the m john harrison blog

Category: predicting the present

hard boiled

I thought we should put the laundry out despite the weather forecast. After all, I said, it wasn’t going to rain in secret. We could always run out & bring it in back in. I was at that time more worried about the noise the washing machine had started to make. It sounded like an entry-level Mazda coupe being retuned for the son or daughter of a small businessman. No washing machine should make a noise like that, I said. But if I’ve learned anything from life since, it’s that they all make a noise like that in the end.

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note from the ruins

Epistolatory fiction of the near future based around a cache of emails found in a long-abandoned server farm below the Arctic Circle:

… your last mail … suspected for about 5 years there’d been some really big change we weren’t seeing. Something our definitions & our picture of politics simply wasn’t taking into account. That turned out to be what’s happening now, of course! … also had this feeling there were two elephants in the room, not one. … certain now it was AGW … [large amount of text missing ] … Capital was already thinking forward … climate denial always a way of buying time. The New Elite wasn’t just a kleptocracy, it was the kleptocrats ensuring their own survival & the survival of the kleptostate through the transition period … bastards … let everything outside the borders go to hell & hope to come out of it with an Arctic resource fiefdom … can’t point to what convinced me in the end, probably his Rosneft pay-off. Anyway, great to hear that the kids are doing well & see you soo

Some corruption of data, obviously, as you would expect given the circumstances, not to say the times.

page 117

I just played this divination meme: open the nearest book to you at p117, read the second sentence, & that will describe how 2017 happens to you. I opened Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke. There aren’t any sentences on p117 in my copy: only the section title “1966”. 1966, my first short story was published. I wrote three or four more & towards the end of the year one of them was accepted by Ted Carnell at New Writings in SF. I lived in shared flats in Shepherds Bush & Holloway, & in a bedsitter in Tufnell Park. We played cards a lot. We scaled up a frame from a Marvel comic to the size of a door & put the words It’s All Stopped Happening–which I had stolen from a cartoon–in Private Eye?–into a superhero’s mouth, I forget who. There was a fire deep in the night in some lean-to shops opposite Holloway Road tube station, we went out to watch. You could feel the heat on your face from the other side of the road. Most mornings we spent in a cafe, playing Beck’s Bolero repeatedly on the jukebox. I did other things, but those are the memories that come to mind without thinking. What I remember most clearly is the constant grinding anxiety. I had no idea who I was or what I was doing there. I had no idea about anything & that was why I clung so hard to writing. It was going to be my only way out from too many situations. To be honest, I’ve grown used to not feeling that way & in 2017 I was hoping for a continuation of that.

death of a witness

Olivia Laing on John Berger:

Capitalism, he wrote in Ways of Seeing, “survives by forcing the majority to define their own interests as narrowly as possible”. It was narrowness he set himself against, the toxic impulse to wall in or wall off. Be kin to the strange, be open to difference, cross-pollinate freely. He put his faith in the people, the whole host of us.

The book of his I pick up more & more often as I get older is his collaboration with Jean Mohr, A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor. I have a beaten-up old paperback–from the early 70s, I think–which doesn’t get any easier to read without it falling to bits; but it’s now available from Canongate with an introduction by Gavin Francis, who describes it in his first sentence as “a masterpiece of witness”. That was what Berger felt like back then, and what he made me want to become: a witness.

we’re all back from the dead

we’re all back from the dead now
even those of us who were alive to start with
so there’s no point you standing there on the one leg
flapping your arms that way
the building, the bars, the unfortunate street
this whole picture’s uncompromisingly cursed
and whatever you do you will not become a “story”

I thought I might just reblog this once a year at around the appropriate time

…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.

Originally blogged November 9th 2015, as “the next war”. Last year, this still seemed to have elements of humour, now [shrugs].

terranauts

Ecosphere 2, a sealed multi-biome habitat in the Arizona desert, is a dry-run for life off Earth; an experiment in closed systems living sunk by sex, hunger and competitive tensions; and a two-year reality show and visitor attraction set in a popular-science theme park, the gift shop of which offers soft-toy bush babies “at $14.95 a pop” “It wasn’t a stunt,” one of its occupants admits, “And it wasn’t theatre. But certainly those elements were present… Call it science-theatre.” Something we’ve seen plenty of this week, as “all eyes” were turned to Mars etc etc, and will see plenty of again as the publicity of science becomes more important than the science of science. My review of The Terranauts, TC Boyle’s blackly comic novel, not quite a new Tono Bungay but a savage enough pisstake of contemporary techno-boosterism, up at the Guardian.

may time

HE Bates is good at people dying puzzled after a life lived without interrogation or protest and an old age that has reduced them to the human equivalent of a salmon after breeding, coming to pieces in the upstream pool. The absolute triumph of modernism was to make it clear that, while you have to accept the reality of death, you don’t have to accept anyone’s description of the “realities” of the life that precedes it. We should cling to that understanding as Theresa May moves us gently but firmly back to small town English life in Bates’s 1920s.

A day suspended from interpretation to interpretation, hung between guesses. It’s late when you look up. Something in the street. Bassline oozes from a passing car. Rain between here & the night. You close the shutters, switch on the light, read, “Lost cities found.” Read, “This attempt to see a future that leaves us all exhausted.” Read, “A pure, gargled emotional demand.” The cat walks round the room. Purrs briefly by the door. Your phone is trying to remind you of a name you don’t know.

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.