the m john harrison blog

Category: Uncategorized

google space

that edgeland of rundown ads failed cons old traps decaying sites drifting wrecks & Stahlenhag effects in which it’s now impossible to find anything without already knowing exactly where to look/only ever some carefully drawn teenager fantasy imitation of it as a gun/to which the only index can ever be “Deleted Wiki Titles” & “Seven New Made Up US Weapons the Russians Are Justly Frightened Of” with barely lisible invitations to download/so human/& which is now the only true Zone remaining/spoliated landscape combined from all interior worlds rutting away at the middle of things you can’t access this by explanation every attempt only adds to the mass/turn off the electric try to do something outside discourse like give someone say an iced gem or other biscuit which will fail because everything is information and an algorithm and connected and language but at least you feel you tried or anyway tired


duties of care

A dream in which I was looking for someone, or making a journey to a house where they could be found. I went on foot & sometimes by bike. I had to take a small bird with me. Sometimes the bird flew, sometimes I carried it in my hand. My hand had to be held flat or very shallowly cupped, in case I crushed the bird. I had some worry about that, & some worry that the bird might fly off or become lost. At the same time, this was not a dream of anxiety. The person I was looking for could be described like this: a boy, younger than twelve but quite grown up & intellectually mature, very companionable & at ease with people. The house might be described like this: no older than the 1930s but feeling Edwardian. Detached. In the Home Counties. On a hill, in woods. On soft earth. Bay windows. The bicycle considerably more modern. No threat in this dream, & the only tension centered on the bird, for which I felt a duty of care. I was looking forward to seeing the boy, whose ideas & ability to talk were already attracting the interest of writers & teachers.

never think beyond the problem of getting things down

Stop reading. Stop being anxious about your relations with books. Assume your skills are adequate. Assume you don’t know who you are. Go away to another town. When you get there, don’t “write”: instead begin recording what you see. Describe a life you can only be on the edge of. Get those people down. Get down what they do, what they say, how they say it. Aim for observational accuracy but understand that you can only ever proceed from emotional & moral judgements you have already made. Never try to resolve that opposition. Never think beyond the problem of getting things down. Keep everything. After two years go back to where you came from, if you any longer believe that to be possible, or if you believe yourself any longer to be the you that went away. You can start trying to “write” again now.

Originally published as “note found in a copy of The Cosmic Code”, in 2013.

the door in the wall

“The door in the wall was an icon beloved by late Victorian and Edwardian alike. The symbol of lost opportunity, or of opportunities not fully taken. If you pass through the door, the story goes, you cannot be anything less than changed. If you don’t pass through it, you still cannot be anything less than changed. Choice, here, offers a fifth major compass point, an unnamed direction or plane. It’s the plane of nostalgia, and of nostalgia’s inverse, a kind of weightless but abiding regret.” From “Self Storage”, You Should Come With Me Now.

Photograph: “Dilapidated doorway” by Paul Dobraszczyk, from his fascinating collection at Rag-picking History.

in the end you have to get frightened enough to push down the pillars of your own establishment

Brutalise all plans and conceptions. Lose patience with last year’s ideas. Bolt wrong components to wrong components. Sustained acts of Frankenstein and self-piracy. Address current emotional issues not old ones. New observations/notes. New philosophical/political insight. New structural problems/solutions. New imagery. Sense of adventure. Sense of risk in the material. Affront your hopes for yourself. Glee at breaking own definitions and taboos. Carnage in the files. Parameters missing at the outset may be the very things writing will show you. Reject nothing.

