the m john harrison blog

Category: unforthcoming work

some news

My new collection will be published later this year by Comma Press. It’s taken a while to get this sorted, and I want to thank everyone involved–also apologise to everyone else for the wait. Details as they arrive, here and from the Comma team. The book features eighteen short stories–five of which are original, unpublished & unavailable anywhere else and a further half dozen that will be new to most readers–and some flash fiction, much of which will be recognisable to habitues of the Ambiente Hotel. Contents include: a distributed sword & sorcery trilogy; two or three full-size sci-fi novels, one of which is two sentences and forty eight words long (fifty if you count the title); several visits to Autotelia, some that identify as such and some that don’t; and two final dispatches from Viriconium, neither of which would get house-room in an anthology of epic fantasy.

More details here.

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this is late but I’m not apologising

Despite the growing sense that we might have an actual Left again, politically 2015 was one of the darkest years I can remember. Not because of any specific incident, although there have been plenty, but because of the feeling you had of the Tories steadily & blatantly rolling us back on a broad front to our 1850s future–the return of religion, nationalism, militarism, press baronage & deregulated business, first creeping and stealthy, now open & determined. Personally it’s been equally weird. I had a couple of blocked arteries cleared by angioplasty in March, at the London Chest Hospital. That was a trip. You’re awake the whole time & the team wear what appears to be urban-camouflaged radiation protection. Thanks, guys–I’m saying that from the heart. Thanks also to the nurses and physios of the Royal Shrewsbury Cardio Rehab unit, who got me into good enough shape to walk up Snowdon four months later on my 70th birthday (during which I threw a fit of such absurd bad temper I want to apologise deeply to everyone involved). It’s been an interesting experience, a noticeable wake-up call and I got a good little short story out of it. Optimism can lead you up some depressing paths though. Don’t, for instance, look for the short story collection any time soon. I refer you to the publishing industry on that one. As a result, for the next year at least, if you want to actually buy volume fiction, you might be better transferring your attentions to another author. I can heavily recommend Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood. Indeed, for the best novel I read in 2015, it was a toss-up between Perry’s intriguingly attenuated Gothic and Lucy Wood’s pastoral haunt, Weathering. Running them close, & the best novel I had for review in 2015: A Cure for Suicide, Jesse Ball. I also enjoyed Amy Hempel’s short fiction, scoured out to a whisper in Reasons to Live; Katharine Faw Morris’s equally eroded but blunter short novel, Young God; Bodies of Light by Sara Moss; Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox; Dave Hutchinson’s dryly pertinent sequel to Europe in Autumn, Europe at Midnight; the fine, quiet Clade by James Bradley; & Richard Beard’s beautifully engineered Goldsmith’s Prize contender The Acts of the Assassins. Best autobiography, Jonathan Meades’ Museum Without Walls, although if My Brilliant Friend were to be rebadged, Elena Ferrante would leave him in the dust–slow to start, gripping by the end. Best “travel book” (far & away the wrong term but it will have to do): Norman Lewis’s humane, wry Voices of the Old Sea. It was a full year for re-reads, & for catching up on books that everyone else read when they were eight, including the immensely powerful Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr. I haven’t quite understood why the rediscovery of Lionel Davidson is focussed so specifically on Kolymsky Heights, which always struck me as a bit threadbare compared to his classic thriller The Rose of Tibet. Books I loathed, mainly because their humour seems founded on an unbreakable smugness: 10.04 by Ben Lerner; the whole of David Sedaris. I thought of using Miranda July’s The First Bad Man to bulk out that list of shame, but in the end decided to leave it off because I found its conclusion genuinely upsetting. Nonfiction: disappointed by The World Beyond Your Head, Matthew Crawford, and Susan Neiman’s Why Grow Up?–both of which promised insight into ideas that really interest me but proved superficial. I washed the taste of failure away with George F’s rebarbative and in the end heartbreaking memoir of London squatting, Total Shambles (published by one of the liveliest of the UK’s new small publishers, Influx Press, who also do the comprehensive and mind-blowing Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson). Nonfiction book of the year, though, would be David Winters’ collection of reviews and essays, Infinite Fictions, the introduction to which alone contains more interesting ideas about writing & reading than most entire books.

…& I am also a novel by “M John Harrison”. Hi.

an irregular event

Reading “The Crisis” last Thursday at Irregular Evenings 2, a hidden venue deep in the religio-industrial complex of Stoke Newington, ably organised by Vlatka Horvat and Tim Etchells. Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion were a hard act to follow. A great, mixed audience which included everyone from the #LossLit team to Michael Caines of the TLS and Canongate co-founder Whitney McVeigh. The evening was notable in another way for me, but more of that someB_Xmq6KWYAE2FMOother time. If you couldn’t be there for reasons of because, you can still catch the Warwick University audio of the original reading, online here. It looks as if “The Crisis” will have its first print outing in the short story collection–tentatively entitled Found & Lost–which is working its way up the femoral artery and into publishing’s dark heart etc etc even as we speak. News of that very soon, I hope.

