the m john harrison blog

Category: pearlant notebook

sugar drunk

We let a buddleia into the garden, even though I hate them (so London edgelands 1973), for the butterflies. It’s finally seeing some traffic: your basic red admiral which, sugar drunk, just tried to force my window with its head.

Listening to: tUnE-yArDs’ Bird-Brains & WhoKill, which I can’t get over “Sunlight” & others. Sprucing up: Pearlent, to make its beats seem nice & messy to the view. Looking forward to reading: Christopher Priest’s The Islanders.

the book

Anna Kearney: Anna is trying to come to terms with her life. Since Michael Kearney walked into the sea off Mann Hill Beach, she’s remarried & has a grown-up daughter. Though she spent decades “pretending to be an adult”, Anna remains as dysfunctional as ever, haunted by her own suicide attempts & a dream she can’t explain. She’s trying, in her confused and self-defeating way, to return to physicist Brian Tate the data collected in the Tate-Kearney experiments.

World X: The crew of the Nova Swing strip the remaining assets of Madame Shen’s circus, shipping illegal aliens from planet to disused planet across the Halo. Who is the mysterious M.P. Renoko ? Why is he so interested in diner aesthetics ? What is the true nature of the quarantine orbit ? Irene the mona loses faith in the party universe. For Liv Hula & Fat Antoyne, there’s an unwelcome meeting with an old acquaintance.

Saudade City: Lens Aschemann’s assistant investigates a series of unlikely killings. She doesn’t seem to be any better at investigation than Aschemann, but everyone is too scared of her to complain. “Rig” Gaines, a mid-rank EMC fixer with a satisfyingly broad remit, introduces her to a million-year-old experimental artefact. She gets a boyfriend. She searches for a name. Fans of Aschemann’s 1952 Cadillac roadster will be delighted to find that its engine has been uprated to 1000 horsepower.

War. Rockets. Disturbing imagery. Appearances by characters from previous fictions. Sex tourism. Gigantic objects in space. Death of a loved figure. Faux retro. Bad behaviour presented without sufficient moral positioning. Weird behaviour presented without comment. A book, in short, which reproduces the exact experience of the 21st Century Cultural Minimum. Pearlent will work better if you’re familiar with Light & Nova Swing.

anti power

This is from early 2004, when Nova Swing was still called Retro Radio, or just Retro:

    “The human weakness which I find attractive does not allow for individual expansionism, for the assertion of personality at the expense of others or of life itself, nor the urge to harness another person to the realisation of the individual’s own aims and fulfilment.” (Andrey Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time.) This would make an epigraph for Retro. It fits nicely with one of the themes of Light–life proceeds through the unarmoured, etc: try & track down the Elizabeth Taylor quote to that effect*. Who are the unarmoured in Retro ? Certainly, Fat Antoyne, Mona and Liv Hula. Maybe Mrs Keilar. Aschemann appeared to be at first, but is now looking increasingly manipulative. Jack definitely has the urge to harness another person to the realisation of his own aims. As for Frankie DeRaad, well he’s a parody of the manipulative, as all gangsters are. Uniz Bonaventure, what about her ? It seems absolutely right that Antoyne, Mona and Liv escape the judgement of the author, despite their betrayal of Jack: but why Uniz ? & what about Aschemann’s assistant ? Is she manipulated or manipulator ?

That last question is answered in Pearlant; & some of the answers given in Nova Swing are thrown into doubt. Just as Light turned out to be a more complex interaction with Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” than my original attempt in The Centauri Device (what do you expect after 30 years), Nova Swing turned out to be a more complex response to Tarkovsky & Elizabeth Taylor than I’d made in Light. I still find power loathsome–& neoliberal concepts of “empowerment” loathsomely deceptive–but I can no longer tell a winner from a loser. It’s got to be a step forward.

*A Wreath of Roses, 1949. I love the blatancy of her first paragraph–

    “Afternoons seem unending on branch-line stations in England in summer time. The spiked shelter prints an unmoving shadow on the platform, geraniums blaze, whitewashed stones assault the eye. Such trains as come only add to the air of fantasy, to the idea of the scene being symbolic, or encountered at one level while suggesting another even more alienating.”

Be warned, she’s saying. All is not what it seems. & even that which lies behind what it seems is something other than itself. & while there is that which lies, there is also that which lies…

second brood

The birds are reclaiming the garden. A pair of robins nest in the ivy perhaps eight feet from my window. It’s their second brood. I watch the adults going in and out, but can’t quite see the chicks. The old cat is no threat to them any more. If he’s out there at all, he sleeps or sits there blinking benignly. Everything is very overgrown this year.

Rereading: Robert Aickman, Cold Hand in Mine (with its epigraph from Sacheverell Sitwell, “In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation”). “The Swords” still seems like the most perfect grotesque story ever written, deep sexual politics, body horror & some inexplicable edge surgically inserted between the mimetic & the surreal. Soul horror. It would be nice to get back to the out-&-out Gothic. Watching: Engrenages, series 2. Guilty pleasure: Faber Finds. Relieved to be inside: the last chapter of Pearlant.

