the m john harrison blog

Month: July, 2014

unused notes for an introduction

(1) what is the exact nature of the catastrophe?

Apotheosis of Quilter & Miranda Lomax in the drained city– Inhabitants reduced to Calibanism– The landscape loses its common reference points– Flash forwards to the next phase– Dead sea imagery contorting itself into counter-images of colour and reflected light– Those bland truisms the Ballardian disaster stripped off the popular apocalyptic fictions of the 1950s– Everyone is leaving for the sea–

(2) Shanghai Jim

“The ironies of this statement seem Swiftian and brutal, an attack on everything we might regard as homely or indeed everything we might regard as childhood. At the same time, we can only conclude that they are a kind of mask; perhaps a way of hiding in plain sight, perhaps a way of playing hide and seek not so much with an audience but with a self–or even a set of selves, like the curiously symbolic characters, fractured and partial, which people his early post-apocalyptic novels and stories.”

(3) Uncertain chemistries

Death is a kind of renewal– Equally, renewal is a kind of death– Love affairs with the jargons of science– This is really two novellas, with an absolute tour-de-force of Ballardian writing as pivot–

(4) The appropriation of symbols

Whose governess could hear the voice of God in Amherst Avenue– Whose governess could hear the voice of God in Amherst Avenue– Whose governess could hear the voice of God in Amherst Avenue– Whose governess could hear the voice of God in Amherst Avenue– Whose governess could hear the voice of God in Amherst Avenue–

(5) The legacy of Lunghua Camp.

The exotic as a repository of time– He sees no point in “driving about in a jeep” and fortifying your house against “the Armageddon to come”– This message, confirmation of its own obsolescence, is the city’s last act– The qualifier “failed” ought to be added to all these referential metaphors– Failed Prospero– Failed charismatic– etc– Major Arcana of the new reality–

(6) Things are hotting up

The draining of landscape is complete– Very little remains moving among the dunes– Events sketchy, violent, bare as the salt– Affect bony or invisible, fully converted into the post-catastrophic limbo– If anything can be said to have emerged from the decease of the previous culture, it cannot be described in terms that culture could understand– At the same time we are not looking into a vacuum of meaning– These very short chapters– Each with a theme developed around an encounter– A laboratory of compression– Later used to condense stories like You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe.

7. “Many of the guests had decided not to appear in costume”

Those of us who cut our teeth on Ballard in the mid-to-late 1960s, like puppies gnawing on a chair leg, understood very little but nevertheless elected him as father, map, compass. Later, perhaps, we understood more, but had already gone on to do something different.

available soon

Cave & Julia, still doing well as a Kindle Single, will be joined in the autumn by 4th Domain, a 10,000 word short story featuring a map, a medium & some weird human genome shenanigans in the suburban badlands of Barnes & East Sheen. Lovecraft meets Aickman.

Between now & then, the new 4th Estate edition of JG Ballard’s The Drought should be out, with my introduction. In 1965/6 I was stunned & hypnotised by The Four Dimensional Nightmare, The Terminal Beach, The Drowned World & The Drought. I felt like one of the new organisms in “The Voices of Time”, redesigned for life in conditions which hadn’t yet appeared, an environment the parameters of which could only be intuited. I hardly knew what to do with myself. I would have been utterly elated but also rather shocked to know that nearly fifty years later I’d be writing an introduction to The Drought. To tell the truth, I’m still excited.

This intro joins up with similar efforts I’ve written for Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (Heyne 2012, German only) & The Chrysalids (Penguin Modern Classics) to explore the uses of disaster in the UK in the 50s & 60s.

a bad dream

I woke up from a dream about losing my identity & not being able to find anything that would confirm it. It wasn’t a dream about the problem & how to solve it. It wasn’t a dream about the horror of not having a financial identity. Loss of identity was not a condition that required explanation or a way of escape in either of those senses or in any other sense: it was just a condition. I was in the town of my birth. I hadn’t been there for decades. I was at the station, at a sort of advice counter. The man behind the counter was amused. It was as if he didn’t understand the extent of the problem. It was as if he couldn’t believe anyone could lose their identity. I was trying to appear cheerful about the situation. I had a tarpaulin travel bag containing a few clothes & other personal items. It was also full of bits of waste paper & receipts. Each time I went through this litter in the hope that a credit card or phone or other identifier would turn up, it seemed to be more useless. Who would help me? Though I couldn’t remember any addresses I knew I could physically make my way to one person’s house. But I had long ago fallen out with them.



There’s no such thing as character, D says. There’s only behaviour. We’re memes but we’re careful not to admit it–so careful with one another! That shouldn’t be taken, he’s quick to add, to mean that we exist in some state aside from materiality. We’re subject to material forces but won’t allow ourselves to see that either. The whole West, D says, is in massive denial of both these ideas. He suggests we have more bourbon. He likes the Bulleit bottle–it looks, he thinks, like a bottle you’d see behind the bar in an episode of Deadwood. Memes, he says, in a complex, randomly-shifting flow of other memes. Turbulence gives the flow that aching sense of depth or meaningfulness.