the m john harrison blog

Tag: politics

one or two news items

The new novel is finished subject to tinkering (also to waking up at three in the morning, looking at part of it & thinking: what on earth did you think you were trying to do there?). I can’t say what kind of novel it is because I don’t feel I know yet. Maybe I’ll never know, but I can say that it’s set now, it’s odd, and it’s not a space opera, so that gives you some idea of what it isn’t. After that, things take on, as they should do, a slight, puzzling shimmeriness.

No title as yet. Publication details as and when I have them. And maybe the odd little excerpt to tease & confuse.

I started a version of this novel in 2008, looking to pick up where I had left off in the mid-to-late 90s with Signs of Life and Travel Arrangements. I wanted to take advantage of the things I’d learnt from the kind of short stories I began writing around then. That process was interrupted and modified by Empty Space; then the post-2012 version itself was interrupted by a house move and a heart attack, with an accompanying sense that I’d better get fit, go climbing again and generally take charge of myself from then on if I wanted to keep pushing and not give in and become old; and also by the recognition that this novel didn’t represent a direction I was going to be encouraged to take (& that therefore it was exactly the right thing to do). So I’m glad to have got to this point and be able to move along one way or the other.

In the last five or six years I’ve received such support, from so many new, exciting and unexpected directions, that I’ve had more sense of the fun of being a writer–not to mention the worth of it–than at any time since the early 1970s.

Next year I’ll transfer my attention to the other new novel I’ve been working on the sly: but also enjoy the luxury of finishing two short stories that have been slowly ungluing themselves from the edges of what I laughingly call my “mind”; and two really exciting collaborative projects nothing to do with on-the-page fiction. I also hope to do more readings, because I enjoy that kind of ephemerality of presentation, that way of entertaining people. Readings are a good way of finding out who you are and what you write, and extending that; and they offer audiences a new way in, too. I’ll be back to reviewing in the new year, for the Guardian & the TLS, and I’m hoping to collect a “personal anthology” of favourite short stories for Jonathan Gibbs’s excellent series here.

Sadly, The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life and Things That Never Happen remain out of print. Perhaps something can be done about that in 2019; I intend to be rather more energetic, and rather more vocal about the problem in certain quarters. Whether anything can be done or not, there’ll be a “selected” short stories to include material from The Machine in Shaft Ten onwards, introduced, I hope, by someone young, lively and cleverer than me, and aimed at an audience I didn’t until recently know that I had.

My slogan for 2019 will be: We go through the doors that open.

Advertisements

failures of determination

Massive amounts of what happens to you will happen via invisible and/or unparsable causal chains. Much of life, you will never know it happened at all, let alone to you. Much of what happens around you you will never even notice. The search for causality–though causality is everywhere utterly present and dependable–means to welter around looking for explanations you can’t have, using epistemologies and ontologies that are at best provisional. Why waste time, especially in fiction. Let’s have some representation in fiction for everyone who, without knowing it, puzzles through their lives in what used to be called “a dream”. Because that is all of us. Solepsism, narcissism, self-involvement are the wrong words for it. They come loaded with the meaningless judgements of a past that thought parsable causality was not just a thing, but a thing you had a responsibility to consciously engage with; they thus suffer catastrophic failure when required to describe the act of wandering through thick fog in a country you have already failed to recognise as foreign in a condition of mild irritation because you’re thinking about something else.

voodoo larry’s lead sled

Ben Myers’ grainy, uncompromising, wildly exciting The Gallows Pole, from tiny Northern publisher BlueMoose, wins the Walter Scott Award, 2018. A fortnight or so later, Crudo, Olivia Laing’s “experimental novel about Kathy Acker” becomes a bestseller a week after publication. These are only the most snapshot examples, the most visible evidence. Things are broadening out. A little catch-up is going to have to be played. No one’s claiming the 1980s are finally on their way out; but we have as much right to dream about that as we do about reaching the semifinals of Global Sportsball. So, for all you aspirational writers out there: a big round of the chorus from Eddy & the Hot Rods’ greatest hit again, I think. And, kids, always remember: you are not writing a book. You are in the basement with Tom. You are building your version of Voodoo Larry’s Lead Sled. You need to be able to explain without embarrassment, “I Frenched the headlights.” Understand Voodoo Larry Grobe, you understand The Work, this is a metaphor ok it is what we do.

