the m john harrison blog

Month: January, 2018


“A strip of muddy grass,” describes so much of Britain seen from the Martian point of view. They are struggling, morning after morning on their tall frail legs, along a strip of muddy grass. Floodwater generates from nowhere, spreads across their path in January and February. Later the ploughland rolls away, curved, corduroy, glutinous. Woods are especially difficult. The Martians group and flock. Signal. “A slope.” “Mud and slopes.” “Slopes and woods.” They are wary of church towers and pylons. So many good comrades lost to electrocution and hysterical conversion. They avoid Milton Keynes. Allotments, railyards, every central reservation an artillery position. By Watford Junction beechwoods take fire at dusk.


the year so far

The aunt aged early but after that never seemed to get any older. A certain fragility set in just behind her face, but her eyes remained clear if watery. She kept a sense of what was right, although she seemed constantly surprised that the world didn’t subscribe to it. After college he returned to the town. He couldn’t settle. He wasn’t sure about anything. He might have found work but he didn’t. Instead he visited the old woman. They did crossword puzzles. They filled in photograph albums–closing fast on the current year, in which her son and his family moved house, took a trip to Stockholm. One afternoon she saw a thrush outside her kitchen window. “Now, what kind of bird is that ?” she asked. He told her, but she didn’t seem to hear. “One thing I find myself thinking about,” she said, “is how wonderful it would be to fly.” He understood in that moment what the word “disarmed” means. It means you are vulnerable. If you aren’t careful you will be forced to recognise that. The last thing she told him was the strangest thing he ever heard. She took his hand and said, “For you all of this started with the death of your father, which rubbed off on you and appeared to become your own.“ After the funeral he found the parts of a human body–as far as he could tell, it was male–in another room, distributed between two or three freezers. Unable to think what else to do, he used a Morrison’s trolley to wheel them in boxes through the town, late at night, down to the sea.

the wounded hare

“One place,” says an inhabitant of Norminton’s future, “is lots of places if you wait long enuf.” But if the novelist is patient enough to work from this perspective, his characters aren’t. Their experience is urgent, phenomenological, human. They live in constant awareness of their environment. As the wounded hare runs from him, Andagin imagines he can “see the ember of its soul rushing to catch up with it”; above them both, the oak canopy clatters and creaks in a bitter wind. Two thousand years later, the land, though reduced, is still a rich source of signifiers, demanding observance, caution or celebration: as she walks through the Bagshot woods, teenager Bobby is equally aware of “dog mess underfoot or bagged and hung from branches”, while her father, irritable, vague yet driven, an obsessive archaeologist soon to be divorced, must keep a constant eye open for illegal motorcyclists joyriding around his beloved Heath. “A low bruise of particulates hangs in the air,” and London can be seen in the distance, “gnawing into England’s flesh”. Read the rest of my review of Geoffrey Norminton’s new novel The Devil’s Highway, up at the Guardian.

monologue overheard in a heritage attraction tea room on a wet day

“The rich always knew–It was “Plan AGW from Money Space” –Elegant from the beginning–Rinse everyone in the greatest act of disaster capitalism anyone will ever pull off then retire to the safe room to count the jars of urine & toenail clippings–Their crispered fifty year old kids get more surgery & plot to replace them because they have the best hair–It’s the perfecto scam–It’s an act of the global imagination–Twelve pharoahs & their attendants convert an entire population into personal survival after death, the telepathic star drive–A new generation of 4000 horsepower golf carts–They enslaved a planet with the promise of luxe goods–Drug W–Drug B, the Disappearing Dust–Summer fires eliminate the labour force even as they complete the giant pyramid–Deserts of powdered bone–This is efficiency–This is immortality–This is the topping out ceremony–You couldn’t make it up.”

a grand design

Adulthood in this class defines as the state in which you are able to commission a proxy to research and buy the lifestyle product you want to own–let’s say it’s a vehicle, let’s say it’s an uprange midsize SUV–at the best price. Then you show it off to people you’ve only just met, as if they are going to buy it. You show them round your new product as if it’s a home. This is a complex gesture. It doesn’t stem from pride of ownership, nor is it a boast about status (both by now rather old-fashioned social drivers). It isn’t even a way in which to demonstrate your acumen in choosing and securing this item of lifestyle outlay. It is all about your ability to hire someone else’s acumen. Your own skills are thus shown to be essentially managerial. You didn’t so much source the product as manage the project that sourced it. As for money, well that’s a matter not of being able to afford the product but of being able to afford the help in choosing it. (“The agent,” you say. “Our agent.”) More important, it enables you to laugh and self-deprecate: you would have chosen and bought your own car, like any normal person: but you are too time poor.

who I’m calling on

Deep in enemy territory, where even the help’s clothes are more fashionable and expensive than your own, and an overcoat costs more than your car, someone says–

“He’s just back from the laundry.”

“Is that code for something?”

You follow the lights dancing on the surface of the coffee in your cup, and they mean as much to you as what you’re hearing. They’re blue, lilac, pink and green.

“Hey kid,” someone now declares, “everyone’s got their photograph of a pair of shoes. What you need is to move up past that.”

Turn your head: you won’t see who it was. It might anyway be you.

“Ten past three. No, ten past three. And can you leave the key at the church.”

Later, from the window of the train, everything–fields, hills, buildings, hedges, trees, warehouses and distribution centres–will look shadowy but at the same time palely-lit. It’s a strange light, that you might see in a picture but never in the world. The train races to meet the wind. Leaves are blown everywhere. Birds are blown across the sky. The wheels on the rails–or perhaps it is the motors themselves–sound like a sung mass performed by some famous university college choir. Modern music, but full of echoes of earlier settings, earlier ways of listening.

“As it shall be,” you hear, “in Earth as in Heaven.”

Container trucks: YANG MING, HAPLAG-LLOYD, DONG FANG. “For some reason I always think it’s the end of the week.”

Nice review here of You Should Come With Me Now.