the m john harrison blog

late style

Late style arrives when you realise that you are: competent enough to write those things you wanted to write when you were twenty five; impatient enough to have one more go at going all the way; angry enough not to allow anyone else to persuade you to do something else. At the same time late style is cold, amused, contemptuous and savage about everyone you have been or ever tried to be. Late style is when the monster down there has finally had enough. Late style is when the people who have all your life jumped in front of you–waving their arms No! Careful!–jump out one more time to encourage you to run them down.

A day suspended from interpretation to interpretation, hung between guesses. It’s late when you look up. Something in the street. Bassline oozes from a passing car. Rain between here & the night. You close the shutters, switch on the light, read, “Lost cities found.” Read, “This attempt to see a future that leaves us all exhausted.” Read, “A pure, gargled emotional demand.” The cat walks round the room. Purrs briefly by the door. Your phone is trying to remind you of a name you don’t know.

weight of words

Soon afterwards he found himself wearing his own clothes, carrying a two-day-old copy of the Guardian and some hospital toothpaste in a plastic bag, waiting for a cab to come down through the traffic and turn on to the hospital apron. When he got home he was exhausted just from leaning forward and telling the cabby how to get where they were going. He lay down on the sofa and pulled a blanket up over him and went to sleep. When he woke up it was on the edge of being dark. The street outside was quiet. The light in Short’s room had a kind of sixty-year-old smokinesss, as if he was looking at things through nicotine-stained glass. The door of the room was open, and the man he had met in the hospital corridor now stood at the window, holding the net curtain back with one long hand so he could stare down into the street. He was whispering, “Yummie? Yummie?” to himself.

I’m moving forward into something here, Short thought: but I don’t know what it is.

From “Yummie”, my contribution to the forthcoming The Weight of Words, Subterranean Press, ed Dave McKean & William Schafer. Preorder here.

map boy writes on his handkerchief–

The pollluted sublime. Pockets of the sublime. The sublime as haunting. The sublime as antechamber. The powerless or disconnected sublime. The sublime immanent in its opposite (gnostic sublime). Beatification & the anti-sublime: Visions of Johanna. The absent or absurd sublime. The ironic counter-sublime. The failed sublime. The lost or misplaced sublime. Jouissance & the carnal sublime. The sublime of the commodified, or spectacular sublime. Intellectual branding & the cosmological sublime. The sublime will eat itself. Lists of unsublime objects presented as being in some overall way sublime (the rhetorical sublime). The toon sublime. Light slowly peels the surface of things. The Indian Ocean.

dscf0772

Originally posted November 2011

to mars & beyond

Science & science fiction need wrenching apart before the issue moves from being one of romantic ideology–that is, they are each other’s infantile bright-eyed religions–to being one of biology–that is, they’ve become seriously conjoined into some abject thing from The Thing. If we do it now there’ll be less blood on the furniture in a crummy hotel room in the future, & less chance of the Pohl & Kornbluth dystopia their naive sex-affair is presently ushering in.

the new fantastic

Lowrider sword & sorcery. Before the battle of Helm’s Deep, Galadriel, who’s eaten nothing for a week but the wadding from benzedrine inhalers, does Cootchie Cootie in the back of his 1951 Fleetline bomb. It’s a favour for a friend. Wittgenstein, Merlin & CS Lewis look on in passive-aggressive disavowal. After that, for the founding volume anyway, it’s Zap Comic dynamics on a lean-burn version of The Revenger’s Tragedy–the usual tale of poor choices, low ground clearance & self medication. Emotional palette from A Glastonbury Romance, prose from Destination: Moon! & worldbuilding from one of those ads where if you buy the right mobile phone it causes inconvenient buildings to fold themselves away in front of the user so she can get to some other stuff she wants to consume without ever walking round a corner or even, apparently, consulting the phone itself? (The world will be called Eldrano, & not as I first proposed Eldranol, which turns out to be already TM’d for a bovine mastitis application.)

–published as “use your new genre” in 2012

dscf1761

photo: C Phillips

amazing

The discovery of a defunct galactic culture the final activity of which seems to have been to construct a maze around a previous maze… The subsequent discovery of successions of maze-building cultures, whose energies have been directed into solving and then hiding or elaborately embedding the mazes of its precursors… Such embeddings aren’t neccessarily architecturally or even topologically congruent with the precursor maze–a maze can also penetrate or permeate the precursor. A maze like that is diffult to identify, let alone solve… Decoy mazes, often more complex than real ones, continue to be found. They contain no precursor maze, but have been built to soak up the efforts of later cultures, rendering them exhausted and passive, their energy directed away from the precursor’s artefact… The inability to solve a maze may actually be the inability to detect and solve a later maze… You may engage with a maze for a lifetime without recognising that your inability to solve it stems from the inability to solve a non-architectural maze which penetrates or permeates it… In the end, is it possible that all mazes might be hidden this way, by a single non-architectural interpenetrating over-maze applied from far in the future of all known mazes?

Enjoyed this. Made me wonder if Chuck Tingle is having such a benign effect on f/sf not just because he acted as a political releaser in a bad situation, but because his outsider art & brilliant idiolect, like his lively political tricksterism, bring him closer to the full-on act of imagination than the kind of fiction you’re used to finding inside the genre. Maybe people sense that & pick up some enthusiasm & creative velocity of their own from it. He certainly seems to have more in common with Blake or Dadd or Darger than with the f/sf professional whose imaginary, constrained from the beginning by what the industry needs, soon dries up.

sublet city

The setting of the new novel, a sort of futurised now, is predicated on economics like this. It’s kept, the way background should be, in the background; but it makes a visible contribution to the narrative. When I put out a few chapters for beta reading, the main criticism I got was that a set-up like this isn’t realistic–it’s retro. I didn’t quite know what to say. Welcome to the new world, same as the old world. I lived in London bedsitterland between 1966 & 1971. That makes it easier for me to spot & understand what’s happening here. But it doesn’t make me wrong.