I have to work–speaking of the guilty pleasure–to stay off the new Vivian Maier site. Though in a way I still associate the Maier experience with Maloof’s original blog. & now there’s a book, for those who still like them. & for those who still leave their houses, she’s at the London Street Photography Festival, the German Gymnasium, Kings Cross, July 1 – July 24.

broken symmetries

“…pimps, pickpockets, carpenters, finger-men, chorus dolls, housekeepers, second story men, watchmen, cops, priests soldiers–Mildred–The Dwarf–The Man In The Palm Beach Suit–The Masked Man In The Car–the story that was coming to life under his fingers… Truth cannot be symmetrical, he told himself. As he rounded the hill, he saw all of them down there below him. Not one of them but would die. He had seen no danger in toying with them like a monster cat in a box of mice. But their cries were beginning to worry him.” –Kenneth Patchen, The Journey of Albion Moonlight, his italics, my ellipsis.

how to write

In his NYT piece about Reid Stowe, Adam Sternberg describes a classic detournment performed by Bernard Moitessier during the Golden Globe round-the-world race in 1968–

    ‘…he was well in the lead when he decided to change course and simply keep sailing. He explained this in a note, which he flung by slingshot onto the deck of a passing ship, that read in part: “I am continuing non-stop because I am happy at sea, and perhaps because I want to save my soul.” He later wrote that, looking back on his decision, he only regretted the inclusion in the note of the word “perhaps.”’

Moitessier himself writes, in The Long Way

    ‘The geography of the sailor is not always the one of the cartographer, for whom a cape is a cape with its longitude and latitude. For the sailor, a great cape is both very simple and extremely complex, with rocks, currents, furling seas, beautiful oceans, good winds and gusts, moments of happiness and of fright, fatigue, dreams, aching hands, an empty stomach, marvelous minutes and sometimes suffering. A great cape, for us, cannot be translated only into a latitude and a longitude. A great cape has a soul, with shadows and colours, very soft, very violent. A soul as smooth as that of a child, as hard as that of a criminal.’


People ask, is your novel Climbers out of print ? Yes. But it will be back soon in paperback from Gollancz. Significantly, perhaps, the UK publication of Pearlant is scheduled for 1st April, 2012. The short story “In Autotelia” will appear in Night Shade’s anthology Eclipse 5, ed Jonathan Strahan, in May 2012.

mania & brutal

Lovely images by Tobias Zielony, of Le Vele, Naples, up at Our God is Speed (which I got to via Pere Lebrun).

Putting things down: the crime describing itself as Pearlent unspools, increasingly weird, challenging even, 500 wpd interrupted by periods of mania during which I do a day’s work in an hour & then gabble the whole afternoon about it to C, who looks pained. I can hear myself but I can’t stop. I spent the 1980s in that condition, reaching it without chemical stimulus. No wonder I’m tired.

Reading: Ballard, collected stories; Bolano, Amulet & 2666; Alan Furst, The Foreign Correspondent. Looking forward to The Black Swan, which seems to have everything that interests me including obsession, madness & a woman who thinks she’s growing feathers.

pearlant: the failure-of-memory palace

A swimming pool full of code. A vocabulary of interestingly combinable algorithms. A failure-of-memory palace bricolaged together around writers I remember from being very young. The usual combination of playground and fever-hospital. Bad dreams crawl over everything like the images on Emil Bonaventure’s sickroom walls. There is no shelter from the absurd. Some of the characters from the previous two books topple slowly into view, drowning as ever. Anna Kearney, who has spent the last two or three decades “pretending to be an adult”, begs less for redemption than for closure, her generation’s feeble substitute. Ascheman’s ex-assistant, lacking the history to be a feeble substitute for anything, has a journey to make. Some characters who reappear will not be human, or even “alive”. Downward causation. Voices in entangled states. Stars like cheap Christmas toys. The failure of past and future to sit in the accepted relationship with one another. A man walks through solid objects. All this against the background you would expect from Light & Nova Swing. Will there be answers ? What do you think ? (This modified from an interview by Nuno Fonseca, done some time ago, which I don’t know if it’s appeared yet.)

the vision of the absurd

It occurs to me that Pearlent the object has commonalities with both Rene Daumal’s “peradam” and Medieval dream-poetry, especially “The Pearl”. As a result I’m tempted to use this, from p193 of Adam Thorpe’s excellent Hodd, as one of the epigraphs for the novel–

    “a shrieking was heard under the grass and a pearl the bigness of a hazel-nut lay there, from whence the smell of a honeycomb rose up, that over-powered the stink (though some said that the perfume was of violets), whereupon the pearl vanished that none should quarrel over it, and soon after the wind calmed and the light returned.”

It would muddy the waters nicely. But it’s also the absolute archetype of Medieval visionary imagery, that madness they did so well. Significantly, if you type “The Pearl” into Google, you’re offered “unique true freehold investment opportunities” in Qatar & then a Chinese restaurant in Cumbernauld. I don’t know what the Pearl Poet would make of that, but for me it’s just another confirmation of the vertiginous absurd. Meanwhile (via Footless Crow), Harold Drasdo–determined to summit where the precursor failed, see Harold Bloom–has written the missing two chapters of Mount Analogue. I don’t know what Daumal would make of that.