the m john harrison blog

Category: Uncategorized

leap into the void

In the 1990s I not only got tired of Klein’s smug approval of his own joke, but of the po-faced seriousness of fans of his who needed to remind me he hadn’t really jumped; as if I might not understand that. I did understand it, but what I felt too ashamed and too inarticulate to explain was this: at that time I knew of punters who had based off the top of a well known limestone gorge into a five square foot gap between boulders, a margin of error that promised nothing physically good if you missed. Unless it could be reinscribed as a celebration of the kinaesthetics, not to say the neurology, of a choice like that, Klein’s artefact seemed embarrassing: empty, bourgeois and academic. Academic, that is, in the sense of being beside the point. It was just another self-congratulatory gesture in the face of real things. In the end, for me, at the time, this became a question of who you would choose to be your shaman: a New Realist or someone who would jump off the top of the Cheddar Gorge to see if they would actually be void at the end of it. How do you explain all that to someone who isn’t really going to listen? Well, you don’t, and as a result you suffer the consequences of one more cultural traffic collision in a long and inreasingly boring life of them. Now, of course, when every act is carefully-Kleined porn of itself, it’s immaterial. We do these things but at the same time we counterfeit doing them. The two performances have been inextricable for years. By now our sleight of hand is magnificent.

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some sense of pursuit

I was worn out. I was so tired. I could hardly walk. At last I reached the opening of a dry concrete pipe, big enough to crawl into. From there it was possible to look back at the landscape I had crossed. There was some sense of pursuit, which I had escaped. But the relief I felt brought its own difficulties. I knew that if I fell asleep I wouldn’t wake up again. Nevertheless I turned away from the landscape–which, picturesque and under a magnifying haze, resembled that of Tuscany, a place I have never been–and lay down anyway, feeling an astonishing, liquid wash of gratitude. I was so glad not to have to try any more. I curled up and slept. I have always had dreams of being exhausted. For me it’s as if sleep is just another state of awareness, heavy with rules, demarcated by its own event horizons and transitional states.

why I don’t go to church any more

If you suggest to five sci-fi insiders that there’s something inconsistent in the plot, science causalities or background set-up of a sci-fi novel, they’ll agree promptly but identify six completely different inconsistencies to the one you found. Raise the number of responders and you will raise the number of inconsistencies. I tend to shelve this self-deconstructing syndrome alongside its Jungian reverse, the response I get most from sci-fi outsiders when I complain about low self-consistency or poor fidelity to initial assumptions in a sci-fi novel, which is: “Mike, is this book describing a real thing that happened? Or is it merely a fiction designed to give people fun?” –a rhetorical question often delivered in the blandly sarcastic tones of people who are on the verge of not having any fun because your opinions are standing between them and it. There’s no solution to either of these problems because they reflect differences in temperament so irresolvable that both sides often deny that the other side exists. For some years I felt double-bound by this understanding. That made me irritable. But the advantage of late style is that you can just write what you like on a minute-to-minute basis, while keeping in mind the imaginary you began in and the point you’re trying to make.

the big tease

This small town by the sea reminded him of films he remembered from his childhood–pantomimes of panic and desperation, harrowing stories of lives continually forced back on to the rails of localised and embodied knowledge–in which, as if to emphasise their entrapment, no one ever spoke in less than a shout. One afternoon he asked his aunt, was there something special about the town? Well I’ve always liked it, dear, she said. No, he said, he meant was there something different about it to other towns. The old woman stared at him. Of course there isn’t, she said. Don’t be stupid. He hired a car and drove her up and down the coast. While she enjoyed this at first, later it tired her out. All she wanted to do was watch wildlife videos and be read to from the myths. Tales of anabasis, she said, she could take or leave. But I can never have enough of Isis and Osiris, I suppose it’s how I am. Soon he was dreaming nightly of the metaphysics of dismemberment. A detective. The hunt for the murderer. The metaphysics of life from the sea. An obsession with alternate genetic pathways to being human. Later the weekly meetings of the Philosophical Society were embarrassed by a man who had put his faith in just such a theory, who read to the gathered local philosophers from an autofictional text he was writing, in which bodies and body-parts were washing up on beaches, at first all over England, then all over the world.

last of the dwarf grapes

Saturday a.m. in what looks like a slate mine. One of those mornings you wake up and a bunch of your tweets has gone missing in the night. You feel weird for two hours because you know you saw them before. Breakfast is the last of the dwarf grapes; after that, it’s ‘“Not leaving the EU could aid me and my sketchy associates in our efforts to end centuries of moderate politics in the UK,” says transport secretary.’ Or that might have been ‘transparent secretary’, not sure. Anyway, the Independent is selling the new colonialism by describing some rock in orbit round Barnard’s Star as “a better home for life”. Hard to know what to experience anxiety about next. I already miss not having an unfinished project to worry about. Still, soon I can start worrying what’s happened to the finished one. In the end you have to conclude that life is emergent one moment but that it goes back in the next.

year of

A generation on, they’re all getting back from the trip. Palinurus fell off the boat and thinks he might be in the wrong country. He says you can spend a long time in a room, wondering how dead you are. Orpheus, it turns out, never went anyway. Two days down the stairs he met a nice bloke from the next village. It’s been a varied career for those two, though primarily in hospitality. Heracles picked up more parasites than you’ve ever seen, some of the internal ones come out at night and he entertains us with reenactments of all those old fights he won. So it was an interesting class and tomorrow’s the reunion dance.

full fathom five

Like much in the new economy, Tranquility Fish Supplies endured yet didn’t prosper. Quickly more of an incident than a business, it was one of those smalltown events that has its day. The little square soon went back to sleep. Footfall was the problem, although in the dark evenings the shop still had its visitors. That couldn’t be denied. You would catch sight of these people from behind, silhouetted against the window they were staring into; and your lasting impression would be of shoulders that, when they weren’t hunched against the early winter weather, were long and steeply sloping. A bell rang as they went in.

