settling the world
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 MACHINE SHAFT TEN, 1975
The Machine in Shaft Ten
The Orgasm Band
Settling the World
THE ICE MONKEY, 1984
The Ice Monkey
VIRICONIUM NIGHTS, 1984
A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium
TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS, 2000
I Did It
Science & the Arts
YOU SHOULD COME WITH ME NOW, 2017
Colonising the Future
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
This is *very* exciting – and I’m so glad “Doe Lea” is going to get a wider audience! Happy to see so many from “Machine…” – though as you know I love the whole collection! 😀
Still one of my all time favourite stories…
Was it first published in a NWQ? That’s where I first discovered your writings.
And am I right in thinking there was more than one version with slight text differences? Or am I mis-remembering?
Something to really look forward to, delayed or not. And interesting the ‘big’ stories like “Pan” or “Isobel Avens” got retired – either through over-familiarity or because they’re now the work of a distant doppelganger.
Only quibble over omission would be “Keep Smiling with Great Minutes”: for me, the best piece in YSCWMN, and one in complete tune with the mood right now.
Hi kaggsy, thanks! &, yes, nice to get “Doe Lea” out there without having to plead with someone to put it in a commercial antholoogy.
Hi NIgel: It was originally published in NWQ, yes. It’s so long ago that I can’t remember if I revised it for my second collection, but I suspect I might have done. “Running Down” was baggy & overweight, & “The Ice Monkey” was such a change for the better that I’d become impatient with everything that preceded it.
Woah! I’m super excited about this. Mainly the new stories.
You’ll write an introduction?
Hi Martin: “either through over-familiarity or because they’re now the work of a distant doppelganger” Yep, both, & also because, whether I like it or not, people see the novels Signs of Life and The Course of the Heart as the primary versions of these stories.
& on “Keep Smiling…”: yep again, totally agree about its topicality & ferocity. But in terms of wordlength, it was either Volsie or “The Crisis”, & I thought the latter did a just-slightly-better job of utter cold contempt… In an ideal world I will one day have both, side by side in a 100% Author’s Best Of selection. Or someone else can sort it out after I’m dead.
Hi dllo: I probably won’t write anything, no, since we’ll have Jennifer Hodgson’s introduction–which will be, I don’t doubt, more purely gorgeous, & a lot more interesting, than I deserve.
I’m glad The Gift is included. That’s probably the best short story I’ve ever read.
Nigel: A very quick comparison of the texts shows that Running Down was very slightly revised between its first appearance in NWQ8 and The Machine in Shaft Ten, and then more substantially revised for inclusion in The Ice Monkey.
Thanks. I might have to unlock the sealed vault where my NW collection is housed to explore the differences!
Thanx for that, Robin. I left “The Gift” in as the last evidence of my romantic period. & thank god there’s no digital copy of RD for me to get my hands on now, or I’d have it down to 4000 words as quick as you can write knife.
3 stories i have not read! violent excitement animates my facial muscles
Here’s another thumbs-up. I will buy this to get the ebook version of these stories, since I already have the print versions of everything pre-YSCWMN. It’s not up for pre-order just yet but I have Amazon set to notify me when it is.
A younger me once bought THINGS THAT NEVER HAPPEN expecting SFF and instead finding what, on reflection, I could only think of as Horror (mostly without monsters). Every time I read it I felt like the room temperature dropped five degrees. I’m looking forward to reading some of those stories again but I don’t know if the older me will find them as creepy. I would, in fact, buy an ebook version of that volume just to get all those stories electronically.
I guess NEW STORIES is meant to cover your uncollected work. I’m thinking “Cave & Julia” and “Fourth Domain”; there may be others I’m not aware of. I have the ebooks of those two and I remember your saying you had “plans” for “Fourth Domain”. I’m looking forward to seeing what those plans produce, as that is one weird story.
Hi Paul. I guess TTNH is the record of 30 years’ work to take the horror out of horror and see what was left. These days, if I thought of those stories as anything, it would be “stories by me”. By YSCWMN I’d abandoned the struggle to define, along with the struggle to remain undefined. I just write M John Harrison stories. I think you’ll enjoy my plan for that other one…
I’ve just realised that the title “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium” is included. Does this mean that the name has changed back from “London” to “Viriconium” again?
Now that London really is a plague city, perhaps “In Viriconium” needs a retitling…
I wonder. Perhaps I’d better check what volume we’re scanning from. Or maybe, just for the lulz, not. What I’d like to leave is as confused a legacy as possible, so that Viriconium really does become a kind of chaotic self-slippage.
I have been a lover of your work since I fell in love with viriconium when Gaiman did the audiobook.
I am blind and unfortunately only some of your work has been placed on the RNIB bookshare website, the place where I get accessible books.
Though they didn’t have You Should Come With Me Now I requested it and they got it from your publisher!
Is it at all possible that you can make sure Comma Press sends your new collection to the RNIB Bookshare, not just for me, but to get it to the bigger audience you really deserve.
Totally understand if that isn’t possible.
PS: shakme not more stories from VN in the book, those pieces totally blew my mind!!!
Hi Cameron. I’ll talk to the publishers about that & see what can be done. I hope you enjoy the new work as much as the old. All best.