the m john harrison blog

the space travel

Somebody once arrived here by typing into a search engine, “What colour is the space travel?” It’s a query , I think, which should concern us all. For me–& I hasten to add that this is only an opinion, which I am not in any way trying to foist on anyone else–it’s the colour of Ruth Wilson’s lipstick in the 2007 BBC/HBO co-production of Steven Poliakoff’s Capturing Mary. The space travel will be just as fascinating as that colour. Or maybe it will be the colour of a gas ring in the pitch dark when you come down at four o’ clock in the morning for a drink of water & discover you forgot to switch it off six hours earlier, & it will have all of that sense of shock & simultaneous relief to it, but also a similar sense of wonder. Or maybe, if it’s neither of those, it isn’t a particular colour at all but is many colours having in common a sort of neon quality, so that the space travel is a bit like travel in a large previously-unvisited city at night, & you go to your companion, “Oh, wow, fuck, are you looking at this?” Here at the Ambiente Hotel we not only welcome other opinions about the space travel colour, we invite them.

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.

Screen+Shot+2016-02-10+at+19.10.36“The accusation of pretentiousness is ‘a form of social control’, designed to keep people in their place and protect the status quo.” Often used by a class against its own members. There was so much of that in the 1950s. But weaponised unpretentiousness soon becomes a pretension in itself. That’s why we moderns dress up as post-Edwardian farm labour while we call other people out for being inauthentic; and every cultural policeman you meet is suddenly both DH Lawrence & a really blunt bloke from a three-issue fanzine in 1982, with just the right kind of “working” dog. (The picture has nothing to do with this, I just liked it.)

an imaginary review (9)

In this novel without urgency, there’s a carrot but no stick. Chapter by chapter, a Team of Friends, driven by what they’ll gain when they solve a problem rather than by what they’ll lose if they don’t, solve problems. Once a problem is solved, the next problem is presented and the drive to solve it lies simply in the fact that no solution has yet been found. At the same time this isn’t a puzzle novel. Neither does it seem to be an attempt to write an exciting story without resort to violence, sensationalism, othering, etc. Once all the problems have been solved the novel ends. The same applies to each scene, each sub-plot, each arc of character-relation among the Team of Friends: the momentary problem and its solution drive development at every level. People live alone, but come together easily in cafeterias, offices and public spaces. Their arrangements are liquid. Spirits are usually high, but even where there is physical danger–or loss or heartbreak, or at least the possibility of those things–work on the current problem places it somehow at one or two removes: so that while the Team of Friends may be threatened, threat converts fluidly into an issue of morale which in itself slides away in the corner of the reader’s eye as a new problem captures the attention. Violence is deferred or confronted by proxy. In moments of great doubt there is always an authority to be applied to. It’s a structure which appears to be written out of–and directed back into–a culture or subculture in which, although society is often depicted as collapsing, work and its aspirations remain the only conceivable drives. Whatever its motive or audience, this assumption about the world comes over as a soapiness in the feel of the narration, as if no one is really there and nothing is really being told.

Dear BBC, I know that the story is the story. But do you have to structure every story around the story that it’s a story, & advise me that you’re storying the story, EVEN WHEN IT’S JUST THE FUCKING WEATHER? I’m fucking storied up to here with the fucking story. Really. I just want to know if it’s going to rain. I do not want to know that it’s going to be “a story of rain”. I do not want the story of the rain. I want to know if it’s going to rain or not. Anything else is meaningless nonsense to me in this context. Rain or no rain? Be careful how you answer this. Because you are a weather forecaster. Get it?

Today’s story has been one of bollocks all over the British Isles, with more bollocks, I’m afraid to say, to come.

first posted 14.07.2014

in the ducts

Exposing too much of the hidden plumbing of metaphor, reference and allusion in a certain kind of novel is equivalent, as far as I can see, to “spoiling” the plot of a mystery. The reviewer’s job is perhaps to suggest where to look for the pipework, although even that needs to be done with restraint: you have a duty of care to the reader’s sense of personal discovery. Besides which, there are novels so rotten with reference that to acknowledge, let alone pursue even the more obvious instances would mean a four thousand word review consisting solely of page numbers, quotes and references of the reviewer’s own. Fun, but no one is going to publish–or read–it, and nor should they at that stage. It’s a process best left to someone further along, to another kind of commentator. A review is a first response. Of course, not giving the game away can sometimes make reviewing more difficult; but things are tough all over.

catabasis

That’s a word I haven’t seen for fifty years, even though it’s written through everything I’ve done like Blackpool in a stick of rock. I used to be very fond of the whole catabatic deal, now it seems it’s been very fond of me. We’ve grown together.

“the heart exceeds the heart”

Simon Limbau is full of youth, energy, warmth. He’s a surfer. Like many boys of his age he tries to seem uncommitted about everything else–later, when his parents, Marianne and Sean, are asked to describe him, they’ll conclude that he was like a cat, “egotistical and light on his feet”. We see him get up early one winter morning to go surfing with his friends. We see them ride the wave, “this torsion of matter where the inside proves itself to be more vast and more profound than the outside”. On the way home, though, their smelly, “sand-granulated” van goes off the road, Simon goes through the windscreen, and by the time he arrives at the hospital– “Male, six feet, 154 pounds, about twenty years old, car accident, head trauma, in a coma” –his brain is dead. But his good sound heart is still beating, and thereafter the story is told as the heart’s journey, from the viewpoints of the people who process it…

Read on in the Guardian, here.

london, an unreliable guide to

You can back the kickstarter for this now, to get great fiction from all these writers: Yvvette Edwards, Will Wiles, Irenosen Okojie, Nikesh Shukla, Courttia Newland, Gary Budden, Koye Oyedeji, Leone Ross, Paul Ewen, Gareth E Rees, George F, Stephanie Victoire, Chloe Aridjis, Sunny Singh, Juliet Jacques, Noo Saro-Wiwa, Salena Godden, Tim Wells, Aki Schilz, Stephen Thompson, Eley Williams, Kit Caless & Tim Burrows. My contribution: “Babies from Sand”.

elsie the dog at llangollen

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photo: Chris Pierre

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