Incidentally, apropos of nothing, here’s that history of recent changes in the bread market again.

dream

I was living in a house I didn’t know in a city I didn’t know. The people who lived there were young. They were cheerful, although their faces had a certain toughness, a certain wariness. The house had a lot of rooms. I left objects of mine, including my personal identification and a laptop with new work on it, in various of them. While I was anxious about this I wasn’t worried. I kept track of my things by rehearsing their positions in each room. I visited every room regularly to check that everything remained in its place. Everything was fine until I began to notice that the house was badly built. Living spaces had been constructed out of what had clearly been a condemned building. Then I began to forget where my things were. As I went from room to room looking for them, the house revealed itself as even more badly built. Some of the rooms had collapsing floors. Ceilings and walls seemed solid but were made of draped tarpaulin. The stairs moved under you. First I forgot where my belongings were. Then I realised that I was beginning to forget the layout of the building too. I wasn’t sure which rooms I had visited and which I hadn’t. The structure was increasingly unstable. Lath and rafters showed through. The rooms trembled and wallowed as I moved. My panic increased. I had lost all my objects. I had lost all sense of where I was. I had lost all my identifiers. I didn’t recognise anyone in the house. When I looked out of a window I realised that I had forgotten what country the city was in. I went out there and began to wander about. At first I was absolutely certain where the house was.

some news

My new collection will be published later this year by Comma Press. It’s taken a while to get this sorted, and I want to thank everyone involved–also apologise to everyone else for the wait. Details as they arrive, here and from the Comma team. The book features eighteen short stories–five of which are original, unpublished & unavailable anywhere else and a further half dozen that will be new to most readers–and some flash fiction, much of which will be recognisable to habitues of the Ambiente Hotel. Contents include: a distributed sword & sorcery trilogy; two or three full-size sci-fi novels, one of which is two sentences and forty eight words long (fifty if you count the title); several visits to Autotelia, some that identify as such and some that don’t; and two final dispatches from Viriconium, neither of which would get house-room in an anthology of epic fantasy.

More details here.

interesting times

Despite being the definition of selfish, the Tories always know when it’s time to pull together–because if they don’t, nobody will get their snout in the trough. While Labour, despite starting from the assumption that we all should work for the common good, face every crisis by factionalising, falling apart and adamantly refusing to co-operate with one another. This has got to mean something, but I am not clever enough to see what it is. The other noticeable thing about this farrago is explanatory failure. People I admired for their political steadiness reveal themselves to be as changeable–as at a loss and dependent on the gossip of the last minute or two to form a plan–as I am. While outside UKIP and the political journalism industry, you sense, even the bigots no longer know what to think. And of course, everyone’s running for cover in one vomit-inducing fantasyland or another as quickly as they can. In later life, Christopher Isherwood felt it necessary to apologise for manipulating his friends so they made better material for fiction; an entire culture is going to be apologising for itself in a generation’s time.

the heart goes last

You make the dystopia you deserve. It’s the near future, and finance capitalism has pushed itself over the edge. The US is a rustbelt. Charmaine and Stan – we never learn their surname, which encourages a slightly patronising relationship with them – started out well: she worked for Ruby Slippers Retirement Homes and Clinics; he was in quality control at Dimple Robotics. Now they live in their car, just two ordinary Americans down on their luck. Charmaine maintains a “lightly positive tone” but misses her flowered throw pillows; Stan, though he “can lean to the mean when he’s irritated”, is a good man underneath, and feels he has let her down. They’re used to the smell, they’re used to being hungry. They have each other. They seem a little naive in the way they maintain their love as a bulwark against the world; and it is this naivety that makes them vulnerable when, in desperation, they join Positron, a socioeconomic experiment based around a privately funded postmodern prison… Read the rest of my review of Margaret Atwood’s savage new satire, The Heart Goes Last, in the Guardian

hi dave

dscf0149

muppetised

Horror, some people believe, is a sensation that arrives with the discovery that “we’re the monsters”. That was an interesting position for a while. But lots of other things are horrific & have nothing to do with this kind of narcissism; and subsequent across-the-board application has turned the idea into a cliche of unearned self-forgiveness, muppetising by cross-fertilisation both monster and human being. Embracing your monsterhood is the Thatcherite/neoLiberal excuse for impulse action, especially when it leads to being a shit. It’s from that generation. It began to gain traction just when you’d expect, in the early 1980s, and peaked with the horrified recognition that New Labour was a nest of cannibals. Your own narcissism can be kept within reasonable bounds: true horror is the discovery that Tony Blair’s can’t.

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.