the m john harrison blog

Month: September, 2012

everything gilded

Richmond Park. Cold & clear but no frost. An argument about how few cyclists are out this morning–C rightly points out that all we can know is that there is one cow in Scotland & one side of it is black. We run downhill at first, round a wood, along a stretch of bridle path slightly up hill in sand. Stags regard us with momentary irritation from the bracken, then go back to honking & clearing their throats at one another like theorists. It isn’t the Peak District but I feel good just to be outside & not in a street. Later at the hot snacks stand, two men chat about computers. “Of course, of course,” they agree. They laugh. They’re knee deep in terriers, one of which–a Border bitch dubbed “Maisie” –is very clever with a stick. The sunshine looks as if it was applied to every individual item during the night, like gold leaf. It’s as if someone worked so hard to make things nice for the people who come here from Kingston, Richmond, Barnes, East Sheen, as far away as Clapham. Later, Billy the bloodhound arrives, queen among dogs. The Saturday trade is mainly in bacon sandwiches, although one boy eats a frankfurter with thick squiggles of mustard & ketchup at 8.30 in the morning before he gets across his rather beautiful road bike.


get some of that French limestone sublime

Looking down the valley of the Loup from Montaigne du Cheiron.

throwing some Light on things

Valentine Sprake turned away from the darkening view and walked in a jerky, hurried fashion across the room, as if he had seen, out there in the marshes, something which surprised him. Ignoring Michael Kearney, he leaned over Meadows’ desk, picked up the coffee-pot and drank its contents directly from the spout. “Last week,” he said to Meadows, “I learned that Urizen was back among us, and His name is Old England. We are all adrift on the sea of time and space here. Think about that too.” He stalked out of the office with his hands folded on his chest.

Meadows looked amused.

“Who is that, Kearney ?”

“Don’t ask,” said Kearney absently. On the way out he said: “And keep off my back.”

“I can’t protect you forever,” Meadows called after him. That was when Kearney knew Meadows had already sold him out.

Lightweight separators in pastel colours were used to create privacy inside MVC-Kaplan’s otherwise featureless tent of bolted glass. The first thing Kearney saw outside Meadows’ workspace was the shadow of the Shrander, projected somehow from inside the building on to one of these. It was life size, a little blurred and diffuse at first, then hardening and sharpening and turning slowly on its own axis like a chrysalis hanging in a hedge. As it turned, there was a kind of rustling noise he hadn’t heard for twenty years; a smell he still recognised. He felt his whole body go cold and rigid with fear. He backed away from it a few steps, then ran back into the office, where he hauled Meadows over the glass desk by the front of his suit and hit him hard, three or four times in succession, on the right cheekbone.

“Christ,” said Meadows in a thick voice. “Ah.”

Kearney pulled him all the way over the desk, across the floor and out of the door. At the same time the lift arrived and Sprake got out.

“I saw it, I saw it,” Kearney said.

Sprake showed his teeth. “It’s not here now.”

“Get a fucking move on. It’s closer than ever. It wants me to do something.”

Together they bundled Meadows into the lift and down three floors. He seemed to wake up as they dragged him across the lobby and out to the canal bank. “Kearney ?” he said repeatedly. “Is that you ? Is there something wrong with me ?” Kearney let go of him and began kicking his head. Sprake pushed his way between them and held Kearney off until he had calmed down. They got Meadows to the edge of the water, into which they dropped him, face down, while they held his legs. He tried to keep his head above the surface by arching his back, then gave up with a groan. Bubbles came up. His bowels let go.

“Christ,” said Kearney reeling away. “Is he dead ?”

Sprake grinned. “I’d say he was.”

He tilted his head back until he was looking straight up at the faint stars above Walthamstow, raised his arms level with his shoulders, and danced slowly away north along the towpath towards Edmonton.

[Light, 2002]

bad pony

With the ebook release of Light & Nova Swing this week, you can buy the whole of the Empty Space trilogy in Sam Green covers. Autumn’s setting in, so it’s just the time to cheer yourself up by reading a quantum-goth meditation on death disguised as space opera. You can decide afterwards, with the rain pissing down outside your house & politics settling a little further into the uncanny valley every afternoon, to what degree the author was mad or knew just what he was doing when he wrote the final two or three lines. He’s on to the next thing, anyway, which appears to be an insincere alien invasion set along an easily recognisable river in an easily recognisable town in an easily recognisable now. Although of course that might change.

unknown object

“What is literature, and why do I try to write about it? I don’t know. Likewise, I don’t know why I go on living, most of the time. But this not knowing is precisely what I want to preserve. As readers, the closest way we can engage with a literary work is to protect its indeterminacy; to return ourselves and it to a place that precludes complete recognition. Really, when I’m reading, all I want is to stand amazed in front of an unknown object at odds with the world.”

