the m john harrison blog

note, 2006

She finds a gold snowflake in her purse, relic of some distant Christmas. “I don’t know where it came from or what it’s for!” she tells me delightedly. Then: “I can’t remember where I’ve put anything these days.” Memory loss is both a curse and a blessing to her. She always offers it with a smile, not as an explanation but as a habitation, the place she’s speaking from. Today her kitchen doorway is crawling with ants. A robin whirs out of the garden to eat them, then makes itself at home, on the doormat, on the refrigerator, on the back of a chair, its little dark eye cocked sidewise at everything. The robin is sharp as its own beak. Its memory, unlike hers, is clear. Its sense of ownership of its own time–all the busyness she used to have–is acute. Get ants, the robin thinks, if it can be said to think: feed chicks. These were her selfsame parameters when she was young, successfully bringing up two boys and a girl. “Now, what kind of bird is that?” she asks later, suddenly a little irritable. I tell her, but she doesn’t seem to hear. “One of the things I find myself thinking about,” she says, “is how wonderful it would be to fly.” It’s then I understand what the word “disarmed” means. It means you are vulnerable. If you aren’t careful you will be forced to recognise that you don’t have a single worthwhile thing to say.

ghost talk

I wandered off about age thirteen and didn’t come back. Later I went looking for myself. During the search everything got vague. I never quite understood what other people were so involved with. This is probably the most major faux pas you can perform in any culture. I picked up some ideas. I wouldn’t call them answers, or even obessions, as much as metaphors or structures of metaphors. They were recombinative. They were cyclic, and expended themselves across a decade. That was as far as I could go with anything. It was long as I could sustain an interest. During that period I would pursue one or two projects intensively–combining them for preference with a failing relationship, a house move, two hobbies and a career suicide–then move on. I came to know this process as ”writing”. “Writing” was my way of engaging with myself. As much as I could, I tried to avoid other people’s descriptions of it. By the end of the 1970s the best I could imagine myself doing was to write down as accurately as possible a conversation heard in a cafe in Huddersfield. Even then it was clear that once you put an object like that to use, you are basically making it up.

FILBA 2019

Reading “The Neon Heart Murders”.

Signing at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.

In conversation with Jonathan Lethem, ably moderated by Ricardo Romero.

All photographs copyright Walter Sangroni

femme fatale

Just to be a little tease I am–right here, right now–revealing the epigraphs for The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again (Gollancz, June 2020, if any of us are still alive & still breathing air by then). Make of them what you will.

“Gradually the sunken land begins to rise again, and falls perhaps again, and rises again after that.”
–Charles Kingsley, Thoughts in a Gravel Pit

“…some things are drawn to water and behave differently when they are near it.”
–Olivia Laing, To the River

“Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”
1 Corinthians 15:51

the rant

Science fiction writers often used to be called Cassandras, after the prophet whose predictions weren’t believed until they came true. So this, if it needed a title, would be entitled, “Cassandra’s memo to herself after laying out the cards”.

It’s easier to warn about a disaster that hasn’t happened yet than to write about the one that’s happening all around you. When you’ve fancied yourself as a misfortune-teller all your life, and now the voices echoing back off the temple walls are repeating with great clarity the words you never really wanted to believe—because they were, in the end, just too much of a disaster—what do you say next?

When the disaster gets too intimate with you—when it’s crawled too close, like the prophetic snake curled up and licking in the mouth—the snake licking to be admitted and at the same time to be transmitted—to be acknowledged and released—what are you going to find to say?

Cassandra’s in need of new omens and new ways of managing them. Or is she? Omens aren’t much use when the ominous hasn’t just come about but is free, clear and acting out in real life. How meaningless to spread the cards and invoke Future #16, the Fall of the Tower, when the tower has already fallen on you!

Specifically, what use is a prophet, now that the future has caught up with the past, and the present has caught up with the future? The whole point of prophecy collapses as soon as the prophecy comes true. So what do you do next?

Cassandra doesn’t know. Except:

Events this overbearing leave you with the growing sense that unless you foreground them, you have no position to speak from and no business speaking.

Try to understand the science. Try to tell the truth. Try to find a medium in which to tell the truth. Try to extend the envelope in which you will be permitted to tell the truth. Prophecy is over. Persuasion is over. Action is the last thing left. Rebellion is the last thing left. Stay steady in the face of it all. Do what you can. Write that. Record that. Try to pass helpful messages between practical, determined people.

Speaking with XR Writers in support of Extinction Rebellion, 11.10.2019
Photo: Julian Richards

FILBA11

Two doors down the street from the hotel, the script on a shopfront advised, “Live Tattooing Upstair”. The living tattoos of Buenos Aires. I knew then that BA was a shadow version, a mirror, of Nova Swing (that old New Nueva Tango); of Viriconium; of the inside of my head the last forty years. It had the been the right decision to come seven thousand miles to read aloud a story called “The Neon Heart Murders”. I was on Borges Street, I was on Cortazar Street. The Delta was full of rain. It was the youngest delta in the world. It was full of white birds and half-sunken boats, stilted houses hidden on the temporary silts. The bars were full of beautiful people. It was FILBA11. It was a city of dogs where, in a hotel breakfast room full of 1970s soft rock, I would begin to construct a self capable of finding itself. Etc.