the m john harrison blog

Month: November, 2022

Walking between the old squatter cottages in The Jitties–in cold air and near dark, through mizzling rain–I hear a voice coming from a parked car. It’s American, intimate yet resonant, penetrating, conscious of an audience, and it’s reading from someone’s new novel, one of those clever first person deliveries designed to imply a listener in the text. There’s no driver in the car. There’s no one in the car at all. Its engine is running, it’s stopped at an angle at a corner in a billow of its own smoke. I walk past and go home thinking how much I’d like to win that Radio Four lottery and have my new book read that way, loudly but personably, to an empty lane at the end of November.

Crossposted from Mastodon


imaginary review #14 or maybe #15, I can’t remember

This contemporary fantasist is literate, clever, sentimental and evasive. His every scene swerves carefully away from its own realistic propositions and internal tensions and into whimsy & wish-fulfilment. Sometimes he’s good at stating the original position, sometimes that is freighted with whimsy too. The effect is increasingly egregious. As you move through the book, more and more of its worth–the observation of people and the tense condition of their relationships–is replaced by a kind of cod-Chagallism. What’s so irritating is that this happens on both sides of the divide–the real life and the fantasy-world by which he claims to be extending our understanding of it. Two people, usually a middle aged man and a beautiful woman, sit at a table outside a bistro in Confected Paris, they argue until it’s inevitable some strong emotion precipitates itself from the situation… and slip immediately from our world to adventures in the Confected Surreal. Everywhere is California and one confection acts as an alibi for the other, forever, encouraging fiction, author & reader to avoid the implications of the subject matter. This blunts any edge the book might have. It is not what magic realism is for. There is a lifelessness to work like this in an inverse ratio to its apparent energy.

Find more imaginary reviews under the imaginary reviews tag; or they’re collected as a single piece in You Should Come With Me Now, Comma Press 2017.

My stats here look like an end-to-end iteration of the Golden Gate bridge.


Volume 4: Last Transmission From the Deep Halls–

… saying, once those outsiders get in your tortured halls … I’m saying we didn’t have command of the vast fictions of the day … The city wasn’t, in the end, where those of us who lived there thought it was. We had already lost it in all senses of that word … All we knew of this place was the news … the halls are aware that–in the end–they can never know what, exactly, the plot was. It’s only silence after that. Back at the beginning there’s the tapping sound, like metal on stone … then the call signs, several of them, very amplified and confused … cries in the halls … a cruel few words and then, “We no longer know which way to face.” The halls are still aware … What if the city didn’t “fall”. What if nothing “fell”? Nothing was lost but existed just alongside everything else, fifty years later in the rubble by a farm at the flat end of nowhere … who could write this … everyone has a different story to sell … call signatures in rooks, fresh plough, old silence: “We don’t know what to do. Everything is the alongside of something else.” … Minor players gesture helplessly … signals hard to make out in the chaos as the big institutions go down … everyone desperate now.

This section of “ELF Lands” was originally published on the blog in 2013– The complete short story was published in the New Scientist Christmas Edition, 2017.

a manner of speaking

“The cat appears out of the laurel at the end of the garden, pursuing something you can’t see.” Unless you’re an f/sf reader or a hard-nosed realist, the use of “something you can’t see” in that sentence is complexly unpackable. Along with “appears”, it questions the reality of the scene yet doesn’t. It has no problem with states or issues being superposed; it doesn’t ask what is “really” meant, or demand to know which side of the image the author’s on. Indeed, it relies on that superposition for its effect. Has the cat appeared out of nowhere, or is this a figure of speech to indicate suddenness? Is that something-which-can’t-be-seen actually invisible, or only, say, a line-of-sight issue of the viewer’s? Are both meant only to draw attention to typical cat behaviours?


three posts from mastodon

In this nightmare of yours, the book you’re writing discovers you as you discover it. You both discover a “self”, but retrospectively; & by the time you’ve finished, both you & the book are obsolete. All you’ve found out is who you used to be. That self can’t write the next book, which is already waiting around whistling tunelessly & looking at its watch. The process is circular & cyclic, with an emergent product always delivered late. Worse: any sense you have of yourself as being “in control” of what happens between you & the book is always-already undermined…

In a subsequent nightmare, you go out fishing & after a struggle land a gigantic fish. The fish turns out to be made of a thousand ill-fitting bits & pieces: you, the fishing rod, the bait, the lake, the trees on the shore of the lake, a man on a horse who was riding past up to half a mile away &–most of all–the intention to fish.

Only the most reckless fisherman would take that home & eat it. & yet you dream you already have.

the birdcage & the elephant enclosure

For the moment I’m keeping my Twitter account open, but things being what they are over there, I may be forced to close it down. I wouldn’t be happy to be lost in the possible turbulence, identity-scamming & general horror. If the situation does become untenable, I’ll always be available here; or at the big extinct elephant: As things develop, I’ll work out what to do next. But journal entries, personal news, opportunities to chat, information about new books & stories, publication dates and gigs (real life or online) will be available here as usual, either in the body of the blog, or at About; or at the dedicated pages, see above.

Spread the word, if you would.