the m john harrison blog

Month: June, 2014

10,000 dusty paper books

Unlicensed operation on a narrow street. Inside, worn black & white linoleum floor tiles go back to a wooden counter. Furniture–mainly chromium diner stools–stacked in a corner. Some cabinets, you can’t make out what’s in those. Push your face up against the window on a dark night & a rain of silent fleamarket objects drifts down slowly through this space like the index of some unreliable past: ashtrays of all types & sizes; geranium in a terracotta pot; thousands of 45rpm records; tens of thousands of abandoned paper books; stones off a beach; money & playing cards; the dustjackets of library novels 1956; black French knickers waist 24; cheap tickets all colours; suits, hats & shoes; bruised cricket ball, seams worn; a porcelain globe five inches diameter bearing a complex design of leaves & tendrils in delft blue; small chest of drawers, veneered; bicycle tire, gentleman’s silver cigarette case, national insurance card: all gravityless & wreathed in Christmas lights like strands of weed underwater. One night you hear Frank Sinatra behind a door to another room. Go the next night, nothing. You turn up your collar in the rain. The card in the window says open but the door is always closed. Ask around, no one remembers seeing the owner. Open book, indelible pencil on a bit of string. “Sign in here.”


the roses

This from The Course of the Heart, soon to be available again from Gollancz in paperback & eBook. The roses are in my garden & I can’t stop looking at them.

Outside it was heavy snow. The air was flurried with it, and there was a thin, milky skim upon the setts. Whenever the wind catches falling snow, you seem for a moment to be rushing forward, as if your life had accelerated. Trying to find the bus stop, Lucas had become disoriented and was walking across the old square. Halfway across, though, he stopped as if puzzled, a gloomy, stooped figure in the poor light. I could see him moving his head from side to side. He gazed up into the whirling snow. He put his hand out to gather some of it, suddenly dropped what he had caught as if it had scorched him. I stood in the shelter of the cafe doorway and called–


He didn’t seem to hear me.


When I stepped out into the square, I found that it wasn’t snowing at all. White rose petals were falling out of the sky. Their thick, Byzantine perfume filled the air.


We were folded into the heart of a rose. The heart of a rose! The whole square beat with it. Lucas Medlar stood distraught and lonely, lapped in attar. He shouted my name: and then, “Someone’s here!” Attar! We were in the heart of the rose, and it was already occupied. People say of someone, “She filled the place with her personality,” without a clue of what they might mean. Perfume was like a sea around us. If we could not learn to swim in it we would drown. I was gripped by the panic of irreversible events. “Hello ?” I whispered. No one answered, but Lucas called again, more urgently, “Someone’s here! Someone’s here!” Now she walked out of the great soft storm of rose petals, the goddess herself, the green–the grown–woman, the woman made of flowers. Her outline was perfectly sharp, it seemed to have no surfaces, and flowers came and went within it as she turned her head deliberately this way and that. She was like a window opened on to a mass of leafage after rain, branches of blackthorn, aglet and elder interwoven, plaits of grass and fern, all held together with rose briars, over and between which went a constant trickle of water. Her eyes were a pitiless chalky blue, without white or pupil. They were flowers, too. She knew we were there. She stretched her arms, standing with one leg bent and the other stiffened to take her weight. “You are never simply yourselves,” she whispered.


This time she had brought for us a glimpse of her own place, the envelope of her eternal fall, which is perhaps of the Pleroma but not yet the Pleroma itself (thirtieth Aeon beloved of God, she cast herself out and fell into mirrors in Alexandria, Rome, Manchester, Birkenau): roses blooming in a garden. Between the lawns were broad formal beds of Old China Blush– “China’s in the heart, Jack. China’s in the heart!” –with lilies planted between them. Burnet and guelder spilled faint pink and thick cream over old brick walls and paths velvety with bright green moss. White climbing centifolias weighed down the apple trees. Two or three willows streamed, like yellow hair in strong winter sunshine. Beyond this garden spread an intimately folded arrangement of orchards and lanes, of sandy eminences and broad heathland stretching off to hills. There, late afternoon light enamelled the leaves of the ilex, briars hung over the grassy banks, clematis put forth great suffocating masses of flowers. Everything was possible in that country beyond. A white leopard couched among the hawthorn; other animals paced cagily along its lanes– baboons, huge birds, a snake turning slowly on itself. But the green woman! She stared down at Lucas Medlar in his loneliness and offered him the whole garden.


back to the island

Last night I was in Autotelia again, in the town I have decided to call “the provincial capital”. In the garden, I found the elephant still chained to the tree where I had left it, its small eye full of knowledge. All the animals seemed amused by their own humiliation. Despite a good night’s sleep–despite two or three good nights’ sleep–on our side of things, I was tired by eight in the evening. Whatever was happening to me had taken another turn for the worse. But I felt happy, not anxious or afraid or ill. Only warm and tired and, now I had got back there, full of the deep eros of the island. Fireflies began to gather in the corner of the summer house from which, later, the voice I had grown to love would comment on the intimate events of my life in a matter-of-fact whisper.

