the m john harrison blog

Category: autotelia

some news

My new collection will be published later this year by Comma Press. It’s taken a while to get this sorted, and I want to thank everyone involved–also apologise to everyone else for the wait. Details as they arrive, here and from the Comma team. The book features eighteen short stories–five of which are original, unpublished & unavailable anywhere else and a further half dozen that will be new to most readers–and some flash fiction, much of which will be recognisable to habitues of the Ambiente Hotel. Contents include: a distributed sword & sorcery trilogy; two or three full-size sci-fi novels, one of which is two sentences and forty eight words long (fifty if you count the title); several visits to Autotelia, some that identify as such and some that don’t; and two final dispatches from Viriconium, neither of which would get house-room in an anthology of epic fantasy.

More details here.

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& speaking of imaginary places…

…I keep thinking I’m closer to writing this third Autotelia story–

“Every generation has its intellectual obsession: a new kind of politics, a new kind of science, a new kind of war. My generation was obsessed with Autotelia, a new kind of country. We watched with a tense amazement the grainy video of its capital city, the greyish streets so similar to our own. When the first Autotelians began to arrive on our side of things…etc.” His mother’s tea party for the Autotelians is a farce. After it, when he goes to their house, he sees the men in overcoats smashing the flower pot in the hearth, then a “yawning white face” in the hall. He leaves hurriedly. Work up to the tea party through his mother’s descriptions of the Autotelians; some events of little significance in the square; and his interest in the girl. Later, in Autotelia itself, he is taken to a place where a man who might have been his vanished friend Ashman once “stayed for some time”. The room sordid. Some accident–a small fire perhaps–on the carpet near the tallboy; a faint smell of excrement. “‘There was a lot of crying out,’ the landlord said: ‘Always a lot of crying out.’ And he managed to convey with shrugs, nods and grins that we both knew what that might mean. ‘In the morning he was gone.’ While we talked, I could hear someone pacing about in the room above.”

–then discovering I’m not. These are glimpses from the early 1980s, a couple of which remain fresh and clear, the rest being just sentences someone else might have written. It’s odd how this happens, odder still that you won’t give up on a thing even when you suspect the window of opportunity’s closed. You used to be the writer it needed but now it’s just some old love affair which never quite got going.

make u think

Jackdaws bickering in the air in the tall back corner of the house made me think briefly of Ravensdale, a crag with which I was so obsessed in 1977/8 that I gave it a bit-part in A Storm of Wings, that well-known novel of documentary realism. Watching the “Entertaining Angels Unawares” video on YouTube made me feel old, but also made me think briefly of this, from 1991. Meanwhile, I just stumbled across this, from Neel Mukherjee; & “Cave & Julia” has earned some more money on Kindle, making it one of the more economically productive short stories I’ve published (maybe a lesson there). And, describing the people he claims to speak for as convenor of some mythical Tory “trades union”, David Cameron has accidentally used the word “resent” instead of “represent”.

Generally, it’s been a weirdly mixed day. & only half over.

parsing the bedrooms of lily

Imagine this as a photograph found in the usual collapsing shoebox at the usual car boot sale, you know the score by now. The Dali family’s urge towards meaning is as mistaken as your own. Their attempt to force an arrangement on the world by composing themselves in it collides with your attempt to interpret their attempt: in the ensuing confusion, nothing can be understood. It would help just a little if you didn’t see it as a picture of the Dalis–or, especially, of Dali. Everything else in it would begin to matter. The boat, for instance, which you see as leaving rather than arriving, might suddenly become a lot more important.

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back to the island

Last night I was in Autotelia again, in the town I have decided to call “the provincial capital”. In the garden, I found the elephant still chained to the tree where I had left it, its small eye full of knowledge. All the animals seemed amused by their own humiliation. Despite a good night’s sleep–despite two or three good nights’ sleep–on our side of things, I was tired by eight in the evening. Whatever was happening to me had taken another turn for the worse. But I felt happy, not anxious or afraid or ill. Only warm and tired and, now I had got back there, full of the deep eros of the island. Fireflies began to gather in the corner of the summer house from which, later, the voice I had grown to love would comment on the intimate events of my life in a matter-of-fact whisper.

best sf/f of the year

the_best_science_fiction_and_fantasy_of_the_year_volume_eight_250x384That whole year, and to a lesser extent the year after, bodies were washed up all along that part of the coast, some whole, some in pieces … In the south of Autotelia, especially, it was a bad year for bodies; but the body of the vanished brother didn’t show up among them. Passive and silent, full of some incommunicable anger, the sister attempted suicide, spent time in institutions; then, her work suddenly becoming popular, left the country for a new life on our side of things.

Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year is a different kettle of fish to the SALT Best British Short Stories (see yesterday’s post), with equally powerful work by–among many others–Madeline Ashby, Caitlin Kiernan, Ian MacDonald & Adam Roberts. “Cave & Julia” is my contribution. If you haven’t read the story yet, or you’d just like a print copy, this is the place to go.

‘M. John Harrison — one of Britain’s premier writers of any sort — is represented by the haunting and beautiful “Cave and Julia.”‘ –Chicago Tribune.

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awake early

Daybreak at the ship hospital, dawn along the Dock of Dreams. May’s my favourite month. It’s a hairline fracture of the heart. It’s a smear of flight across the back of an eye. I see your shadow on your wall, your small pile of objects. Those are my objects too. I’m alive to all of that. Meanwhile I hear you whisper, “I feel really different to myself this morning.” It’s all right. You can get up now, they’ll never hear us. There’s a dry wind in the corners, smelling of salt and onions. But one day we’ll feel warm again.

explaining the undiscovered continent

All things metal tapping together in the wind. Bleached fishbones one thousand miles from the sea. Sheds where you can get directions & diving apparatus. The inevitable airstream trailer. The inevitable rusty boiler. The inevitable graffito of a coelacanth. The highline of the last tide strewn with yellowish swim bladders of unknown animals like condoms inflated then varnished into fragility. Kilometer upon kilometer of unravelled polypropylene rope. Tin signs. Tied knots. A sense of petrol. Then the cliffs! with their abandoned funicular slicing up through maroon sandstone “to the plateau above”. Windows of static ice cream parlours. Buildings filled to the fourth storey with the grey flock from old padded bags. “This is where we’ll dive.” As far as anyone can tell, they lived in threes or fives, odd numbers anyway. Each household kept a small allosaur on a bit of coloured string. We have no idea who they were or when they were here or what they wanted out of life. That’s the attraction. (& afterwards to sit in the boat, tired, happy, washing a small blue item in the most gentle solvent: no one will ever know what it is.)