the m john harrison blog

Month: July, 2015

thieves, rogues & chancers

Can anyone help me locate a book? Title & author long forgotten. Popular in the late 1960s & 70s. It claimed to be the memoirs of a criminal–I think a Frenchman–who had sold arms & drugs around the Mediterranean in the preceding twenty or thirty years. His prison experiences featured. That’s all I can remember. Maybe it was a Corgi paperback. It was a kind of cross between Genet and Shantaram. & is there a name for this genre–very popular in the 1920s & 30s? The reminiscences of thieves, rogues & chancers who portray themselves as politicised?


a glaze composed of human fats

For the first time in my life I have an “office”, so obviously I work on a laptop at one end of the kitchen table, hemmed in by all the bits & pieces–books under review, phone, meds, plates of half-eaten sardine sandwiches & scraps of torn paper on which someone has scratched hastily, “is it a function of genre, or genre-under-PoMo, or genre lensed by massive conscious access to its own legacy product? Or all of that?” It’s fine. C is in London, working for the man. The kitchen is quiet apart from the weird buzzing of the fluorescent fitment & the raw stupid constant barking of next door’s dogs, who are as shut out as ever & still can’t believe it. As soon as I took possession of that “office” up there at the top of the house, I made a rule that I would never keep in it anything useful to my trade, e.g. a filing cabinet, say, or a phone, or books, especially books by me; nor would I have pictures on the wall or keep anything you could associate with writing in the French shabby-chic glass cabinet I bought during some kind of fugue or psychotic break at the Stretton antiques market on a wet summer afternoon in 2013. The real feature of that room is not what does or doesn’t go on in there: it’s the floorboards, which look as if they were hand-trimmed two hundred years ago & never treated & thus have concentrated to themselves a thick patina or glaze composed of human fats & spillages & soot molecules from the real Industrial Revolution, which everyone who lives here knows took place in Broseley, not at the better-known World Heritage Site down the road. They are like iron. I am in love with those floorboards & man enough say it. But look, all those years I graphically described the crimes I would do to get a room of my own, what do they mean now? It’s possible, before your life knits itself back together, to write half a novel in the university offices & shonky rentals in bad circumstances of six different acquaintances in as many months.


A garden lawn should be like a round green pool, especially in twilight. It shouldn’t be large. The plantings around it–foxgloves & monbretia, gladeoli, huge hollyhocks, night-scented stocks–should lean over the smooth dark turf as if they’re leaning out over water. There should be a sense of seclusion, as if the plantings stretch away in all directions, too thick to walk in & steadily changing their nature from tended to untended. At one end, a gap between well-grown fuschias allows access; at the other, under an arch thick with white rambler roses, two or three steps lead to a lower garden you can’t quite see. Under the arch the lawn gathers & brims & curves. There’s a faint sense of water falling away quietly the other side. One late evening in early July–really, it’s almost dark–you watch a dragonfly hunting over the grass; & without thinking–but never hurrying–you take off your clothes & walk into the lawn & swim to the other side, where you sit in the scent of roses & stocks & stare for a moment or two into the lower garden & the gathering dark before you take the worn slippery steps down. Not even the briefest look back.

something to remember

Yes, prescription drugs are funded by the UK taxpayer. But this is done according to an allocation of funds determined by us, the voters. The NHS is the vehicle by which we have chosen to have our health services delivered to us. It is not a charity, it is not a gift from government and our prescriptions are not given at Jeremy Hunt’s largesse.

–Ann Robinson, Guardian, today.

age wars

The middle aged–that is, those between about thirty five and fifty years old–are afraid of the way old people view the world. They pretend that this view is a criminal ideology for which they have a fine and organised political contempt. They have a duty to root it out. It is an issue. They also pretend that their own faux juvenility (sustained precariously in the face of first the true juvenility then the growing adulthood of their own children) is less an evasion than a special kind of sensibility, one that has to be fought for and that possesses a high political value. What they’ll feel when they come round to old age themselves, I don’t know; one of the great surprises of being old is that whoever you were back then you’ve seen what happens and you couldn’t care less about it any more. That was the discovery you were so determined not to make when you were middle aged. Now you have, you’re stuck with it and it becomes the foundation of your ideological crime. The thing to do is feel no guilt. Life is a series of narratives–all false–learned then unlearned.

KT cruel

The White Cat reappeared 200 kilometers above Redline. Ordnance burst around her. Someone had predicted she would come out there and then. “Oh yes,” said Seria Mau, “very clever. Fuck you too.” Tit for tat, she cooked off a high-end mine she had slipped into the path of the incoming pod. “Here’s one I prepared earlier,” she said. The pod broke up, temporarily blinded, and toppled away in several directions. “They won’t forgive us for that,” she told her mathematics. “They’re arrogant bastards, that team.” The mathematics, which was using the respite to normalise her relationship with the White Cat, had no comment to make. The ship’s sensorium collapsed around her. Everything slowed down. “In and out now,” she ordered. “Quick as we can.” The White Cat pitched over into entry attitude. Retrofire pulsed and flared. Outside, the colours of space gave way to weird smeary reds and greens. Seria Mau airbraked relentlessly in the thickening atmosphere, letting speed scrub off as heat and noise until her ship was a roaring yellow fireball across the night sky. It was a rough ride. The shadow operators streamed about, their lacy wings rippling out behind them, their long hands covering their faces. Mona the clone, who had looked out of a porthole as the ship stood on its nose, was throwing up energetically in the human quarters.

