the m john harrison blog

Tag: the disaster

the water house

Later, a succession of squalls swung in across the north bank and obscured the river. Hand sat in the remains of the garden shed, listening to the rain and watching the tide rush down the narrow defile between Oliver’s Island and the southern shore. “I’m just going into the garage!” he called into the house, but the old woman had turned up the TV and didn’t answer. In the garage he pulled the dust cover off the bonnet of the vehicle he kept there. Its bodywork glowed in the greyish afternoon light, rich with wax polish and chrome. Hand smiled. He checked the other items he kept in a rucksack under some rubbish in the corner. Everything was still dry and good. He had one more look at the car, then pulled the dustcover back over it and left. On his way back through the house, he called, “I’m going now.” No answer. He thought she had fallen asleep in front of the film, but she was waiting for him in the hall. “I know what you’re doing,” she said.

contents

The collection:

Lost & Found
In Autotelia
Cries
The Walls
Rockets of the Western Suburbs
Cicisbeo
Imaginary Reviews
Entertaining Angels Unawares
Elf Land: the Lost Palaces
Psychoarcheology
Royal Estate
Last Transmission from the Deep Halls
Places you Didn’t Think to Look for Yourself
Not All Men
Dog People
Jackdaw Bingo
Earth Advengers
Keep Smiling (with Great Minutes)
The Crisis
The Theory Cadre
Recovering the Rites
Anti Promethian
Animals
Here
In the Crime Quarter
The Good Detective
Name This City
Crome
Studio
The Old Fox
Awake Early
Explaining the Undiscovered Continent
Self Storage
A Web
Back to the Island
Cave & Julia
Alternate World
At the Seaside
Getting Out of There

an irregular event

Reading “The Crisis” last Thursday at Irregular Evenings 2, a hidden venue deep in the religio-industrial complex of Stoke Newington, ably organised by Vlatka Horvat and Tim Etchells. Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion were a hard act to follow. A great, mixed audience which included everyone from the #LossLit team to Michael Caines of the TLS and Canongate co-founder Whitney McVeigh. The evening was notable in another way for me, but more of that someB_Xmq6KWYAE2FMOother time. If you couldn’t be there for reasons of because, you can still catch the Warwick University audio of the original reading, online here. It looks as if “The Crisis” will have its first print outing in the short story collection–tentatively entitled Found & Lost–which is working its way up the femoral artery and into publishing’s dark heart etc etc even as we speak. News of that very soon, I hope.

Photo: Aki Schilz.

a difficult time for everyone

If you’re in London on the evening of the 5th March & you’d like to hear me reading “The Crisis”, leave an email address here, or DM me at @mjohnharrison on Twitter–

Adolescence. West London. You always believed a hidden war was being fought, a war nobody would ever admit to. Lay awake at night, listening to bursts of corporate fireworks that seemed too aggressive to be anything other than a small arms exchange; while by day, ground-attack helicopters clattered suddenly and purposively along the curve of the Thames towards Heathrow. You held your breath in moments of prolonged suspense, imagining the smoke trails of rockets launched from the bed of a builder’s pickup in Richmond or Kingston. These fantasy-engagements, asymmetric and furtive, a kind of secret, personalised Middle East, left you as exhausted as masturbation. There was something narcissistic about them. A decade later, everyone was able to feel a similar confused excitement. With the coming of the iGhetti, everyone had a story to tell but no one could be sure what it was. Information was so hard to come by. Between anecdotal evidence and the spectacular misdirections of the news cycle lay gulfs of supposition, fear, and denial. People didn’t know how to act. One minute they heard the guns, the next they were assured that nothing was happening. One day they were panicking and leaving the city in numbers, the next they were returning but rumour had convinced them to throw their tablet computers in the river. The thing they feared most was contagion. They locked their doors. They severed their broadband connections and tanked their cellars. They avoided a growing list of foods. They clustered round a smartphone every summer evening after dark, eavesdropping on the comings and goings of the local militas as they scoured the railway banks and canalsides for telltale astral jelly. Were the iGhetti here or not? It was a difficult time for everyone.

