the m john harrison blog

Month: August, 2019


no event seems to have been involved

Unpredictable flashbacks, so brief they vanish as they arrive. Hard to grasp, impossible to trace. Prompted by the weather, the light, a sound, a thought about something else entirely, or—finally, and worst—without any stimulus at all: leakage from someone else’s project, as if someone unrelated down there is editing footage of your life for purposes of their own. Fields, hills, foreign cities. Sometimes a voice. Always objects in light. A figure or two, not many, glimpsed from across a room or a street. You can’t call these memories. They don’t last long enough. No event seems to be involved, or even implied. They don’t seem to have happened to you, only to have been recorded. Meanwhile in the garden the rose, thuggish and unpruned, is pulling the rose arch apart.


Funny when you have to catch up with yourself by walking back, taking your own hand and talking yourself forward through the discoveries you’ve already made. Perhaps funny’s not the word.

“Doe Lea”

“We wondered if you needed help,” the woman said.

They stood smiling at the top of the townhouse steps, quite thin and tall–in their sixties, I thought, but still calmly attractive–dressed very simply–and I went up into their house, which didn’t have as many rooms as you might expect for a place that size. It was tall and deep, but it was thin–a slice through a terrace, among other tall, thin elegant slices. “Let’s have tea inside,” the woman said. “It’s so much cooler in here.”

“Let’s have it in cups!” the man said, as if this was a new idea. “Give me your coat and I’ll put it on the back of this chair.”

So I gave him my coat and had a cup of tea, and they asked me how I had got to Doe Lea. They smiled when I told them about the broken train and the way I had wandered around the town; but when I described the little cliff with its wavelike architecture and its colonies of bees, they looked at one another puzzledly.

“Bees?” the man said, and shook his head. The woman shook her head too and said:

“We’ve never heard of anything like that.”

–“Doe Lea”, a simple story of ghosts, due soon from Nightjar Press in a signed and numbered edition of 200 copies. Details as soon as they arrive. No reprints, so keep an eye open here, at Nightjar or @mjohnharrison on Twitter, and pre-order as soon as you can.

“…a dreamlike journey through landscapes that shimmer and are populated by uncanny subjects. It begs the question of what memories are and how they serve us.” —Lucie McKnight Hardy, author of Water Shall Refuse Them, Dead Ink Books.

this post is not about music

“In the context of music production, elites are those who dominate the most popular music style(s) at a given time.”

Here, an elite is being defined not as a traditionally entitled faction of society but as the group which actually holds the power in a given niche at a given time. Elites of this type often fail to realise that they are elites. Defining/redefining the nature of the castle is part of capturing/recapturing it, of having the power. It’s not necessary to be posh & Oxbridge to define & capture the castle then become boring, arrogant, obstructive & limiting, via the use of restrictive definitions and practises; anyone can do it. In fact in this model the process is natural & inevitable, generational even, whether you’re an elite elite or a populist elite. It’s a small town, son/and we all support the team*.

“Once the new style is adopted by a sufficiently large number of followers, its representatives become the new elite and the cycle starts from the beginning.” Anyone old will have watched this cycle through a number of times in a number of cultural arenas. Experience tells us that if you don’t like what you see, you can wait for the next thing to come along. It also tells us that this holds for every discipline, at every scale & at every wavelength; even for the tiniest little niche eddy already curling into viscosity at the edges of the flow.

Can the elite of one establishment ever justify its belief that it is the anti-elite of (the antidote to) another? Is it possible to survive the rage of a populist elite, especially an emergent one, at being called out for its elitism?


The very term, and the contempt with which it’s deployed in TV Tropes-style criticism, is designed to doom it from the start as a technique. But an “infodump” is essentially a piece of nonfiction writing. If you never read good nonfiction, or if you think that all nonfiction is the same thing, or has to be boring, or has to take a particular unreadable tone that bores you, you’ll never be able to infodump successfully. The perspectives and voices of good nonfiction are many, and available to anyone who wants to learn them. That also makes them as parodyable as any other kind of discourse. There’s a lot of fun to be had by combining a travel writer’s voice from the 1920s with the voice of a motorcycle manual in the 1960s; or a Vienna Secessionist manifesto with a Himalayan expedition record or the distinctive syntactical lilt of a translated Continental theorist in 1981. There’s a lot of fun to be had by switching the voice and perspective of your implicit narrator as a way of switching the frame and context and managing the reader’s perspective on the events in the text. Do you want to write a landscape into your fantasy novel? Make sure you’re reading landscape writers, not fantasists; you may not want to use the phrase “ruderal scrub”, but you need to know when you’re walking through it. Do you want to do faux-physics? Read the real thing, not your favourite TV Tropes writer’s “clever” fiftieth-hand take on the time travel trope. You’ll need a decent ear for a set of style rules—a poetics of jargon—and a dependable conversion ratio to your own voice; and you’ll have to be aggressive and unapologetic about it, and expect the reader to keep up. Here’s a short frame-switch about switching frames. Is it fiction or nonfiction? Here’s a piece about infodumping by outright list. Is it fiction or nonfiction.

The Light trilogy is a parody of space opera, its history, politics, mores & assumptions. It is a dystopia which, in the tradition, ironically offers aspects of the present as a “future”. (Resource-based capital fosters the cultural & economic background for social & individual outrages the reader recognises instantly as unacceptable.) For that reason, none of its characters is intended to be sympathetic, relatable or reader-identificatory; neither are they intended to be any more than cartoons. This is customary in satire, as one of the ways of signalling that it is satire. We understand that there is no Kefahuchi Tract, nor are there any “New Men” or space police in powder blue uniforms, or powerful alien races who have designed humanity as an “uplift” programme: these inventions & cliches act as a constant reminder to the reader of the trilogy’s pastiches, parodies and mimicries; and, more generally, of the essentially infantile nature of space opera as a medium. A reading of the book as if it is naturalistic, or as if it is offered as a manual for acceptable—or even plausible—human behaviour will produce an unsatisfactory result.

Sit down & listen quietly children, while I tell the story of poor Ysbwriel, the Lost Princess. It’s true that I am her, Ysbwriel, lost & found in the same telling; Ysbwriel, princess-narrator of our thousands of one-nights. (All of us are King now & those stories better be what we want to hear.)