the m john harrison blog

Month: December, 2020

always already

What Ballard nailed wasn’t the future but the impulse behind it, nakedly visible in the present. In this 1977 piece for Vogue, he demonstrated his method in a paragraph, beginning with the deep psychology of the class which would read the article, then taking a punt on what the nascent technology could do for their emergent major driver, self-centredness. This manouevre, which is essentially satirical, does not start with the technology, it starts with a bet on which trait-clusters already in the population will make the most of the technology as it develops. It depends on the character of human beings, and the selective, self-serving character of their uptake of the new. It shows the past deciding what the future will be, and demonstrates that all futures, even the ones that actually arrive, are in some Gibsonian sense essentially obsolete. What counts in his example is not the videotape; it is the narcissism. Satire is one of the central “extrapolative” techniques of science fiction, although it rarely satisfies the optimistic genre models of the relationship between technology and people, or people and futures. But by 1977 Ballard had been bored with the genre models for two decades. That he had his own concerns and wasn’t really interested in anybody else’s was part of his bet and part of his problematic charm.


you’ll love this one weird reason why reviewing is good

to do. The successful review is often a search you don’t remember pursuing. A week, a month, a year later, reading back, you suddenly understand that even when you didn’t recognise what you were looking for, your review did. A book is good if it draws such useful unconscious work from you, whatever you thought of it during the reading phase. A review, like every other kind of writing, is the search for what you’re speaking about. Also, & perhaps separately: unless you deal with them, consciously or unconsciously, review books will lodge a barb in you—some organic sharpened hook that will get inside you without your knowing, some quality that, like a repressed memory, will deal with you.