the m john harrison blog

Month: October, 2014

The new collection: just a thousand words to lay in on The Last Viriconium Story, some cleaning up (I seem to have called a lot of male characters Tim in the last few years), then that’s it. Thanks to everyone who suggested Ambiente Hotel flash fictions for inclusion: so far the hardest part has been weaving them through the longer stories. Most popular, here & IRL, were The Web, Rockets of the Western Suburbs, Earth Advengers & Explaining the Undiscovered Continent.


living in the future

There are futures everywhere. They’re at street corners. They’re waiting between the buildings of an old-fashioned industrial estate, the architecture of which hasn’t changed since the 50s. Or they’re waiting for a train in the middle of the day, in the empty middle of an afternoon, for something important to them but invisible to you. They’re in the provinces. They have a provincial nature, which is also invisible to you. They’re ordinary and self-similar. They’re not transparent. They have clothes, children, a job, or no job. They have ambitions. They’re a gesture, a posture, an item of baggage.


I sat at the bottom of too many stairs in the 1960s. As a result, like many of us I no longer have any idea where I am. Instead I experience all the young Bob Dylan’s abiding sorrow at finding himself trapped in the body of a 69 year old Midlands bloke. The ghost of eccentricity howls in the bones of his fate. I did not exactly mean for that to happen. It’s not the end I would have wished, because back then he seemed so cruel & clever & vulnerable & I loved every complicated mouthful. Still, here we are. The two of us. Always waiting for her. Perhaps, in the end, Louise would have been the sound-money bet?

“Hello my love. All right ? Have you been busy ?”
“It’s been nonstop all week.”
“Look how dark it is out there!”
“I know, it’s terrible isn’t it ?”
“Cheerio my love. Have a nice week. Keep the change my love.”

She watches them tiredly for a moment as they hesitate in the doorway looking out into the black rain, the car park, the blurry lights. Then she starts brusquely straightening the little round tables with their blue tablecloths and dark blue enamel-painted chairs.

“I’ll put it in the box,” she says softly to herself.

Are yer an author or is yer name Arthur?


Trying to read a report on Mars geology while someone listens to weird, honking football commentary in another room. Yada dawah yadda-yadda DI DAH. O Da Da DAH! (Di yadda di dah dah dah.) “This MAHLI image, taken of a shadowed spot on the outcrop, shows that Bardin Bluffs is a pebbly sandstone.” Its DAH its DAH its DAH. “It is gravel-rich, with a sandy matrix and granule- to pebble-sized clasts that are subrounded to rounded in shape.” Di yadda. O WOR WAR, di YAD! [ar for di yad der o no]. “The way that the grains touch each other indicates they were deposited by water.” o gor DI YA! Grains are lumpy and pock-marked, indicating that they collided with each other as they were being transported.” Rhetorics of terror and wonder. Something wonderful, something witheld. Something important and valuable. Puzzles of considerable interest & indeed some small excitement.

All quotes from Emily Lakdawalla, The Planetary Society blog.

the book of strange new things: review

Beatrice Leigh is a nurse, an evangelical Christian, a cat owner, “an independent and capable woman”, not neccessarily in that order. She lives in a Britain perhaps not so far in our future, in which “Institutions that have been around forever are going to the wall” and a collapsing economy and deteriorating climate have become indices for one another. It would be easier for Bea if she had her husband Peter’s support, but he can’t help: he’s trillions of miles away, on a planet called Oasis, with a mission to convert its alien inhabitants. The conversations of Bea and Peter, which scaffold Michel Faber’s astonishing and deeply affecting sixth novel, are held via a kind of interstellar email. The awkwardness of this medium amplifies to screaming pitch our sense of the emotional space between them. “Sometimes,” she tells him angrily, “I feel as though your leaving caused things to fall apart.”

Read on in the Guardian, here.


Some reminders & updates: I’m at Totleigh Barton on Thursday (23rd Oct) to read for my supper at Liz Jensen & Simon Ings’ SF course; Birmingham Library on the 30th October, to remember Joel Lane & read from SALT’s Best British Short Stories 2014; Manchester (John Rylands) Library in December with the Curious Tales team. An exciting talk possibility has turned up for next autumn, I’ll keep you informed; and having missed Claire-Jane Carter & Tess Lyons’ Hagglers Corner event in Sheffield (not to say missing the chance to meet the frighteningly determined Nick Bullock) on Saturday (25th October), I’m hoping to contribute to whatever they do next–news on that if & when. If you’d like to pay me to read something, or do some other kind of appearance, leave a comment here or follow @mjohnharrison on Twitter and DM me. New & recently available stories: “The 4th Domain” is up at Kindle Single (where you can still get “Cave & Julia”; if you missed the delightful Night Jar Press edition of “Getting Out of There”, it’s available in the above-mentioned & equally Royle-edited Best British Short Stories 2014, from SALT (both paper and electronic); “Animals”, an untraditional traditional ghost story, will appear at Christmas in the Curious Tales anthology Poor Souls’ Light. I’m thinking of saving “The Crisis”, which I debuted at Warwick U’s Irradiating the Object conference, as a kind of bonus for the new collection, which will contain a couple of other previously unpublished and similarly raw items. There’s progress on that, including a new and I hope final title, but I’m still trying to finish The Last Viriconium Story to go in it, so don’t necessarily hold your breath. The new novel is looking round so many different corners at once that I couldn’t tell you anything about it anyway.

the step-aside

N tells us he is able to step aside from the world.

“It’s a trick I learned early,” he says. He learned by exploiting various childhood states. “Being ill, for instance. Or having your parents die: anything that gives you special privileges in terms of not taking part. Later, as an adult, it’s someone else being ill, but you don’t have to look after them. You don’t have the bore of that, you just have to turn up at the hospital with flowers. Births, marriages and deaths. If you learn to distance yourself from other people’s funerals, you’ll eventually learn how to step aside from your own.”

He believes that anything which reduces guilt or responsibility, the anxiety of having to fit in, can be turned into the ability to step aside.

“I don’t fade, I don’t lose anything. It’s not a question of purchase on things. There doesn’t seem to be a down side.” He smiles ruefully. “On the other hand, it isn’t much good for anything but itself.”

What is the step-aside experience like?

There’s a poverty of interpretation, N believes. “We have the traditional guidelines,” but these allow us to imagine only two possibilities: “a world of your own” in which the detached “you” has agency but which contains no possibility of contact with others; or a world in which everyone else is seen as if through a window, by an individual who has no agency. “It’s as if people can’t think up any other possible way of being. Both states emphasise loss of ‘true’ purpose, human purpose.”

As he speaks we hear his voice fade, as if he’s walking away down a corridor. “But I don’t find it like that at all.”

The truth was simpler. Originally they had leaked into our world from the astral plane.