the m john harrison blog

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


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.


in which the author is seen trying to remember his own name

Who’s dead in “Doe Lea”? A ghost story in chapbook form, in a limited edition of two hundred copies, signed & numbered, from the Nightjar Press. “Quickly establishes a sense of foreboding that is difficult to ensnare: a dream-like 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 Harvey, author of Water Shall Refuse Them.

Photo: Nick Royle

some news is good news

New novel The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again will be published by Gollancz in June 2020. I’ll open a page for it here when there’s more to report.

A science fiction novella I began in 2013 is still writhing in & out of existence like one of the monsters in “The Crisis”. It’s set in the same world as that story, or a version of it, and at the moment it’s looking like the post-apocalyptic road movie I would have died to have published in New Worlds when I was twenty three.

There’s a short, distributed item called “Colonising the Future” appearing in the second issue of VISIONS. There are also short ghost stories in various stages of completion, set now and with the ghost hidden well down in the fabric. One of them, “Doe Lea” will be published soon as a limited edition chapbook by NightJar Press. This is the direction the fiction is going in at the moment, so if you want Light-style bizarro, or its default opposite, Just A Really Wonderful Empathic Story, I’m not your man.

Still working on collaborative projects. News if and when something emerges.

worth repeating maybe

People who lost their ontological security so long ago they don’t even remember it happened to them. They muddle along trying to construct and maintain a self from what’s left, continually remaking the world out of unstable bits and pieces, suffering a condition they don’t even recognise as loneliness, clutching at the edges of other peoples’ lives. They stumble upon a set of habits and that will have to do. It gives them a certain gallantry. We recognise that about them even when it’s irritating. People who have lost ontological security to that extent are rarely aware of it, so when writing them it is best not to present direct explanations or origins, beginnings or ends. That would shine too much light. It would clarify and rationalise their behaviour the way single-event trauma is used in the Hollywood blueprint, to add motivation and simple causality to plot-driving characterisations and characterisation-driven plots. We would “understand” them, which seems both offensive and unneccessary.

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.

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”