the m john harrison blog

beyond the sea

Bolivar, sometimes known as Porky, an experienced fisherman whose hands are large and whose plastic sandals are held together with tape, has done something stupid. To make enough money to fix it before his pursuers cut off his ears, he needs to catch fish. His temporary assistant, Hector, an adolescent who turns up in a sweater with a pirate logo and who has only ever fished the local lagoon, is failing to earn his respect. The South American beach where Bolivar keeps his boat is strewn with symbols of their coming voyage, among them an old man whose “songs are sung to the bones of the dead”. A storm is in the offing; Bolivar and Hector should be returning to port, not leaving it. Go to the Guardian to read the rest of my review of Paul Lynch’s Beyond the Sea.

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The new novel is out from Gollancz next June, and is already pre-orderable under the wrong title from Amazon. It will be called The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again, a quote from Charles Kingsley* (reference to a better-known work of whose is made openly and throughout). A British experimental novelist recently gave me the following generalised advice: “Never try to explain what you’re doing,” she said. “Just distill a little story out of it–four or five lines will do–and tell that every time someone asks you what the book is about.” So: The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again is a tale of starcrossed lovers so lonely and self-involved that they not only fail to maintain a relationship but also fail to notice a mysterious UK regime change, even though it’s more than possible their class is complicit in it. Reader, you might well recognise this situation! Anyway, there it is. June 2020. New novel. Who knows what sunken lands will have risen by then.

*”Thoughts in a Gravel Pit”

Cassandra’s memo to herself after laying out the cards

Events this overbearing leave you with the growing sense that unless you foreground them like everybody else, you have no position to speak from and no business speaking. But though I’m afraid of what’s happening, and deeply angry about the loss of the Postwar Settlement, I have no imaginative interest in the inevitable consequences, which will resemble precisely what they are: the most easily-imagined dystopias of the mid 1970s, the low-hanging fruit picked by the Late New Wave. Why would a prophet revisit old prophecies? The near future will anyway be better engaged by people younger, more intelligent, more energetic and more politically practical than me. For the first time I’m beginning to feel genuinely rather than performatively old. Meanwhile the internet tropification–as ruin tourism and edgeland porn–of almost every symbol in the major arcana has left me with nowhere exciting to look. I’m in need of new omens and new ways of managing them. How meaningless to invoke Future #16 when the tower has already fallen on you!

complaints of ghosts #121

“My problem has always been that I couldn’t quite believe that groups of people and all their real-life arcs and outcomes could be so predictably crass. It’s one tainted project[ion] after another. I’m quite tired having to walk further and further like this into the fading slice of territory they don’t affect.”

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no event seems to have been involved

Unpredictable flashbacks, so brief they vanish as they arrive. Hard to grasp, impossible to trace. Prompted by the weather, the light, a sound, a thought about something else entirely, or—finally, and worst—without any stimulus at all: leakage from someone else’s project, as if someone unrelated down there is editing footage of your life for purposes of their own. Fields, hills, foreign cities. Sometimes a voice. Always objects in light. A figure or two, not many, glimpsed from across a room or a street. You can’t call these memories. They don’t last long enough. No event seems to be involved, or even implied. They don’t seem to have happened to you, only to have been recorded. Meanwhile in the garden the rose, thuggish and unpruned, is pulling the rose arch apart.

Funny when you have to catch up with yourself by walking back, taking your own hand and talking yourself forward through the discoveries you’ve already made. Perhaps funny’s not the word.

“Doe Lea”

“We wondered if you needed help,” the woman said.

They stood smiling at the top of the townhouse steps, quite thin and tall–in their sixties, I thought, but still calmly attractive–dressed very simply–and I went up into their house, which didn’t have as many rooms as you might expect for a place that size. It was tall and deep, but it was thin–a slice through a terrace, among other tall, thin elegant slices. “Let’s have tea inside,” the woman said. “It’s so much cooler in here.”

“Let’s have it in cups!” the man said, as if this was a new idea. “Give me your coat and I’ll put it on the back of this chair.”

So I gave him my coat and had a cup of tea, and they asked me how I had got to Doe Lea. They smiled when I told them about the broken train and the way I had wandered around the town; but when I described the little cliff with its wavelike architecture and its colonies of bees, they looked at one another puzzledly.

“Bees?” the man said, and shook his head. The woman shook her head too and said:

“We’ve never heard of anything like that.”

–“Doe Lea”, a simple story of ghosts, due soon from Nightjar Press in a signed and numbered edition of 200 copies. Details as soon as they arrive. No reprints, so keep an eye open here, at Nightjar or @mjohnharrison on Twitter, and pre-order as soon as you can.

“…a dreamlike journey through landscapes that shimmer and are populated by uncanny subjects. It begs the question of what memories are and how they serve us.” —Lucie McKnight Hardy, author of Water Shall Refuse Them, Dead Ink Books.

this post is not about music

“In the context of music production, elites are those who dominate the most popular music style(s) at a given time.”

Here, an elite is being defined not as a traditionally entitled faction of society but as the group which actually holds the power in a given niche at a given time. Elites of this type often fail to realise that they are elites. Defining/redefining the nature of the castle is part of capturing/recapturing it, of having the power. It’s not necessary to be posh & Oxbridge to define & capture the castle then become boring, arrogant, obstructive & limiting, via the use of restrictive definitions and practises; anyone can do it. In fact in this model the process is natural & inevitable, generational even, whether you’re an elite elite or a populist elite. It’s a small town, son/and we all support the team*.

“Once the new style is adopted by a sufficiently large number of followers, its representatives become the new elite and the cycle starts from the beginning.” Anyone old will have watched this cycle through a number of times in a number of cultural arenas. Experience tells us that if you don’t like what you see, you can wait for the next thing to come along. It also tells us that this holds for every discipline, at every scale & at every wavelength; even for the tiniest little niche eddy already curling into viscosity at the edges of the flow.

Can the elite of one establishment ever justify its belief that it is the anti-elite of (the antidote to) another? Is it possible to survive the rage of a populist elite, especially an emergent one, at being called out for its elitism?

infodump

The very term, and the contempt with which it’s deployed in TV Tropes-style criticism, is designed to doom it from the start as a technique. But an “infodump” is essentially a piece of nonfiction writing. If you never read good nonfiction, or if you think that all nonfiction is the same thing, or has to be boring, or has to take a particular unreadable tone that bores you, you’ll never be able to infodump successfully. The perspectives and voices of good nonfiction are many, and available to anyone who wants to learn them. That also makes them as parodyable as any other kind of discourse. There’s a lot of fun to be had by combining a travel writer’s voice from the 1920s with the voice of a motorcycle manual in the 1960s; or a Vienna Secessionist manifesto with a Himalayan expedition record or the distinctive syntactical lilt of a translated Continental theorist in 1981. There’s a lot of fun to be had by switching the voice and perspective of your implicit narrator as a way of switching the frame and context and managing the reader’s perspective on the events in the text. Do you want to write a landscape into your fantasy novel? Make sure you’re reading landscape writers, not fantasists; you may not want to use the phrase “ruderal scrub”, but you need to know when you’re walking through it. Do you want to do faux-physics? Read the real thing, not your favourite TV Tropes writer’s “clever” fiftieth-hand take on the time travel trope. You’ll need a decent ear for a set of style rules—a poetics of jargon—and a dependable conversion ratio to your own voice; and you’ll have to be aggressive and unapologetic about it, and expect the reader to keep up. Here’s a short frame-switch about switching frames. Is it fiction or nonfiction? Here’s a piece about infodumping by outright list. Is it fiction or nonfiction.