the m john harrison blog

Category: viriconium

end state

Obviously there should be a place in every town–it’s dark, there’s a steep street, cobbles and shadows; then a corner; a flight of steps, perhaps two; then a single street lamp!–where people are drawn some nights of the year to hear this music played. It’s quite separate from its contemporary origins. You can forget them. You aren’t a child, you can perfectly well strip them away. When you stand there you will. Because it will be repurposing itself in front of you, or–more likely–revealing some purpose it had before there were people, or even the bandoneon, if you can imagine anything that distant. I’m not promising you this–I’m not promising anything–but that’s where it promises itself, and you would be a fool not to go there, however long it takes, & see.

You Should Come With Me Now

frost & fog

“This mite’s sins are nothing to some I’ve had to swallow,” boasted the sin eater. He was a dark, energetic man of middle height and years, always nodding his head, rubbing his hands or shifting his weight from one foot to the other, anxious to put the family at their ease. “They’ll taste of vanilla and honey compared to some.” No-one answered him, and he seemed to accept this readily enough–he had, after all, been privy in his life to a great deal of grief. He looked out of the window. The tide was ebbing, and the air was full of fog which had blown in from the sea. All along Henrietta Street, out of courtesy to the bereaved family, the doors and windows were open, the mirrors covered and the fires extinguished. Frost and fog, and the smell of the distant shore: not much to occupy him. The sin-eater breathed into his cupped hands, coughed suddenly, yawned. “I like a wind that blows off the land myself,” he said.

–from “The Sin Eater”, 1983.

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 The book features eighteen short stories–five of which are original, unpublished & unavailable anywhere else and a further half dozen that will be new to most readers–and some flash fiction, much of which will be recognisable to habitues of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.

There’s a new page up, here. Add queries if you like, to the ghost queries that crowd around & fail to find satisfaction etc etc.

do the fish

About half a mile away he found a dead man hidden by a corner of masonry that stood a little above waist height. Retz knelt down and studied him curiously. He lay as he had fallen while running away from someone, his limbs askew and one arm evidently broken. He was heavily built, dressed in a white shirt and black moleskin trousers tied up below the knees with red string. He had on a fish-head mask with lugubrious popping eyes, worn in such a way that if he had been standing upright the fish would have been staring into the sky. Green ribbons were tied round his upper arms. Beside him where he had dropped it lay a knife from which there rose, as it burned its way into the rubble, a steady stream of poisonous yellow motes. They had taken off his boots. His feet were decorated with veinous looking tattoos. Retz climbed on to the wall and looked thoughtfully both ways along the empty road. Then he jumped down again, to emerge ten minutes later dressed in the dead man’s clothes. The fish head had given him some trouble, but he had tied on the string and ribbons; and he had the knife.

from “Viriconium Knights”, 1977

the last Viriconium story

Strictly speaking, “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium”, with its demented hedge magicians and their puzzled late-modern ephebe, is the last Viriconium story, in that it gives to the series what might be laughingly referred to as closure. But now there is this other item, which is the last Viriconium story in another sense, written 30 years after the fact just to see what I’d produce in late style–to see what this burned-out other me, affect flattened by age, voice bleached out to the faint, destroyed tones of Dr Petromax, expectations drastically lowered and genuinely de-romanticised, would make of the typical Viriconian material–but perhaps more importantly, of himself. Well, it’s done, it’s the customary four or five thousand words and it will be available to view, more or less soon, depending on the vagaries of the publishing industry. And it’s good, in that it’s odd, it unearthed plenty of stuff and it isn’t too badly written. So: result. But in the end what it makes me think about most is how an individual’s lifetime identity, personality and emotional history can be determined by early reading. I am not talking here about “influence”, on a “writer” but about the formative years of a person. I read LP Hartley’s The Go Between in 1963 or 1964: watching Jim Broadbent and Jack Hollington play Leo in the recent BBC version, I now see that my life was almost as wrenched by the book’s emotional demands as Leo’s is by his encounter with Marian. Hartley was so desperate to get over his warning–and as a reader I was so desperate to signal to him that I’d understood it–that I took it on and acted upon it the way Leo never could. Reading can induce, or encourage, such vast parallax errors. I feel now that parts of my life have probably been a disaster as a result of learning too well the lesson Leo doesn’t seem to learn at all. Other books that formed or wrenched me in other ways: The Flight From the Enchanter, Iris Murdoch; Pincher Martin, William Golding; A Fine Madness, Elliott Baker; Mooncranker’s Gift, Barry Unsworth; Love for Lydia, HE Bates. I’m sure there are fifty others. Please don’t go away and use these authors to “interpret” what I write. You would have to have known me very well for a generation or two for that act of divination to have any force at all. And–again as a result of my formative reading–I can, sadly, be certain that you haven’t.


