the m john harrison blog

Category: predicting the present

to mars & beyond

Science & science fiction need wrenching apart before the issue moves from being one of romantic ideology–that is, they are each other’s infantile bright-eyed religions–to being one of biology–that is, they’ve become seriously conjoined into some abject thing from The Thing. If we do it now there’ll be less blood on the furniture in a crummy hotel room in the future, & less chance of the Pohl & Kornbluth dystopia their naive sex-affair is presently ushering in.

sublet city

The setting of the new novel, a sort of futurised now, is predicated on economics like this. It’s kept, the way background should be, in the background; but it makes a visible contribution to the narrative. When I put out a few chapters for beta reading, the main criticism I got was that a set-up like this isn’t realistic–it’s retro. I didn’t quite know what to say. Welcome to the new world, same as the old world. I lived in London bedsitterland between 1966 & 1971. That makes it easier for me to spot & understand what’s happening here. But it doesn’t make me wrong.

won’t anyone think of our children

Saturday afternoon and a pair of magnificently helicoptering parents attempt to direct traffic on the southern approach to the level crossing on Vine Lane, Barnes. There’s nothing they can achieve by this. The crossing gates are closed. The normal protocols are in operation. The cars are already in an orderly line, exactly where the highway code requires them to be. The train passes. The gates open again. The cars move off. Everyone has plenty of space. Nobody has run over the children. The whole thing has been theatre.

Later, I wondered if they were Someone. Their casual clothing seemed expensive, accurate to a hair, formally worn. They had a clear sense of centrality in other people’s lives. But if they were Someone–if they were bankers, pols or luvvies–why were they walking their very special children down the side of Vine Road on a Saturday afternoon rather than enjoying some more gated, quietly chauffered form of activity? Something more tailored to their tastes and abilities, which would reduce their anxiety? Something involving an actual helicopter?

Who knows. But for a moment, as they mugged and grimaced at the cars and strove to make theatre of personal control out of a perfectly normal situation already managed by the rules of the road, they looked uncharacteristically vulnerable; and that turned out to be the most thought-provoking thing of all.

interesting times

Despite being the definition of selfish, the Tories always know when it’s time to pull together–because if they don’t, nobody will get their snout in the trough. While Labour, despite starting from the assumption that we all should work for the common good, face every crisis by factionalising, falling apart and adamantly refusing to co-operate with one another. This has got to mean something, but I am not clever enough to see what it is. The other noticeable thing about this farrago is explanatory failure. People I admired for their political steadiness reveal themselves to be as changeable–as at a loss and dependent on the gossip of the last minute or two to form a plan–as I am. While outside UKIP and the political journalism industry, you sense, even the bigots no longer know what to think. And of course, everyone’s running for cover in one vomit-inducing fantasyland or another as quickly as they can. In later life, Christopher Isherwood felt it necessary to apologise for manipulating his friends so they made better material for fiction; an entire culture is going to be apologising for itself in a generation’s time.

catabasis

That’s a word I haven’t seen for fifty years, even though it’s written through everything I’ve done like Blackpool in a stick of rock. I used to be very fond of the whole catabatic deal, now it seems it’s been very fond of me. We’ve grown together.

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the next war

…then, after a wonderful morning at the cenotaph we decided to go for a walk in the woods, which was rather spoiled by their being so muddy underfoot & our meeting a man not wearing a poppy. After Father had pointed out to him the disrespect inherent in this gesture, what did he do but harangue us for half an hour about some complicated political grudge he held? In the end, Father, indicating each of us in turn, gently asked him if he thought it right to bully innocent women and children in this way, & that seemed to be enough to calm him down; though he remained rough & humourless. Little Jenny, only eight years old, cleverly got his address from him, as a result of which, later, we were able to report him to the police.

the heart goes last

You make the dystopia you deserve. It’s the near future, and finance capitalism has pushed itself over the edge. The US is a rustbelt. Charmaine and Stan – we never learn their surname, which encourages a slightly patronising relationship with them – started out well: she worked for Ruby Slippers Retirement Homes and Clinics; he was in quality control at Dimple Robotics. Now they live in their car, just two ordinary Americans down on their luck. Charmaine maintains a “lightly positive tone” but misses her flowered throw pillows; Stan, though he “can lean to the mean when he’s irritated”, is a good man underneath, and feels he has let her down. They’re used to the smell, they’re used to being hungry. They have each other. They seem a little naive in the way they maintain their love as a bulwark against the world; and it is this naivety that makes them vulnerable when, in desperation, they join Positron, a socioeconomic experiment based around a privately funded postmodern prison… Read the rest of my review of Margaret Atwood’s savage new satire, The Heart Goes Last, in the Guardian

hi dave

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ag wars

–take a slice of your commission–take a slice off everything–if you look where their depots are–it’s dog eat dog out there–the tractor business is a different one–it’s coast to coast–it’s about cleaning up the balance sheet–run it as a franchise then run their own stuff on the side–did some things you probably wouldn’t agree with–the way of the world–they do a lot of tractors–80 to a 100 tractors, about 3%–I say I can’t quite believe that–he figures the whole area’s running 6 or 7%–the whole market looks worse–it’s not good–suddenly ag machinery looks worse, right out to the coast–suddenly you are just way way outnumbered–