what it looks like now again

You sit over a one-bar electric fire in a rented room. As soon as you feel recovered from the commute you’ll boil some potatoes on the gas ring, then, three minutes before they’re done, drop an egg into the same water. You can hear the family downstairs laughing at something, some dressed-up cats or something, on the internet. After people have cooked, they can often get use out of their gadgets–join a world building game, preorder the gadget they want next–although the load soon precipitates a brownout. During the day you work in a 7th floor office in the Strand. Publicity for a fuel corporate. It’s nice. All very heads-down but worth it to have the security. Last year you got involved with an East Midlands junkie who claimed to have a telepathic link to another world & to be able to control a 3d printer with their mind alone, & they turned out to be seventeen not twenty seven as they said, & after their staffie/mastiff cross, which they were looking after for a friend in rehab, bit two fingers off your ex’s left hand when he came back from an oil-exploration contract in one of the ‘stans, you forget which one, they fitted all the lights in the house with blue bulbs then tried to commit suicide in your bath in an excess of adolescent self-disgust. It was a cry for help. They’ve gone now–last you heard they were with a grindcore musician in Peckham–and you’re glad, but you miss their smell, which was instantly exciting; & their dysfunctionality, which you remember as “character”. The sex was tremendous, if a little full on & tiring. Outside it’s minus ten & you have no idea what’s happening on the old housing estates by the river. “Welcome to London,” someone in the office said today. That got a laugh. “Welcome to the managerial classes.” All he really meant was that like everyone else he would do anything to stay this side of the line.


best sf/f of the year

the_best_science_fiction_and_fantasy_of_the_year_volume_eight_250x384That whole year, and to a lesser extent the year after, bodies were washed up all along that part of the coast, some whole, some in pieces … In the south of Autotelia, especially, it was a bad year for bodies; but the body of the vanished brother didn’t show up among them. Passive and silent, full of some incommunicable anger, the sister attempted suicide, spent time in institutions; then, her work suddenly becoming popular, left the country for a new life on our side of things.

Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year is a different kettle of fish to the SALT Best British Short Stories (see yesterday’s post), with equally powerful work by–among many others–Madeline Ashby, Caitlin Kiernan, Ian MacDonald & Adam Roberts. “Cave & Julia” is my contribution. If you haven’t read the story yet, or you’d just like a print copy, this is the place to go.

‘M. John Harrison — one of Britain’s premier writers of any sort — is represented by the haunting and beautiful “Cave and Julia.”‘ –Chicago Tribune.

an anthology worth its SALT

9781907773679frcvr.inddHampson came back after some years, to the seaside in the rain, to this town built around a small estuary where a river broke through the chalk downs. Everything–everything people knew about, anyway–came in through that gap, by road or rail; and that’s the way Hampson came too, down from London, midweek, in a rental van, unsure of what he would find for himself after so long. He had options, but since he wasn’t sure about them either, he rented a single room on one of the quiet wide roads that run down from the old town. “Getting Out of There”, my contribution to Nicholas Royle’s Best British Short Stories 2014, finds itself in some pretty impressive company. “Getting Out of There” was previously available only as a very limited edition chapbook–you’ll have missed it if you blinked, so now’s your chance. Or, if you already have it, why not double down & treat yourself to all these other stories too?

what I am like in real life

twisty. a bit stiff in the joints. not a fiction. always walking away from something, including myself. always down the road in that sense or, metaphorically, in the motorcycling sense, ie a spill of one sort or another. quite short. physical stamina long gone. very angry even now but able to sleep most nights, which is new. don’t listen to music much any more. hate all the same things I hate here, also some others; love all the same things I love here, also some others. would not be psychologically safe without the efforts of the people who love me. losing the constant war with cake. losing the constant war on chocolate. afraid of death. afraid of pain. afraid of loss. desperately admire most dogs but only as long as I don’t have to own one. after long experience admire only some cats. try to be decent. never danced much. decline in ability to focus obsessively seems to have led to increased success. don’t describe things in the world as often or as well as I used to. like machines. like big, energetic astronomical events, esp including hard x-rays. like to walk. like to jog. own a lot of specialised shoes. like silence. love a pork pie. feel frail, although that’s probably not the case yet but an imaginative casting-forward. often employ the rhetorical question “What am I like?”, meaning how can anyone be this fucked up/absent-minded/late. keep some parts of myself severely to myself, am thus able to maintain a deep fruitful disjunction between this real world & the real real world. always a fiction. sixty nine years old in a month. no heroes. will read for cash.

progress report

The roof is still off–


–but the roses are on.


The bird didn’t make it–


–but next door’s dogs are full of win.