The collection:

Lost & Found
In Autotelia
The Walls
Rockets of the Western Suburbs
Imaginary Reviews
Entertaining Angels Unawares
Elf Land: the Lost Palaces
Royal Estate
Last Transmission from the Deep Halls
Places you Didn’t Think to Look for Yourself
Not All Men
Dog People
Jackdaw Bingo
Earth Advengers
Keep Smiling (with Great Minutes)
The Crisis
The Theory Cadre
Recovering the Rites
Anti Promethian
In the Crime Quarter
The Good Detective
Name This City
The Old Fox
Awake Early
Explaining the Undiscovered Continent
Self Storage
A Web
Back to the Island
Cave & Julia
Alternate World
At the Seaside
Getting Out of There

news, various

Gollancz have produced some exciting packages for their three remaining reprints from my backlist, The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life and Things That Never Happen: these covers acknowledge & echo the textuality of the texts, and remind me very much of the fatal book in “The Gift”. I went to see them on a dark wet December afternoon in London: they lit it up. More on that soon.

Meanwhile, the new short story collection has emerged relatively unscathed from its beta read (thanks to Sara Sarre, Julian Richards, Mic Cheetham and Nina Allan). I’ll be tinkering with it for a while yet–and titling has become the usual nightmare. I see no rush. Soon I’ll blog a full contents list, including the flash fiction, most of which appeared here. (Thanks for everyone’s help on that.) Previously unpublished stories include “The Crisis” which you may have heard me read at Warwick U or at Totleigh Barton; “The Old Fox”, so technical & emotionally citrus it gives me toothache to read it now; the final Viriconium story, “Crome”; and others. Previously published stories that may have been off your radar include: “Entertaining Angels Unawares” and “Cicisbeo”. A story that won’t be reprinted in this collection, or anywhere else, is “The 4th Domain”, which will only ever be available in that form as a Kindle Single: so buy one now (etc etc).

Speaking of Viriconium, it’s nice to have Eric Germani’s exhaustive study, “The Killing Bottle”, here (useful for anyone taking Warwick U’s F/SF course); I’m very much looking forward to his forthcoming analysis of Light. I suspect my tribute to Forced Entertainment is now up among all the other 365s, at the FE site; I was late, mea culpa. The Poor Souls’ Light anthology of original Christmas ghost stories is mailing as I speak, but I think there may be some copies left if you haven’t yet ordered; I’ll be at Birmingham College of Art next Friday (12th), reading from my contribution, “Animals”, alongside Alison Moore and Jenn Ashworth. There is other news, but I am deliberately keeping it from you–partly in case nothing comes of it & partly because I am such a tart.

“In this collection of novels and stories, it’s fantasy that does the escaping, leaving readers and characters alike scrabbling at mirrors.” –David Hebblethwaite on Viriconium.


Some reminders & updates: I’m at Totleigh Barton on Thursday (23rd Oct) to read for my supper at Liz Jensen & Simon Ings’ SF course; Birmingham Library on the 30th October, to remember Joel Lane & read from SALT’s Best British Short Stories 2014; Manchester (John Rylands) Library in December with the Curious Tales team. An exciting talk possibility has turned up for next autumn, I’ll keep you informed; and having missed Claire-Jane Carter & Tess Lyons’ Hagglers Corner event in Sheffield (not to say missing the chance to meet the frighteningly determined Nick Bullock) on Saturday (25th October), I’m hoping to contribute to whatever they do next–news on that if & when. If you’d like to pay me to read something, or do some other kind of appearance, leave a comment here or follow @mjohnharrison on Twitter and DM me. New & recently available stories: “The 4th Domain” is up at Kindle Single (where you can still get “Cave & Julia”; if you missed the delightful Night Jar Press edition of “Getting Out of There”, it’s available in the above-mentioned & equally Royle-edited Best British Short Stories 2014, from SALT (both paper and electronic); “Animals”, an untraditional traditional ghost story, will appear at Christmas in the Curious Tales anthology Poor Souls’ Light. I’m thinking of saving “The Crisis”, which I debuted at Warwick U’s Irradiating the Object conference, as a kind of bonus for the new collection, which will contain a couple of other previously unpublished and similarly raw items. There’s progress on that, including a new and I hope final title, but I’m still trying to finish The Last Viriconium Story to go in it, so don’t necessarily hold your breath. The new novel is looking round so many different corners at once that I couldn’t tell you anything about it anyway.