settling the world

by uzwi

That collection in more detail. It’s a selected short stories, covering the period 1969-2019. Due to my deep disconnection from the concept of keeping stuff, we had some trouble finding digital copies to work with. The team at Comma simply rolled up their sleeves and scanned from paper. Work is what they like & they always have a cup of tea for an old person. There will be an introduction from the remarkable Jennifer Hodgson.

Some of my choices had to be rejected even as they were made, because they would compete with Comma’s 2017 collection You Should Come With Me Now. I see the justice in that, and it prevented me from weighting towards the last couple of decades. Recent work is still vibrating with its own processes, with radioactive fairground lights flashing around the edges of 2d-rendered clowns & mermaids etc etc, and therefore seems livelier.

Also, of course, it could very well feel livelier because it’s better-written, more mature in its reflections & conclusions, and sits more trimly on the page than earlier stuff. Many writers work with a kind of rolling cut-off point–as in, “Oh god, everything I did before 1995 was such rubbish” –which they drag behind them at a set distance. Anyway, a selection is a selection, not a “Best of”. Nor could it be a serious retrospective. I selected for what I prefer. It would be stupid to deny that this is a value judgement on what I’ve done over the last fifty years. I organised the contents–to the degree I could remember–in chronological order of writing, spread roughly over the catchment area of each original volume:

The Causeway
The Machine in Shaft Ten
The Orgasm Band
Settling the World
Running Down

The Incalling
The Ice Monkey
Old Women
The Quarry

A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium

The Gift
I Did It
The East
Black Houses
Science & the Arts

The Crisis
Colonising the Future
“Doe Lea”

There are jokes, obviously, such as: “The East” was the deliberate obverse of “A Young Man’s Journey”. I would have added “Jack o’ Mercy’s” to complete the trilogy of final Viriconium stories, but see limitations on selection, above. I was also tempted to add a section of blog-length fictions: total word-count being restricted, that would have elbowed out some of the earlier stuff. (Later I might do a whole volume of those, for readers who aren’t afraid of a more compact item.) Anyway, there you go. When they set out at eighteen years old, every writer looks forward to doing a selected. Now I’m looking back, I’m not sure how it feels–less intense than it would have at 40, perhaps. Comments are as open as ever & I foresee constructive disagreement. Coronavirus has shifted publication date from May to July. Obviously circumstances might alter that further. Hard details, of cover image, pricing & so forth will come in as & when. You can stay up to date here; or on Twitter– @mjohnharrison and #SettlingTheWorld. Or by going to the Comma Press site. My new novel #TheSunkenLandBeginsToRiseAgain, will be out at around the same time, from Gollanz. Please help out with both these books by pre-ordering: I’m old & I have friends from the sea, but I still need to eat.

Photo: Cath Phillips, 2019