the m john harrison blog

Month: June, 2012

walking the world into existence

Robert Macfarlane on Eric Ravilious:

    “The light and the path were Ravilious’s signature combinations as an artist. Together they create a unique disharmony. He produced scenes that seem suspended almost to the point of stasis, but that also allude to some future or simultaneous action. The effect on the viewer is one of dissonance: the sensation of occupying a space between two worlds, or even two entirely distinct geometric systems at once.” [The Old Ways, p297.]

& on Edward Thomas:

    “I had come over my years and miles of walking to think of Thomas’s writing as a kind of dream-map: an act of cumulative but uncentred imaginative cartography, a composite chart of longing and loss projected onto the actual terrains of his life, and onto the Downs in particular. Thomas knew to some degree, I think, that this was what he was engaged in creating: an ongoing exploration of his interior landscapes, told by means of the traverse of particular places and the following of certain paths.” [Ibid, pp310/311.]

I think of the characters in Climbers, making their neurotic Saturday morning traverses of the Peak District, mapping their sense of incompleteness on to rainy car parks, greasy spoons and petrol stations, trying to drive the world into being; then, in relief–almost accidentally despite knowing the way–, arriving in a real somewhere at last, rollicking or plodding up the braided soggy paths beneath Stanage or Froggatt. Every repetition built up the neural pathways a little stronger, yet every outcome was still somehow undependable. Every time you went to Cheedale you could see light at the end of the tunnel. It was always a surprise.

light in things


My review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 in the Guardian today.


The second part of John Coulhart’s look at the packaging of Viriconium is now up at {feuilleton}. Go there & enjoy John’s gorgeous intelligent choices, then come back here & say what you like best. I could eat them all with a mug of tea, but I’m telling you now that for me it has to be Detail from the Red Flow, by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Along with the simple design qualities of the faux-Penguin cover, it seems to have everything I asked for yesterday. I spent much of my time until the late 80s in rage & misery at how deliberately Viriconium seemed to be mispackaged, as if the text were being punished for going against the grain. John’s articles have reminded me how unpleasant that felt (I think the low point was the Timescape package, including the retitle, for In Viriconium) but also to what degree, given the improved covers of recent years, I’ve become reconciled to all of it. He also shows what possibilities might open up as f/sf covering policies broaden.

in viriconium

At {feuilleton} John Coulthart considers forty years of attempts to cover & market Viriconium, most of which failed because the publishers couldn’t or wouldn’t face the actual content of the books. To celebrate, here’s a shot of the barrel proof stock–

    The houses up here, warm and cheerful as they are in summer, become in the first week of September cold and damp. Ordinary vigorous houseflies, which have crawled all August over the unripe lupine pods beneath the window, pour in and cluster on any warm surface, but especially on the floor near the electric fire, and the dusty grid at the back of the fridge; they cling to the side of the kettle as it cools. That year you couldn’t leave food out for a moment. When I sat down to read in the morning, flies ran over my outstretched legs.
    “I suppose you’ve got the same problem,” I said to Mr Ambrayses. “I poison them,” I said, “but they don’t seem to take much notice.” I held up the Vapona, with its picture of a huge fly. “Might as well try again.”
    Mr Ambrayses nodded. “Two explanations are commonly offered for this,” he said:
    “In the first we are asked to imagine certain sites in the world–a crack in the concrete in Chicago or New Delhi, a twist in the air in an empty suburb of Prague, a clotted milk bottle on a Bradford tip–from which all flies issue in a constant stream, a smoke exhaled from some fundamental level of things. This is what people are asking–though they do not usually know it–when they say exasperatedly, “Where are all these flies coming from ?” Such locations are like the holes in the side of a new house where insulation has been pumped in: something left over from the constructional phase of the world.
    “This is an adequate, even an appealing model of the process. But it is not modern; and I prefer the alternative, in which it is assumed that as Viriconium grinds past us, dragging its enormous bulk against the bulk of the world, the energy generated is expressed in the form of these insects, which are like the sparks shooting from between two flywheels that have momentarily brushed each other.” —A Young Man’s Journey.

More from John Coulthart on Viriconium tomorrow.


empty space: encoded in tears

Empty Space is published on July 19th 2012 by Gollancz. Here’s another chapter, less to whet the appetite than taunt it–

Last practitioner of a vanishing technique, with specialisms in diplomacy, military archeology and project development, R.I. Gaines–known to younger colleagues as Rig–had made his name as a partly affiliated information professional during one of EMC’s many small wars. He believed that while the organisation was fuelled by science, its motor ran in the regime of the imagination. ”Wrapped up in that metaphor,” he often told his team–a consciously mongrelised group of policy interns, ex-entradistas and science academics comfortable along a broad spectrum of disciplines– “you’ll always find politics. Action is political, whether it intends to be or not.”

Some projects require only an electronic presence. Others plead for some more passionate input. Today Gaines was in-country on Panamax IV, where the local rep Alyssia Fignall had uncovered dozens of what at first sight seemed like abandoned cities. Microchemical analysis of selected hotspots, however, had convinced her they were less conurbations than what she loosely termed “spiritual engines”: factories of sacrifice which, a hundred thousand years before the arrival of the boys from Earth, had hummed and roared day and night for a millenium or more, to bring about change–or, more likely, hold it off.

“Close to the Tract,” she said, “you find sites like these on every tenth planet. You can map the trauma front direct on to the astrophysics.”

Read on here.