the m john harrison blog

Month: February, 2020

you think I’m joking

The Russians sent tortoises into space in 1968. You couldn’t make it up. All I remember from the time is being bitterly frustrated when no one came back from low earth orbit as a walking cactus & had to be incinerated after they infested the Houses of Parliament.

Originally posted 2014


things that happen

A woman walks up and down the street asking everyone she meets, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” Emphasis is on the last word, as if they already know what she’s talking about–as if she wants further news of some event so large no one is thinking about anything else. “What’s going on?” Sometimes, when there’s no one to talk to, she seems to be asking it of the street itself. “What’s going on?” This is not an illustration of a facet of her personality, or the basis of a Dickensian one-trait character paradigm. It’s an event. I think: a book is a container of events like this, as well as other types of events. Meanwhile, that noise I heard in the night, in the fog, a couple of days ago? (It sounded, I wrote, “like a digital imitation of a bird”?) I hear it again, in the street on a Saturday morning. It’s a broken starter-motor. Does the street now have a character? By combining these two images, have I characterised it as the sort of street in which these sorts of things happen? My idea would be this: human beings–readers–of the world & of books–are so used to interpreting events as carriers of a causal narrative that they don’t really see them any more.


this book is not about fish

Shaw found something else they could drink–the end of a litre of Absolut so old the shoulders of the bottle were sticky with all the condensed, gritty airs of London–and, sitting on the edge of the bed, unwrapped the housewarming present.

“Look at that!” Victoria said, as if their roles were reversed and he had given it to her. It was made of silver, with an articulated body five or six inches long and hinged sidefins. “It’s Peruvian,” she said. “It’s a fish. It’s quite old, 1860.”

Shaw weighed the fish in his hand, moved one of the fins cautiously. Its scales were tarnished and cold. “Hi fish,” he said.

“See,” Victoria said. “You like it. You like it already.”

“I do like it,” he said.

Gollancz, July 25 2020. Preorder at your usual outlets.

Tweet your guesses about the actual subject matter of the book to #TheSunkenLandBeginsToRiseAgain. Or just go here and here to read the description & epigraphs. As soon as I have more information, I’ll put up a dedicated page.

do you even write, bro

Can I recommend Jonathan Gibbs’ fine A Personal Anthology? So many writers, so many fictions. It’s a resource. My contribution was fun to do, but it suprises me now as quite a determined summing-up of what & how I prefer to read.

Davis begins this forty-six word story, “You see how circumstances are to blame”, and ends it with, “when I lived alone I had all the silence I needed.” Anyone else would have placed a novel between the two and still dealt with less along the way.

Counting the compound “forty-six” as one word, this two-sentence assessment of Lydia Davis’ “Odd Behaviour” was itself tailored to 46 words. It sums up what I think about the relations of long & short fiction: which is that, clearly, they imply a grain thing, & a focus thing, a thing managed by tone & register. But whatever length it is, I like fiction to be short. Also, to the point without seeming too densely compresssed & with a deftness & obliquity of surface that belies the power of the content.

It’s naive to dismiss a story because it’s 46 rather than 4,600 or 460,000 words long. & there’s always been something dull about the industry’s insistence that writing is a form of weight training, the novel is the only serious form, & that even a short story should bulk up.