–David Winters, interviewed by Alec Niedenthal at HTML Giant.

autotelian nights

Sitting in a deserted cinema, lit by a dull greenish light from above while the sound system played faint tango music, we stared delightedly at the folds of the curtain–mossy green, imperfect–the glowing exit sign, the rows of curved empty seats. There was no film that afternoon. We left eventually for a restaurant which had been recommended to us. Pink napery, white wrought-iron partitions: a hairdresser’s in 1968. The lamp swung above the table, moving the shadows of the wineglasses regularly but uncomfortably on the tablecloth, like the complex umbrae & penumbrae of planets. Amid all that the shadows of our hands touched, flickered then lay flat as if exhausted. 1.30 in the morning, the waiter dragged a chair around. By then only the casino across the square remained open, drawing people in, fixing them there like insects under a jam jar, where they buzzed about energetically without much sign of getting anywhere. A wind came up off the sea, blew sand across the neat cobbles, died away.

internal relations

I was in the kitchen talking to someone I knew on the phone. Then I realised she had just come through the door. I said: “I don’t need to be doing this!” We both laughed & switched our phones off. It seemed necessary to have this joke between us to ease the awkwardness we felt. I was also embarrassed about how untidy I had allowed the kitchen to get. Then I realised she was upset about something. Perhaps she even needed my advice. “Do you want to talk ?” I asked her. She did, she said, very much, but instead she started to clear away the pots from the draining-rack. Her manner was so nervous & clumsy that she pulled everything, including the rack itself, on to the floor. There were broken plates everywhere. She scrabbled about in such a panic trying to put things back that she only made it worse. She seemed to be scraping at the crockery and glassware like a dog, pulling things down and dropping them on the floor. When I saw that I became frightened & got out through the kitchen window. A combination of momentum and skill allowed me to catch holds on the wall of the building–window ledges, drainpipes and other features. I was easily able to swing down from fixture to fixture, in precise fingertip control of a kind of dreamy fall. I found an old chair in the street. It was quite small and still looked good, but when I picked it up I saw that parts of it were missing, and when I put it down (on a bench near a phone box) it fell to pieces. I climbed the advertisement hoarding next to the phone box, higher and higher until I was at second or third floor level, then ran along the top of it. I was thinking, “This is exactly like the climbing dreams I used have, in which I was so competent I couldn’t come to any harm.” As soon as I thought that, I woke up.

people are going missing without proper help!

No “light” needs throwing on this. The whole point of going missing is not to have a light shone on the process. Besides which, what will a databank of the strategies people use to walk out on their lives achieve, except to turn a massively private personal event into a state concern? The agenda here is clearly to make it impossible to “go missing” in any meaningful way, while opening up to various concerned agencies a bigger slice of the action. It’s another invasion of privacy, which will end with yet another removal of a last-ditch psychological refuge for the individual. The act of wandering off & beginning again will be replaced by a set of social structures. There will be paperwork. There will be hoops to jump through. Qualified social negotiators will fight every phase of every case to achieve a more “positive” solution. There will be persuasion. What will be taken away is this: the right to decide one night, halfway to the local Sainsbury’s, that you’ve fucking well had enough. Instead you will have to book. The right to walk away will be replaced by the right to pretend to walk away. Contact will never really be lost; in the neoliberal style, decisions will be be blurred out, softened off. Avenues will never be closed, despite the individual’s desperate need to close them. These mechanisms will be tightened across the years until no one can go missing in their own own life without the involvement of the proper agency. It will be one of the new internal borders of the state.



the radios have stopped working

Storms move furtively along the horizon all morning. Then without warning a terrific stench of cowshit pours in through the open windows on a wave of moist air. Appallingly close flashes of lightning, whistling explosions of thunder. A few large splashes of rain on the hot dry concrete outside, then a torrent. The power fails. Through the brown darkness in the room the furniture looms–old, inert, of threatening but apathetic shape. Before each blast of thunder there’s the sputtering dry sound of the discharge, like the sound of water globules dancing on a hotplate; afterwards, a sense of pressure relieved from the ears & sinuses. In the houses on either side the radios have stopped working & the children are kneeling up on the window sills silently watching the air come down as water. The opposite side of the valley disappears in a soft grey haze. After ten or fifteen minutes the sky brightens a little & some chains of black birds appear against it as dots very high up. The thunder moves away. People run up & down outside in the abating rain, laughing & slamming car doors. They are glad to have escaped with nothing worse than wet hair. The children begin to shout & jump. From the farmyard someone can be heard shouting, “Goo on there! What’s the matter with you ? Get on!” to an unfortunate cow. The electricity comes back on. [Holmfirth 1980.]

why I don’t return the future’s calls

The Russians sent tortoises into space in 1968. You couldn’t make it up. All I remember from the time is being bitterly frustrated when no one came back from low earth orbit as a walking cactus & had to be incinerated after they infested the Houses of Parliament. Life is a continual disappointment for the 1950s science fiction reader. For instance, I already knew the future had let me down by the time this WW2 bomber wasn’t found on the Moon.