the m john harrison blog

something to remember

Yes, prescription drugs are funded by the UK taxpayer. But this is done according to an allocation of funds determined by us, the voters. The NHS is the vehicle by which we have chosen to have our health services delivered to us. It is not a charity, it is not a gift from government and our prescriptions are not given at Jeremy Hunt’s largesse.

–Ann Robinson, Guardian, today.

age wars

The middle aged–that is, those between about thirty five and fifty years old–are afraid of the way old people view the world. They pretend that this view is a criminal ideology for which they have a fine and organised political contempt. They have a duty to root it out. It is an issue. They also pretend that their own faux juvenility (sustained precariously in the face of first the true juvenility then the growing adulthood of their own children) is less an evasion than a special kind of sensibility, one that has to be fought for and that possesses a high political value. What they’ll feel when they come round to old age themselves, I don’t know; one of the great surprises of being old is that whoever you were back then you’ve seen what happens and you couldn’t care less about it any more. That was the discovery you were so determined not to make when you were middle aged. Now you have, you’re stuck with it and it becomes the foundation of your ideological crime. The thing to do is feel no guilt. Life is a series of narratives–all false–learned then unlearned.

KT cruel

The White Cat reappeared 200 kilometers above Redline. Ordnance burst around her. Someone had predicted she would come out there and then. “Oh yes,” said Seria Mau, “very clever. Fuck you too.” Tit for tat, she cooked off a high-end mine she had slipped into the path of the incoming pod. “Here’s one I prepared earlier,” she said. The pod broke up, temporarily blinded, and toppled away in several directions. “They won’t forgive us for that,” she told her mathematics. “They’re arrogant bastards, that team.” The mathematics, which was using the respite to normalise her relationship with the White Cat, had no comment to make. The ship’s sensorium collapsed around her. Everything slowed down. “In and out now,” she ordered. “Quick as we can.” The White Cat pitched over into entry attitude. Retrofire pulsed and flared. Outside, the colours of space gave way to weird smeary reds and greens. Seria Mau airbraked relentlessly in the thickening atmosphere, letting speed scrub off as heat and noise until her ship was a roaring yellow fireball across the night sky. It was a rough ride. The shadow operators streamed about, their lacy wings rippling out behind them, their long hands covering their faces. Mona the clone, who had looked out of a porthole as the ship stood on its nose, was throwing up energetically in the human quarters.

They breached the cloudbase at fifteen hundred feet, to find the Karaoke Sword immediately below them. “I don’t believe this,” said Seria Mau. The old ship had lifted itself a foot or two out of the mud and was turning hesitantly this way and that, shaking like a cheap compass needle. A fusion torch fired up at the rear, setting nearby vegetation alight and generating gouts of radioactive steam. After twenty seconds, its bows dropped suddenly and the whole thing slumped back to earth with a groan, breaking in two about a hundred yards forward of the engine. “Jesus Christ,” Seria Mau whispered. “Put us down.”

The mathematics said it was unwilling to commit.

“Put us down. I’m not leaving him here.”

“You aren’t leaving him here, are you ?” Mona the clone called up anxiously from the human quarters.

“Are you deaf ?” said Seria Mau.

“I wouldn’t put it past you, that’s all.”

“Shut up.”

The Krishna Moire pod, realising what had happened, swept in, fanned out into the parking orbit with a kind of idle bravado, the way shadow boys in one-shot cultivars occupy a doorway so they can spit, gamble and clean their nails with replicas of priceless antique flick-knives. They could afford to wait:. Meanwhile, to move things along, Krishna Moire himself opened a line to the White Cat. He had signed on younger than Seria Mau, and his fetch, though it was six feet tall and presented itself in full Earth Military Contracts chic, including black boots, high-waist riding breeches and a dove grey double-breasted tuxedo with epaulettes, had the demanding mouth of a boy.

“We want Billy Anker ,” he said.

“Go through me,” Seria Mau invited.

Moire looked less certain. “This is a wrong thing you are doing, resisting us,” he informed her. “To add to all those other wrongdoings you done. But, hey, we didn’t come for you, not this time.”

