the m john harrison blog

Month: February, 2016

london, an unreliable guide to

You can back the kickstarter for this now, to get great fiction from all these writers: Yvvette Edwards, Will Wiles, Irenosen Okojie, Nikesh Shukla, Courttia Newland, Gary Budden, Koye Oyedeji, Leone Ross, Paul Ewen, Gareth E Rees, George F, Stephanie Victoire, Chloe Aridjis, Sunny Singh, Juliet Jacques, Noo Saro-Wiwa, Salena Godden, Tim Wells, Aki Schilz, Stephen Thompson, Eley Williams, Kit Caless & Tim Burrows. My contribution: “Babies from Sand”.

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elsie the dog at llangollen

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photo: Chris Pierre

The bedlam on the roof at ten past seven this morning reminded me of this–

Aliens arrive on Earth after a long journey, only to find that humanity has died out. They’ve never used writing or paper, so they don’t get books; they’ve never stored data digitally, so they don’t get computers. They recycle the books for fuel & the internet servers for chemicals. But their own typical data storage system looks & acts very much like a jackdaw, so they value the jackdaws & put them in beautiful jackdaw-friendly environments & spend the next 500 years reverently trying to decode the messages of hope they’re sure humanity left encoded in jackdaw behaviour. Jackdaws can’t believe their luck.

–posted as “Jackdaw Bingo”, October 11th 2013.

another little taste

Later, pissing off the end of one of the abandoned barges upstream, invisible among the tall weeds and strengthless-looking bushes that grew on every square foot of its decaying deck, he thought he heard something behind him. There were two or three confused movements further along the hull, followed by a fluttering or rustling just outside his sightlines; then a quiet splash as if something had slipped furtively into the river. He waited for ripples but they didn’t show. He leaned out to look up and down the reach. Nothing: the surface of the river was compact and burnished all the way to Kew Bridge, where the piers split it into whorls and eddies which streamed off towards Barnes.

He zipped up and pushed his way back anxiously towards the land through the vegetation. In there, among recent shoots and withered induviae, everything felt dry and at the same time rotted to a wafer. Small cream moths floated up from among the faded lager cans and shredded plastic bags. A fibrous mulch was replacing the old deck; but you could still feel the decaying timbers flex beneath. Anything, he thought, could be living in all that warm, dense, airless, puzzling growth.

That lunchtime, for a change, he walked downstream to Strand-on-the-Green and ate a hamburger sitting outside a pub called The City Barge while middle-aged women in yoga pants by Liquido and Spiritual Gangster exercised their miniature dogs between him and the river. He felt as if he was sick of all that side of things. The tide had turned. The water was beginning to slacken and churn. The previous week’s bad weather had folded itself away into heat and humidity, but remained immanent somehow in the dull brassy glare that lay across the city. Everything was dusty again, but the sky could always open. The worst of July, the foretaste of August. Midstream, Oliver’s Island looked like a Victorian dreadnought abandoned in the quivering light, its slabby iron plates somehow turned to stone.

I would never have to fake my own death, he found himself thinking. I’ve all but vanished already. Part of him welcomed that. Another part, larger but so thinly distributed across his personality that it seemed invisible, panicked soundlessly on a twenty four hour schedule.

can’t say this often enough

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-1From my contribution to An Unreliable Guide to London, Influx Press: “Mystical sunsets behind the troubled roofs of East Sheen, the overgrown gravestones of Barnes Common, the grim Edwardian silhouette of the Elm Guest House. A smell drifts down the river which can’t for a second be mistaken for that of the brewery. The tide is low, the water fast and turbulent between the piers of Barnes Bridge. Eddies thicken with the matted stuff left at high tide–bottle caps, tampon applicators, condoms in a matrix of sodden interwoven twigs rarely more than five or six inches long–it’s a substance in itself. The sexual health of a nation can always be judged by the state of its rivers.”

Available in July, with further serious misdirections by:

Yvvette Edwards, Will Wiles, Irenosen Okojie, Nikesh Shukla, Courttia Newland, Gary Budden, Koye Oyedeji, Leone Ross, Paul Ewen, Gareth E Rees, George F, Stephanie Victoire, Chloe Aridjis, Sunny Singh, Juliet Jacques, Noo Saro-Wiwa, Salena Godden, Tim Wells, Aki Schilz, Stephen Thompson, Eley Williams, Kit Caless & Tim Burrows.