into the valley

Everything is uncanny valley at the moment. I have no real idea of the political shape. Things are about to reveal themselves as having gone badly wrong. I’m only certain that while we think we understand what’s happening, we don’t. The descriptive systems we’re used to are about to stop working–they may already have stopped working. I feel the way I did in the mid-to-late ’70s–that the ideas I get for weird fiction understand the political situation better than I do. They have a connection to some great sore lump of political material we’re too rational to see. It’s implied by events, but at the moment we are only looking at the events. Given what happened in the mid-to-late ’70s, I’m not comfortable with this feeling.

alternate world

Long horizons, rising downs. West Sussex pub, full of the ghouls of money. 1947 Concours d’Elegance Bentley in the car park. Light aircraft float to & fro across the ghouls’ own sky won in single combat from the Nazis all those years ago. The weather is fine, blowy mid-May, but when we say we’ll sit outside, the barman responds with a kind of knowing servility, “You’re going to brave it, then?” Yes, we’re going to brave it. We’re going to meet today’s minor but satisfying challenge, we’re going to brave the May weather & have our lunch outside, the way the ghouls braved the Nazis in the blue enduring sky to protect their power & money all those years ago. You can’t be the rulers if you have no country to rule.

afternoon

Not long ago the river, suffering some fluid equivalent of a seizure or convulsion, swept down from the banks of the parks and golf courses upstream, carrying away the little garden-centre fences, the artfully planted clumps of bamboo and exotic grass, leaving instead a detritus of broken branches, blanched and ancient looking, tangled together with plastic carrier bags, broken toys and bits of garden architecture from the houses upstream. The flood washed away a pebble path here, a nice little gazebo there, so that suburbia, which previously had run all the way down to the petrol coloured water, now ended ten feet further inland, having ceded itself to a mud flat.

a fictional transition

Old Adult fiction: engaging issues of concern to the senior citizen. Like younger people, older people often express a desire to have “something of their own”, with a label on it that says it was written by a kind, balanced, thoughtful forty year old professional with them in mind. They want to find their way. They want confirmation that they’re special, but not alone. At its best, OA fiction can give them a sense of shared problems and identity, while at the same time gently encouraging them to develop their individual terminal personality by discussing all the relevant issues in a safe cultural space. It is a fiction of transition.

sixty eight

Hollyhocks, poppies, chamomile. All sorts of desperate lilies and iris. Those complex drooping rose and purple flowers that symbolised passion on the cover of an HE Bates novel in 1974, whose name I can never remember. A light you can’t tell from heat, contained somehow by the humidity, trapped in the air, gold even under cloud. The dogs bark next door. They bark up and down the street. Heat in the bricks, heat in every movement. You sit on the cellar steps. You wonder if the world will end, or just take some simple, beautiful, really amazing direction. You’re forced to admit it’s always been doing both, and that any minute now you’ll get up and go to the post office.

welcome to the middle classes

You sit over a one-bar electric fire in a rented room. As soon as you feel recovered from the commute you’ll boil some potatoes on the gas ring, then, three minutes before they’re done, drop an egg into the same water. You can hear the family downstairs laughing at something, some dressed-up cats or something, on the internet. After people have cooked, they can often get use out of their gadgets–join a world building game, preorder the gadget they want next–although the load soon precipitates a brownout. During the day you work in a 7th floor office in the Strand. Publicity for a fuel corporate. It’s nice. All very heads-down but worth it to have the security. Outside it’s minus ten & you have no idea what’s happening on the old housing estates by the river. “Welcome to London,” someone in the office said today. That got a laugh. “Welcome to the managerial classes.” All he really meant was that like everyone else he would do anything to stay this side of the line.

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