“I done ?” said Seria Mau. “Wrongdoings I done ?”

Outside, explosions marched steadily across the mud, flinging up rocks and vegetation. Elements of the pod, becoming impatient with the half-minute wait, had entered the atmosphere and begun to shell the surface at random. Seria Mau sighed.

“Fuck off, Moire, and take speaking lessons,” she said.

“You’re only alive because EMC don’t care about you one way or another,” he warned her as he faded to brown smoke. “They could change their minds. This operation is double red.” His fetch flickered, vanished, reformed suddenly in a kind of postscript. “Hey, Seria, I got my own pod now!” it said.

“I knew that. So ?”

“So next time I see you,” the fetch promised. “I’ll let the machine speak.”

“Jerk,” said Seria Mau.

By this time she had the cargo bay open. Billy Anker, dressed in a vintage EV suit, was shuffling head down towards it with all the grim patience of the physically unfit. He fell. He picked himself up. He fell again. He wiped his faceplate. Up in the stratosphere, the Krishna Moire pod shifted and turned in hungry disarray; while high above it in the parking lot, the hybrid ship awaited what would happen, its ambivalent signature flickering like a description of the events unfolding below. Who was up there, Seria Mau wondered, along with the commander of Touching the Void ? Who was presiding over this fumbled op ? Down in the cargo bay, Mona the clone called Billy’s name. She leaned out, caught his hand, pulled him inside. The cargo ramp slammed shut. As if this was a signal, long vapour trails emerged from the cloudbase at steep angles. Billy Anker’s ship burst open. Its engines went up in a sigh of gamma and visible light.

“Go,” Seria Mau told the mathematics. The White Cat torched out in a low fast arc over the south pole, transmitting ghost signatures, firing off decoys and particle-dogs.

“Look!” cried Billy Anker. “Look down!”

The South Polar Artifact flashed beneath them. Seria Mau caught a fleeting glimpse of it–a featureless gunmetal ziggurat a million years old and five miles on a side at the base–before it vanished astern. “It’s opening!” cried Billy Anker. Then, in an awed whisper: “I can see. I can see inside–” The sky lit up white behind them, and his voice turned to a despairing wail. The pod, growing frustrated, had hit the ziggurat with something from the bottom shelf of its arsenal, something big. Something EMC.

“What did you see ?” Seria Mau asked three minutes later, as they skulked at Redline L2 while the White Cat’s mathematics tried to guess them a way out under the noses of their pursuers.

Billy Anker wouldn’t say.

“How could they do that ?” he railed. “That was a unique historical item, and a working one. It was still receiving data from somewhere in the Tract. We could have learned something from that thing.”

FE365

shouting, berating, destroyed by the absolute Quizoola & signage of the universe, blundering as a gorilla across some space in Sheffield or Clapham—stunned into momentary silence by the accusation “Are you acting?” exhausted from asking these infinite questions of the real but in a dead boring voice—disheartened by waves spooks ladders two dimensional trees—dismayed by prospects of costume or the piano or twins or the sheer number of functions of the disaster—but then immediately caught in a moment of ineradicable “beauty” you could neither have predicted before nor retrodicted an instant later (in that you might ask yourself Did that really happen? & in all honesty only answer yourself that it both did & didn’t, or might have, might really just have)—& anyway by now something new is always already happening—it is a angel made transiently out of the howling woman dragged across the shiny left hand corner of things–or blood ribbons–or the man in the imaginary box by the garment rail puzzledly electrocuting or hanging himself–while his friend struggles out of a pair of trousers whose utter urban anonymity suggests they could only belong to Death—to the simple haunting of Death by itself, the Trousers of Death, Death’s curiously diffident voice & cautious musing about the failure of things & their falling-away—& someone else is tearing paper & then everyone changes their costumes & starts talking about shit–& the audience are walking out or laughing really loud–& you don’t know how many ironies are involved here but everything is as perfect & as fast as it could be & there is this rich smile on your face thereafter & you are less afraid in your life than you were before–or more afraid–here in this civic centre near Mars or Doncaster–with its abandoned chest freezer, its industrial spaces, shiny brick, revealed ventilation systems & portholed institutional blue fire doors marked KEEP SHUT, where they clear the bar before 9:30 with the rhetorical question, “Will anyone else want a drink?” leaving only the Christine Keeler chairs of a forgotten future to pock & dimple a poured resin floor

