john harrison blog

Month: August, 2011

merrill garbus

“Being the woman I grew up to be, there is a lot of apologising for myself and making sure that everyone else is OK, and I have to get out of that frame in order to perform.”

living in the bar

At the top of every page, WordPress provide a tiny bar graph of site views per hour for the last 48 hours. You never look directly at it because your eye is always moving somewhere else; but catching a glimpse of it the other day I realised, with a rush of something I can only describe as proleptic nostalgia, that I wanted to live in it. Not in the statistics it represents, or in the blog they describe, but in the graph itself. It would be, I imagine, something like life in a parking structure: eroded, but not without simple satisfactions.


fat chance

From a 2009 post

    I began to feel as if I had learned a lesson (although that isn’t a gentle or subtle enough way of putting it) in a language I didn’t–but might soon–understand. … it had something to do with how you are in the world. How you control, or don’t, its access to you.

The insight turned out to be less in the content (how you are in the world, the world’s access to you) than in the notion that insight can arrive in a language you don’t yet speak. Or did it ? Maybe you need both. Anyway, that was my big idea I was going to take away from 2009 but somehow didn’t; though there are glimpses of it in the new book, in the way some of the characters relate to each other & to their “world”. I got it in Oaxaca, drinking beer on a roof terrace & trying to write with an Eee 700.

Photos Cath Phillips 2009

miscellaneous entries

Alan Wall, author of the classic The School of Night, has a site here. On his links list we find Nina Allan, whose emotionally subtle, fiercely intelligent short story “Microcosmos” is available as a pdf at The Spider’s House, here. While, over here, Chris Priest subjects Julian Barnes to a kicking.

Still reading: Lucy Siegle’s To Die For. Reviewing: Ragnarok, AS Byatt. Regretting: the departure of Lindsay Duguid from the TLS. She was a fine editor & will be missed, especially by those of us whose reviewing careers she so carefully nurtured.


Two of the beauties of John Coulthart’s site are its energy & its breadth of interest. You never know what you’re going to learn next & you can never decide which link to follow first.


If Cowboys & Aliens has one tenth the genius of this (which I will never forgive myself for leaving off the interesting sf list), it will be quite good. But I bet it hasn’t.

Catching up on: To Die For, Lucy Siegle’s eye-opener on the fast fashion industry, in which people admit to throwing away their used socks & underpants because it’s “cheaper” than washing them.

Also Fire Season, Philip Connors’ contemporary firewatching classic: not quite Desolation Angels, but a man unafraid to write this

    One indisputable charm of being a lookout is the sanction it offers to be shed of the the social imperative of productivity, to slip away from the group hug of a digital culture enthralled with social networking, the hive mind, and efficiency defined as connectedness. I often think of a line from Arno Leopold: “Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.”

into the present climate, where it will be received as at best misanthropic (when did the rejection of materialism become synonymous with the rejection of some basic level of humanity ? Answer, during the Thatcher period) & at worst a criminally elitist attack on everybody else, deserves to be read.

b’dum b’dum

Literary fiction about science, G suggests, was aimed at improving the reader in the worst possible way.

Its attempts to impose a priest on a congregation–& not just a priest but a priest chosen from a farcically inappropriate demographic–were Edwardian in their pomposity. Why didn’t one see that ?

Never mind, D says: our duty now is to undermine the legacy by writing absolutely unscientific fiction. We have an immediate duty to explore, celebrate and riff off the virtues of trash. “Octopuses from outer space,” she says, “shamelessly bugger a young fermion in your street while the Old One looks on with a smile, dreamily having one of Einstein’s shoes. I don’t want to be a vicar nouveau. The fun goes out of it.”

G tells D that she can’t be serious about this.

She was never more serious, D replies. Her preferred fiction would consist in a list of the most minor & unfortunate sexual peccadilloes of the great researchers, stitched together as a series of clues in a kind of giant Da Vinci Code of the scientific soul.

She smiles reminiscently.

“But perhaps written by Catherine Cookson.”

black swan, white swan

I try not to buy the Black Swan paradigm, partly out of the sense that technique ought to rule, partly out of a feeling that “natural style” encourages laziness unless it’s twinned to White Swan perfectionism, partly because I utterly loathe the Hollywood version of the distinction, partly out of a desire not to be vulnerable to anyone’s native charisma, & partly because I simply don’t think Keef Richards had one fifth the ability of Mick Taylor (or, for that matter, where actual guitar-playing is concerned, one fifth his natural style). But I’m fatally drawn to Black Swans wherever I find them–see Signs of Life–so I was amused to find, in the archives of This Recording, Molly Lambert’s meme Black Swan: the Party Game. New Worlds had the f/sf version of this game at the heart of its manifesto, I suppose the classic distinction being White Swan: Robert Silverberg, Black Swan: Alfred Bester. But I soon began to think of them both as technicians.

mars is just a place

That’s the beauty of it. It’s not a myth, it’s not a dream, it’s not a story, it’s not an investment opportunity: it’s some stones. It’s a place. That’s just so restful. It’s as semiotically empty as parts of the Lisbon underground. No one is shrieking at you to buy anything on Mars, not that I can see, & I’ve studied this picture long & hard. Can I get a ticket ? I’d really love to go. The problem is, by the time you or I get there it’ll be just like it is here. Every single piece of it will be talking to your head. There will be built environment everywhere, & every single riser of every single staircase in every single structure will have its ad. Every wall will have something to say to you. & you will have plenty to say too, because on Mars, by then, surely, comment will be free.


Light & Viriconium are going to feature in the Neil Gaiman Presents audiobook range from ACX. I’m in awe of Simon Vance, who’s reading Viriconium. I can just about get through a short story before my voice is trashed.