Photo: Aki Schilz.

note to self

Won’t do to have them separated for the whole thing. Structure would work better if they were given another chance at each other maybe two thirds through. She comes down to London. Semi-alienated encounter–heavily flagged up for the reader but a bit empty of apparent content–in which neither of them seems able to talk about their actual anxieties. (See 2nd meeting for tone.) He’s too preoccupied to pursue her over it. Tell this from his pov, then when you return to hers, have her write him an email in which she takes him to task about it while admitting that she’s also to blame & still not addressing her concerns. He doesn’t answer. When we switch back to his pov later, no mention is made of it. The ending solves this. Or not. (NB: placed right, the third encounter would also amplify the readers’ anxieties about what’s happening to her.)

& speaking of imaginary places…

…I keep thinking I’m closer to writing this third Autotelia story–

“Every generation has its intellectual obsession: a new kind of politics, a new kind of science, a new kind of war. My generation was obsessed with Autotelia, a new kind of country. We watched with a tense amazement the grainy video of its capital city, the greyish streets so similar to our own. When the first Autotelians began to arrive on our side of things…etc.” His mother’s tea party for the Autotelians is a farce. After it, when he goes to their house, he sees the men in overcoats smashing the flower pot in the hearth, then a “yawning white face” in the hall. He leaves hurriedly. Work up to the tea party through his mother’s descriptions of the Autotelians; some events of little significance in the square; and his interest in the girl. Later, in Autotelia itself, he is taken to a place where a man who might have been his vanished friend Ashman once “stayed for some time”. The room sordid. Some accident–a small fire perhaps–on the carpet near the tallboy; a faint smell of excrement. “‘There was a lot of crying out,’ the landlord said: ‘Always a lot of crying out.’ And he managed to convey with shrugs, nods and grins that we both knew what that might mean. ‘In the morning he was gone.’ While we talked, I could hear someone pacing about in the room above.”

–then discovering I’m not. These are glimpses from the early 1980s, a couple of which remain fresh and clear, the rest being just sentences someone else might have written. It’s odd how this happens, odder still that you won’t give up on a thing even when you suspect the window of opportunity’s closed. You used to be the writer it needed but now it’s just some old love affair which never quite got going.

audio: video: reprint news

The audio recordings of Warwick University’s “Irradiating the Object” conference are available on the web here, including Tim Etchells’ fabulous keynote address and my reading of an as-yet-unpublished story, “The Crisis”. The latter, along with this video from the one-day Robert Aickman celebration last year, gives some idea of the contents of my new short story collection, which I promise to release into the wild soon. Meanwhile, the first of Gollancz’s reprints, Things That Never Happen, is in preparation for July. It will be followed by The Course of the Heart and Signs of Life. These reprints will have excellent covers–I’ve seen the art–and perhaps further added value: I’ll let you know about that as soon as things become clearer.

Analyses

For fun I put some random blog entries through I Write Like, which told me I write like: Jack London, JRR Tolkien, Chuck Palahniuk (twice), Arthur Clarke (for the “Earth Advengers” post), Cory Doctorow, Gertrude Stein, Dan Brown (for the first paragraph of a review of a Peter Ackroyd novel), Ray Bradbury, David Foster Wallace (twice, once for “Keep Smiling With Great Minutes”), and HG Wells. After that, deciding that my samples must have been generally too short to give a consistent result, I tried the whole of “Imaginary Reviews” and got Isaac Asimov; a 4000 word English ghost story, set mainly at the seaside and featuring an ageing middle class woman called Elizabeth, and got Isaac Asimov again; and then “Cave & Julia” & got HG Wells again. For the whole of Empty Space I got Arthur Clarke; but for its final chapter, which ends with that memorable sentence of crawling Cosmic horror, “First she would separate Dominic the pharma from his friends, take him upstairs, and fuck him carefully to a tearful overnight understanding of the life they all led now,” I got HP Lovecraft.

vague heart: a science fiction novel of the near future

Project Trap: Project Trap was never completed. Project Soul Gem was a project to collect “evidence-free innuendo”. Soul Gem was wound down in 1945 upon the birth of the resource (see notes). Several similar projects wound down naturally with the resource itself. Eat Cake, a hardened version of Soul Gem 2: the Eat Cake abstract promised abjection, violence, denial. Eat Cake was unlisted. Various other projects: Project 121 (see appended material). Mex Lite, Max Eight & Lite Core were clean product generated during varied initiatives and test runs. “Initiative B” ran successfully until 1978, when it was replaced under the Dark Stork programme. Project Veil Grain was an unsuccessful add-on to the Main Stem series. Vague Heart: Project Vague Heart remains partially operational but is identified under recent initiatives as “2014”. Resource appears to have retained motility & limited function.

Project 92 is the shadow of something much larger. 


note made at night

“The repeated killing of R is leading up to the narrator’s first meeting with him inside the space, clarifying references to their previous penetrations of it. We see some of that as a flashback. (Maybe up to R’s death from the fungal infection?) Anyway, everything is tracking towards a partial reveal which sets up the cyclic nature of the story.” And then: “Don’t forget Isis myth, & The Treasure of the Sierra Madre!”

I am so close to understanding why I wrote that.