the m john harrison blog

Month: October, 2012

the ghost in the machine

Paper books are a nuisance. They have weight, they collect dust, they take up space, you have to cull them all the time or move to bigger houses, & they come with a preposterous claim to some of the value of the texts they contain: but once you’ve bought them they’re on the shelf. Nobody can take them back. Neither does the bookshop owner continue to inhabit them–& your house–in that creepy 90s-internet-bubble way we’ve come to know & not love. I’d rather store a lot of dead trees than have someone who claims to be human but would fail the Turing test slinking about among my stuff in the dark then sending me fatuous authoritarian emails in the morning. I don’t like to borrow books. I like to own them.


bad tree

Honestly, the air grew cold around this bad tree.

photo: Cath Phillips

what hg wells never told you

The Eloi look vulnerable & waiflike but they are classic iron butterflies. After defeating the Morlocks via a programme of clever legislation, they begin to farm a species evolved from their own genes by neotony & epigenetic manipulation: the Teletubbies. All the Teletubbies want is a dependable world narrative. The Eloi get their energy by renewing it. They no longer need food the way we know it. They can go all day on a two-word alteration to the narrative & the consequent shine in eyes of their enslaved children. There’s a bomb in the corner of the room. There’s a paedophile in the very corridors where the story is cooked up. Delicious.

empty space, what it means

Catherine Malabou: “a ground is also an abyss, and at this very moment when I was building this ground, I was also saying farewell to it.”

#1 in a series of found explanations.


The park, yellow & brown. Water standing in short grass. It’s water on everything & stags’ heads over the bracken as if someone’s crouching in there holding up horns. The hill opens out & I’m back thirty years: I’d have spat on a park then. I would have run it so totally into submission, seeing myself drift instead down the side of Kinder waving my arms, utterly free (apart from a bad knee & no money). In the park’s car park I check out this really brutal-looking Subaru Impreza WRC then walk thru walls of trees to get back to you. Never imagine I don’t have such talents.

1000 faded bills of lading

Kunene: tide-locked with its local sun so that one side froze and the other cooked, this medium-sized venue a few lights into the Bay offered a single habitable time-zone known as “the Magic Hour”. Rare earth oxides had kickstarted Kunene’s first phase of commerce, but it was the Magic Hour’s fixed and subtly graded bands of sunset action that brought in the investment partners: badlands, ghost towns and wreck-littered coastal benches seduced tourist and corporate image-maker alike, confirming Kunene as the Halo’s primo location for everything from amateur wedding holography through “existence porn” to the edgiest of brand initiatives. Everyone who enjoys a sunset wishes it would never end; on Kunene, the brochures promised, you could have that wish. Away from the lightmeter resorts and fuck safaris, towards the unmoving day where landscape began to dissolve in layers of violet and bony grey under the inhospitable glare of late afternoon, the old Kunene Economic Zone had shrunk to a line of semi-derelict processing plants running thirteen thousand miles north to south, coalescing here and there into poverty towns with names like Douglas or Skelton. Fifty years before, at the height of the lanthanides boom, many of these places had featured a rocket field all their own, and it was on one of these the assistant now found herself, the shuttle she came in on a rapidly-fading line of ionisation in clear teal skies. Adminstration was an eight-acre lot, thick with low-rise accomodation. Blue and white striped awnings creaked in the wind. Heavily blistered signs advertised commodities long past. All seemed deserted: but at reception in a single storey structure reprising the moderne suburban carport of 1959, the assistant found a short, skinny old man wearing golf cap, box-cut shirt and bronze polyester pleat-front trousers, idly throwing Entreflex dice on the polished wooden counter. A thousand faded bills of lading were pinned upon the wall. A switched-off sign read PERDIDOS E ACHADOS. “Hey,” the old guy said, “we’re closed.” [Empty Space, pp105/6.]

pink slime fiction

A genre’s landscape should be littered with used tropes half-visible through their own smoke & surrounded by salvage artists with welding sets, otherwise it isn’t a genre at all. But what Paul Kincaid describes here & here as “exhaustion” is something else. It’s not creative redevelopment, it’s not evolution by bricolage, it’s not the boring old being kicked apart to reveal an interesting new inside. It’s not even laziness. It’s the intense commodification of ideas & styles evacuated of their original meaning & impact, an apparently deliberate industrialisation of the commonplace & worn out. In using the term exhaustion, Paul Kincaid is not announcing the “death” of F/SF as a genre. He’s very clear on that. Nor is he suggesting, from his broad, long-term experience as a reader & critic, that no interesting fiction is being written into or out of the genre–you’d be mad to claim that in a year which has seen the publication of Kij Johnson’s At the Mouth of the River of Bees, or the long-hoped-for return of Jeff Noon with Channel SK1N, to mention only two examples. What Kincaid seems to be bringing to our attention here is that while genre has always been economical in the way it scrapes the carcass, much of what is published now is the product of a thoroughly mechanical separation & disinfection: LFTB of the imaginative.