Original blogged as “acts of Frankenstein” in 2012


“A strip of muddy grass,” describes so much of Britain seen from the Martian point of view. They are struggling, morning after morning on their tall frail legs, along a strip of muddy grass. Floodwater generates from nowhere, spreads across their path in January and February. Later the ploughland rolls away, curved, corduroy, glutinous. Woods are especially difficult. The Martians group and flock. Signal. “A slope.” “Mud and slopes.” “Slopes and woods.” They are wary of church towers and pylons. So many good comrades lost to electrocution and hysterical conversion. They avoid Milton Keynes. Allotments, railyards, every central reservation an artillery position. By Watford Junction beechwoods take fire at dusk.

the year so far

The aunt aged early but after that never seemed to get any older. A certain fragility set in just behind her face, but her eyes remained clear if watery. She kept a sense of what was right, although she seemed constantly surprised that the world didn’t subscribe to it. After college he returned to the town. He couldn’t settle. He wasn’t sure about anything. He might have found work but he didn’t. Instead he visited the old woman. They did crossword puzzles. They filled in photograph albums–closing fast on the current year, in which her son and his family moved house, took a trip to Stockholm. One afternoon she saw a thrush outside her kitchen window. “Now, what kind of bird is that ?” she asked. He told her, but she didn’t seem to hear. “One thing I find myself thinking about,” she said, “is how wonderful it would be to fly.” He understood in that moment what the word “disarmed” means. It means you are vulnerable. If you aren’t careful you will be forced to recognise that. The last thing she told him was the strangest thing he ever heard. She took his hand and said, “For you all of this started with the death of your father, which rubbed off on you and appeared to become your own.“ After the funeral he found the parts of a human body–as far as he could tell, it was male–in another room, distributed between two or three freezers. Unable to think what else to do, he used a Morrison’s trolley to wheel them in boxes through the town, late at night, down to the sea.

the wounded hare

“One place,” says an inhabitant of Norminton’s future, “is lots of places if you wait long enuf.” But if the novelist is patient enough to work from this perspective, his characters aren’t. Their experience is urgent, phenomenological, human. They live in constant awareness of their environment. As the wounded hare runs from him, Andagin imagines he can “see the ember of its soul rushing to catch up with it”; above them both, the oak canopy clatters and creaks in a bitter wind. Two thousand years later, the land, though reduced, is still a rich source of signifiers, demanding observance, caution or celebration: as she walks through the Bagshot woods, teenager Bobby is equally aware of “dog mess underfoot or bagged and hung from branches”, while her father, irritable, vague yet driven, an obsessive archaeologist soon to be divorced, must keep a constant eye open for illegal motorcyclists joyriding around his beloved Heath. “A low bruise of particulates hangs in the air,” and London can be seen in the distance, “gnawing into England’s flesh”. Read the rest of my review of Geoffrey Norminton’s new novel The Devil’s Highway, up at the Guardian.

monologue overheard in a heritage attraction tea room on a wet day

“The rich always knew–It was “Plan AGW from Money Space” –Elegant from the beginning–Rinse everyone in the greatest act of disaster capitalism anyone will ever pull off then retire to the safe room to count the jars of urine & toenail clippings–Their crispered fifty year old kids get more surgery & plot to replace them because they have the best hair–It’s the perfecto scam–It’s an act of the global imagination–Twelve pharoahs & their attendants convert an entire population into personal survival after death, the telepathic star drive–A new generation of 4000 horsepower golf carts–They enslaved a planet with the promise of luxe goods–Drug W–Drug B, the Disappearing Dust–Summer fires eliminate the labour force even as they complete the giant pyramid–Deserts of powdered bone–This is efficiency–This is immortality–This is the topping out ceremony–You couldn’t make it up.”

a grand design

Adulthood in this class defines as the state in which you are able to commission a proxy to research and buy the lifestyle product you want to own–let’s say it’s a vehicle, let’s say it’s an uprange midsize SUV–at the best price. Then you show it off to people you’ve only just met, as if they are going to buy it. You show them round your new product as if it’s a home. This is a complex gesture. It doesn’t stem from pride of ownership, nor is it a boast about status (both by now rather old-fashioned social drivers). It isn’t even a way in which to demonstrate your acumen in choosing and securing this item of lifestyle outlay. It is all about your ability to hire someone else’s acumen. Your own skills are thus shown to be essentially managerial. You didn’t so much source the product as manage the project that sourced it. As for money, well that’s a matter not of being able to afford the product but of being able to afford the help in choosing it. (“The agent,” you say. “Our agent.”) More important, it enables you to laugh and self-deprecate: you would have chosen and bought your own car, like any normal person: but you are too time poor.