This was my contribution to FE365 last year.

ag wars

–take a slice of your commission–take a slice off everything–if you look where their depots are–it’s dog eat dog out there–the tractor business is a different one–it’s coast to coast–it’s about cleaning up the balance sheet–run it as a franchise then run their own stuff on the side–did some things you probably wouldn’t agree with–the way of the world–they do a lot of tractors–80 to a 100 tractors, about 3%–I say I can’t quite believe that–he figures the whole area’s running 6 or 7%–the whole market looks worse–it’s not good–suddenly ag machinery looks worse, right out to the coast–suddenly you are just way way outnumbered–

pearl herself

Downstairs he told Pearl, the only person who’d spoken to him since he arrived, “It was weird.”

“They’re all fucking weird here.”

He had found her sitting on a window-sill on the second-floor landing, drinking from a bottle of Riesling and staring down into the garden as if calculating the possibilities of a sudden leap of faith.

“I don’t suppose I’m any better,” Shaw said. “Are you going to jump?”

This bought him a look of contempt. “Don’t be a twat,” she advised, “if you want to get anywhere in this life.” She had a blank, sidelong smile which didn’t always connect with the rest of her body language. “I’ll tell you two reasons why they’re weird,” she said. “For one, would you wear a suit? Be honest.”

“What’s the other reason?” Shaw said, after a pause.

“Try not to be glib. Another thing, they’re a fucking conspiracy. In ten years time they’ll be running your street for you. You can’t be arsed, but they can.”

Pearl herself preferred men’s casual clothing from the middle Thatcher period, obtained at a price from outlets in Fulham and Denmark Hill. She would also scour the Oxfams on a wet Saturday afternoon, looking for Hornsey pottery. She liked Bruce Springsteen between The River and Tunnel of Love and maintained her hair in a tall Erasorhead pompadour, which, extending upwards the thin white inverted triangle of her face, gave her a constant air of surprise. She seemed eager to talk–even to adopt, if not yet sure that Shaw was worth it. They passed the Riesling bottle between them until it was empty. Then, after a pause, Shaw said:

“I like that outfit.”

“This? Oh, this is just retro rubbish. You should visit some time and see the original stuff.”

don’t ask

A reader will often ask: Mike, what are your greatest influences, in literature, pop music & elsewhere? Who are you a fan of? Readers, though I have lots of favourite authors I am not a fan of anyone. My greatest influence at present is the fiction of descent, ie any story in which it is slowly revealed (but not to the central character) that the central character is dead. I’m also quite interested in Anthony Powell, but mainly for his dry delivery.

singular

From “On Singularities, mathematical and metaphorical” at Soft Machines, the blog of Richard Jones, Professor of Physics and the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield:

The biggest singularity in physics of all is the singularity where we think it all began – the Big Bang, a singularity in time which it is unimaginable to see through, just as the end of the universe in a big crunch provides a singularity in time which we can’t conceive of seeing beyond. Now we enter the territory of thinking about the creation of the universe and the ultimate end of the world, which of course have long been rich themes for religious speculation. This connects us back to the conception of a technologically driven singularity in human history, as a discontinuity in the quality of human experience and the character of human nature. I’ve already argued at length that this conception of the technological singularity is a metaphor that owes a great deal to these religious forbears.

He goes on to talk about the singularity central to the KT trilogy–also the book’s centralising of human rather than post- or transhuman problems.

any port in a storm (2)

Child as audience to parental narrative. The child raised by the parent as witness to the struggle that gave rise to the child. That would include the struggle to sexual maturity; the capture of sex, social space & economic capital from the previous (grandparental) generation; &, especially, the rehearsed mythic structure of the parents’ struggle to make and maintain a relationship.

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