the m john harrison blog

Month: March, 2012

characters (4)

Life is a search for a room, Nick Flynn says: anything can be a room. Cat behaviourists say that the cat occupies the human being like a territory.

These characters have found the wrong room, attached themselves to the wrong territory. It’s not that they’re dysfunctional precisely, or that they don’t have goodwill, or even a sense of home, or a sense of the homeliness of their home. It’s only that they say one thing and their house says another.


As of today you can also find me @mjohnharrison on Twitter.


The journey itself broke some kind of continuity necessary for you to use the word. It’s not just Penelope looking a little guilty & at the same time too pleased with herself; or all those suitors finishing their jack & coke & slinking off out the back. It’s not just the dwarf in the Macao silk suit & the shoulder holster. It’s that something put an edge between what you remembered & what was there on your return. The story you told yourself to get you through–the crap nights, the constant thankless struggle with the dumb shit crew, the whirlpools, the mad c*** with the one eye, the rocks that turned into kings, the kings who turned into junkies, all that singing & indifferent special effects–wasn’t quite enough. Even the word “return” begins to seem undependable, not the weight-carrier you’re used to. It’s the right house but it’s the wrong place. The distinctions are so subtle they’re fatal. Once you’ve noticed them it doesn’t even look like the same fucking country & the only thing to do is turn right around & leave. Maybe in another twenty years, you tell yourself, you’ll swing by again.

bomb culture

This smooth piece of engineering cosplay reminded Rudy Rucker of Coochie Cootie comix. That reminded me of early low rider (bomb) culture; which reminded me in turn how unpredictable the fantasy life is, how flighty & difficult to control. It goes where it will &, by definition, does what it wants. Fantasy fiction, competently produced in its various contemporary generic modes, with proper attention to detail, rationale and self-consistency of the imagined world, damps down any of that kind of nonsense before it can get out of hand. But it bursts out again in the whimsy of cosplay–at the more distant edges of which, at least, can be discerned some sexual and emotional danger, if not the makings of an actual underground comic. A costume, like a low rider, is an object in & of the real world, source & centre of libidinisation; while a fantasy novel is some words on a page.

Fascinated by: Sam Thompson’s Communion Town. Amused by: the term sexposition, a technique parodied in Empty Space but for which, until now, I didn’t have a name.

princess of mad men

Instead of A Princess of Mars, Pixar should have filmed one of Leigh Brackett’s Low Canal adventures. More interesting still would be to combine Brackett’s Mars with the Mars of Ray Bradbury & transfer the whole thing to a non-specifically US background. This should be done with the production values of contemporary retro-TV, featuring post WW2-ish manners, morals, architecture &–especially–utterly accurate but unrealistically-modelled clothing. Then it should reach toward the narrative values & atmosphere of an as-yet-unwritten sequel to Primer. I’d watch that.

tales of the expected

March comes down steadily in the rain & you read something like this & think: Please let it be exclusion. Exclusion would be so much more fun.

Re-reading: The Quiet American. I gave up on the other Greenes in the parcel. I remembered I couldn’t bear that no-win Catholicism & loaded dice. At least TQA has some irony to it. Its surface is a little less clogged & sticky with the grammars of self-disgust. & it’s interesting to trace by memory Denis Johnson’s complex allusions to & redevelopment of some of its themes, in Tree of Smoke.

“keep your eye on your inner world”

Dorothea Tanning’s death at the end of January filled me with anger & depression. The more I look at why, the less obvious it seems. I didn’t feel like that when Ballard died. Keep your eye on the object centre left in Interior with Sudden Joy. “The door is not a door on the wild red garden, just on a little something personal, like the door of a house looking in.” –Tanning, Between Lives, 2001.

on being vulnerable

    “I have a hunch. Which is that the British are very ashamed of vulnerability. So what happens is whereas another culture might look back on their childhood and say, ‘God, I was so cute, I thought clouds were cotton wool,’ the British will look back and say, ‘I was so stupid, I thought clouds were cotton wool.’” –China Mieville quotes Camila Batmanghelidjh in his NYT piece on contemporary London.*

We confirm that from our experience then admit at the next possible opportunity, “I’m one of those stupid people who, in order not to think of myself as ever having been vulnerable, used to think of myself as stupid.” There’s no end to this terraced denial unless you look back over your life & own the things that happened to you. It’s not too late to exchange Britishness for humanity.

* The full version here.

swords of the infinite

I had to explain recently that I don’t have an archive, or any papers. Unless someone can track down the rental housing in which I left deposits of a few hundred books & two or three mouldering Eastlight boxfiles at roughly ten year intervals along a painstakingly self-destructive biographical curve, there remain only a few damp 1970s manuscripts in storage somewhere in Islington. If you found those drafts they would prove to be obsessively neat & lacking in added value, because they were as much the result of an invisible process as any published book. Typed single-spaced, no margins, 1000 words to a page on sheets of coloured paper slightly larger than foolscap, with a very few corrections in longhand over TipEx, which was a bit like trying to write on icing sugar, and with only the odd sellotape join, now brown and dessicated, to remind people that cut & paste used to mean exactly that, they say nothing about how they got the way they are. Or they’re the opposite, all process without issue, & feature a single sentence, typed out mercilessly over & over again, each version on a one-inch strip of paper carefully torn from the top of the page while it was still in the borrowed Olivetti, different by a single word, or perhaps not even different by that, as many as fifty of them, far too many for a sentence in a seven thousand word story which would appear in a collection called Swords of the Infinite! & for which the author would be paid thirty dollars. The only thing I keep is the journal on which Climbers was based, because that has other meanings for me, being a record of a life and the decade-long sewing together of a piece of work which, though it ended up being less than the life, tried to be more. A bit like the suit the killer is trying to make from the skin of his victims in all those serial killer thrillers. & of course, while the journal on which it’s based survives, complete with additional evidence in the form of some strange looking polaroids, the book itself is out of print; an interesting reversal of the process described above.