the m john harrison blog

Month: May, 2020

the drift

The city of Viriconium drifts around the internet like a ghost site, abandoned, glitched and malfunctioning, composed of failed attempts to turn it into one thing; to place it back in the genre it began to undo in 1966; or as imitations designed to repurpose it as the founding platform of a version of itself corrected for the fantasy market. In Japan, meanwhile, a version generated by the selection of one novel and five of the short stories is about to be published in real life.

Obviously I enjoy the accidental ironies of these revisions, attempted coups and counter revolutions: to a degree they’re in the spirit of the thing– which was conceived of from the start as impossible to bring into focus, shattered and drifting about in its own timeline; certainly they’re in the spirit of cities.

I was recently offered the opportunity to join in, via a de luxe hardback edition of the entire sequence. If that happens–and I should emphasise that it’s a big “if” at this early stage–I’ll probably make a new author-approved order, based on the Fantasy Masterworks edition (Gollancz, UK, 2000), in which the short stories were woven between the novels. I’ll write a preface to explain why I prefer it ordered like that, as opposed to the normalising, dull & above all inaccurate presentation of it as a trilogy and some related short stories; why it should be read as single volume (but not necessarily in a prescribed order); and probably why it was such a personal nightmare to find a place in that order for the final “final” story, “Jack O’ Mercy’s”. Possibly I’ll add some older material, and some wilfully non-canonical material…

I feel relieved that I won’t have to do the same with the Light trilogy, which was written & published in the order in which it needs to be read to make a single, solid unit, and which has already been published in one volume in Germany. Time someone caught up and did that in English.


the sunken land begins to rise

Finished copies of this strange kettle of fish are now going out to reviewers, etc. I’m reliably informed that release date is June 25th. So for guaranteed satisfaction, get your preorders in now. & if you see another date anywhere, please let Gollancz know, not here but here, or @Gollancz on Twitter. On the same date you’ll be able to get Comma Press’s collection, Settling the World, which selects from my short stories between 1969 and 2019, with an introduction by Jennifer Hodgson.

all those summers

We were under a quarried gritstone wall. We were under the big arc-lamp of limestone at Stennis. We weren’t anything special but we were out from nine in the morning until last light at ten. In cut-offs. They were torn off awkwardly and not cool. We wrapped t shirts round our heads against the light. We hobbled about with our first-generation sticky rubber hung round our necks by the laces, wincing barefoot at the heat. We were so full of vitamin D we didn’t need to eat. You can see our smiles, stupid with vitamin D, in the polaroid; our stupid, sun-bleached heavy metal hair. We watched the sea-spray explode up with a grunt you couldn’t imitate but could feel in your knees, your hips, up your spine and deep into the reptile brain. We were up for it, even if it was the 6b pitch off some fucking loose MOAC “belay” or the ab from the unbacked number 5 wire. We were exhausted. Our hands gave us away. A scabbed knuckle, a scabbed elbow. Abraded finger pad. We were “as brown as berries” all those summers. We found a pair of trousers discarded at the top of a route. We laughed until we were incapable and two serious people told us off for putting in a forty foot traverse, thirty feet up, with no pro for the second and the rope in a perfect curve. Every day we were too tired to drive home but every one of us could finish two deep-dish pizzas. It was a roped solo, that’s all, but we took our telling-off. It was a life in the amygdala and none of us is ever going to forget it.

Weird is not a thing, it is a process. It is also an emergent product which somehow precedes every combination of events, genres & skills it can be said to emerge from. Good luck with planning to be weird, see you at the ceremony.

disintegrating lands

Making a playlist for The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again. Some of the tunes will be ones I listened to while writing. Others will be moods applied by hindsight, that best of sights. So far I have: The Disintegration Loops, which should phase in & out, especially during landscape & travel scenes, and never really die away even when something else is playing. Couperin’s The Mysterious Barricades. Random soundtrack items from Night Moves (dir Penn, 1975), not necessarily musical. Nico’s stupendous Janitor of Lunacy which is Our Hero’s favourite song. Iggy Pop, The Endless Sea. Brian Eno, Another Green World (track). Keely Forsyth, Start Again. Lankum, The Old Man from Over the Sea. The Caretaker, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World—especially in scenes with Shaw’s mother. More later. I wonder if anyone ever listens to these lists while they read the book? Anyone here use the one I made in–what? 2007?–for Nova Swing?

in a hollow land

Tree surgeon Molly and his young assistant Nick find a dreyful of abandoned baby squirrels. Who will mercy-kill them with the edge of the spade? Nick winces away from the idea. He’s big with gym-built muscle but he’s not hard. The thing Molly hates most about him is not his emotional vulnerability, it’s the way he doesn’t even try to hide it. Because in Molly’s day, “The way it was in the valley, you made weakness see itself.” But then point-of-view switching tells us something Molly doesn’t know about who his daughter’s fucking, and the story, propelled suddenly in a dangerous direction, ends just before one or another act of repressed violence. Dramas like these play without a safety net. You take Molly and Nick and all the others as you find them, inside the blasted but still optimistic social geology around Bacup and Accrington. Without closing his eyes to anything, James Clarke makes it possible to do that, in a novel constructed like a compound eye, full of insight, empathy and wry laughter. My review of James Clarke’s second novel, Hollow in the Land, in the Guardian…