Wee Oss was now seen behind the counter more often than Tommy or Brenda. His Toyota reappeared in the car park, in its customary position tight up against the yellow gritting bin, at a bit of an angle. The mud had been jetwashed away, the deflated tyre replaced; to balance that, someone had bashed in the rear window, as if whatever had happened in the quarry needed to be understood as part of an ongoing process. The old man closed up late, and always had some difficulty with the door. That was how Victoria came upon him, ten o’clock one evening early in the month, bent double but trying to keep off his knees as he struggled with the lock.

“Have those two gone already?” she said. “I thought they fitted in so well.”

He had to smile at that, Wee Oss said. “They’re up at Kinver, Tom and Brenda, on business of their own: we shan’t be seeing them again. Not so soon at any rate. Not so soon.”

For a moment, they both gazed into the shop. The fishtanks glimmered or shone. At this point along the flattening commercial arc of the business, they contained more tank decor, that curious built environment in which everything is sunken or drowned, than fish. There were drowned cottages, drowned bridges, drowned castles, drowned temple columns and oriental towers. Sunken villes of mixed structure dispersed themselves on beds of gravel that contoured away into the calm green mirrored infinity of each tank. There was an aesthetic of glow-effect pebbles, toadstools in vibrant purples and greens; a lightweight conspiracy architecture of “ancient stone heads”, sunken submarines and sarcophagi.

Down there, where scale meant nothing and even water could be depicted as drowned, postmodern treasure chests dwarfed the houses, overflowing with vast coins and strings of pearls. Everything was vividly simulated, luminous, tropically coloured, encrusted with plastic algae to signal slow, deep, marine change: it was as if the tanks had transformed themselves into dioramic representations of the famous but now lost coral reefs of the world, designed by animation artists who had never seen one. Victoria pointed. “That waterfall?” she said. “It’s made of plastic. Doesn’t that give you such an uncomfortable feeling? Water shown flowing under water?”

She felt herself shiver.

“It does me,” she said, “it gives me an uncomfortable feeling.”

The old man bent down without a word and began fiddling with the lock again. His eyes were sore. His nose was running. She clutched at the shoulder of his Castrol jacket and tried to pull him to his feet, the way you pull a toddler upright in a mall. She was determined to capture his attention.

Where have you been?” she said.

seasonal greetings from the staff of the back bar at the ambiente hotel

Just to say that Early Baroque Karaoke & Strange Matter Telescopy Night will continue in the conference room every third Thursday of the month. And a reminder from Alyssia that parking has been strictly by permit since the incident at the entrance to the western exit ramp. The team is working hard to remove various debris, but for now please park on the left hand side of the main courtyard being careful to leave room for Others.As you can see, while heavy snow has fallen around the hotel, less–for reasons as yet unclear to the Epistemological Commission–has fallen on it. Given the political climate, no one in the back bar is risking “Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year”, but try to have a good time one and all, in this season of deep explanatory collapse. Hope to be able to recognise you on the other side.

a story

I was buying greengrocery at the greengrocer’s over the road when the greengrocer said to me, “Two things always surprise me. The first is that a great deal of what a greengrocer sells isn’t green. Take oranges: they’re orange. Or purple grapes, I have some nice ones of those. The second thing is how much greengrocery is actually green. Why are so many things green?” I explained to him photosynthesis and how, quite deep down, it rested in quantum mechanics. “Strange, though,” he said, looking round his shop as if reassessing it. From my second floor office across the street I had a good view into the greengrocer’s window. The shop was empty and behind the banks of green objects I saw him kicking angrily at a wooden box.

still a bit disoriented

Even after all this time, finishing a book is like coming out of some much more physical process. Hands and shoulders stiff but not from typing. Not even, really, from anxiety, but from being up to the neck of your brain in it. It seems to get worse as you get older. The last three months I looked haggard in the mirror. It was the look the Netflix make-up artist devises for the leading meth-head. For three months you emerge at five in the afternoon with eyes dull from staring at the other world and bump into stuff or murder people, for instance because they say the wrong thing. During that period you definitely were not here, wherever here is. Actually I prefer to be in that state tho’ it is grim, because it is a condition like illness or when you thought you were at death’s door or some kinds of climbing on your own, a state in which every exterior pressure that insisted you do the thing can now fuck off because you are really doing the thing and all the pressures and rewards are interior. You are in it and there is no way–this side of falling downstairs–that you are coming out. Not without the book. And then people better be careful how they greet the returning traveller in the wreckage of the unwisely modified vehicle, with his 1960s underground comic book eyes both bruised and startled. Also still quite desperate as if some internal clanking noise hasn’t yet abated, some internal picture hasn’t yet faded, etc etc etc. Then all the difficulty of making an exit from that end of things and walking away because you have to be someone quite different to do the next part of the job.