They breached the cloudbase at fifteen hundred feet, to find the Karaoke Sword immediately below them. “I don’t believe this,” said Seria Mau. The old ship had lifted itself a foot or two out of the mud and was turning hesitantly this way and that, shaking like a cheap compass needle. A fusion torch fired up at the rear, setting nearby vegetation alight and generating gouts of radioactive steam. After twenty seconds, its bows dropped suddenly and the whole thing slumped back to earth with a groan, breaking in two about a hundred yards forward of the engine. “Jesus Christ,” Seria Mau whispered. “Put us down.”

The mathematics said it was unwilling to commit.

“Put us down. I’m not leaving him here.”

“You aren’t leaving him here, are you ?” Mona the clone called up anxiously from the human quarters.

“Are you deaf ?” said Seria Mau.

“I wouldn’t put it past you, that’s all.”

“Shut up.”

The Krishna Moire pod, realising what had happened, swept in, fanned out into the parking orbit with a kind of idle bravado, the way shadow boys in one-shot cultivars occupy a doorway so they can spit, gamble and clean their nails with replicas of priceless antique flick-knives. They could afford to wait:. Meanwhile, to move things along, Krishna Moire himself opened a line to the White Cat. He had signed on younger than Seria Mau, and his fetch, though it was six feet tall and presented itself in full Earth Military Contracts chic, including black boots, high-waist riding breeches and a dove grey double-breasted tuxedo with epaulettes, had the demanding mouth of a boy.

“We want Billy Anker ,” he said.

“Go through me,” Seria Mau invited.

Moire looked less certain. “This is a wrong thing you are doing, resisting us,” he informed her. “To add to all those other wrongdoings you done. But, hey, we didn’t come for you, not this time.”

“I done ?” said Seria Mau. “Wrongdoings I done ?”

Outside, explosions marched steadily across the mud, flinging up rocks and vegetation. Elements of the pod, becoming impatient with the half-minute wait, had entered the atmosphere and begun to shell the surface at random. Seria Mau sighed.

“Fuck off, Moire, and take speaking lessons,” she said.

“You’re only alive because EMC don’t care about you one way or another,” he warned her as he faded to brown smoke. “They could change their minds. This operation is double red.” His fetch flickered, vanished, reformed suddenly in a kind of postscript. “Hey, Seria, I got my own pod now!” it said.

“I knew that. So ?”

“So next time I see you,” the fetch promised. “I’ll let the machine speak.”

“Jerk,” said Seria Mau.

By this time she had the cargo bay open. Billy Anker, dressed in a vintage EV suit, was shuffling head down towards it with all the grim patience of the physically unfit. He fell. He picked himself up. He fell again. He wiped his faceplate. Up in the stratosphere, the Krishna Moire pod shifted and turned in hungry disarray; while high above it in the parking lot, the hybrid ship awaited what would happen, its ambivalent signature flickering like a description of the events unfolding below. Who was up there, Seria Mau wondered, along with the commander of Touching the Void ? Who was presiding over this fumbled op ? Down in the cargo bay, Mona the clone called Billy’s name. She leaned out, caught his hand, pulled him inside. The cargo ramp slammed shut. As if this was a signal, long vapour trails emerged from the cloudbase at steep angles. Billy Anker’s ship burst open. Its engines went up in a sigh of gamma and visible light.

“Go,” Seria Mau told the mathematics. The White Cat torched out in a low fast arc over the south pole, transmitting ghost signatures, firing off decoys and particle-dogs.

“Look!” cried Billy Anker. “Look down!”

The South Polar Artifact flashed beneath them. Seria Mau caught a fleeting glimpse of it–a featureless gunmetal ziggurat a million years old and five miles on a side at the base–before it vanished astern. “It’s opening!” cried Billy Anker. Then, in an awed whisper: “I can see. I can see inside–” The sky lit up white behind them, and his voice turned to a despairing wail. The pod, growing frustrated, had hit the ziggurat with something from the bottom shelf of its arsenal, something big. Something EMC.

“What did you see ?” Seria Mau asked three minutes later, as they skulked at Redline L2 while the White Cat’s mathematics tried to guess them a way out under the noses of their pursuers.

Billy Anker wouldn’t say.

“How could they do that ?” he railed. “That was a unique historical item, and a working one. It was still receiving data from somewhere in the Tract. We could have learned something from that thing.”